Katie Blackmer, of Christiana, Tennessee, has the ultimate blended family.
The 32-year-old lives with her husband, Ben Blackmer, 41, along with her ex-husband, 32-year-old Stephen Shepard, and Shepard’s girlfriend, Brandy Henderson, 31. The group is taking co-parenting to a whole new level, raising their six children together in a 2,500-square-foot home. And Katie says the parents wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We call ourselves the ‘Blended 10!’ ” Katie tells PEOPLE. “This works for us! This is our plan from here on out. It’s loud and hectic. But I don’t know what I would do in a quiet house now!”
The group has been living together since January, Katie says. Shepard first moved in with Katie and Ben last May after he was injured in a car accident that killed his brother. Even though Katie and Shepard had divorced in January 2016, they had remained friends while co-parenting their three children, ages 5, 10 and 11.
“Once [Shepard] was released from the hospital, we brought him home to us,” Katie says of herself and Ben. “He had to have full 24-hour care for about a month and a half. Once Stephen was healed, he knew that our home was his home. So he never left. And when he started dating Brandy, we just decided it would best that they stay and we do this all as a team.”
With that, Henderson and her two children, ages 7 and 9, moved into the home in January. Now, the adults, children, and Ben’s 19-year-old son from a previous relationship, live in the two-story, five-bedroom home. And Katie says the cohabitation has been quite easy, since the adults have all known each other for years.
“[Ben] and [Shepard] were friends when Stephen and I were married,” explains Katie.
Henderson and Shepard had been planning to purchase a house of their own, Katie says. But with home prices in the area, the group thought it best to stay in the same house.
Now, Katie says there’s never a dull moment at home — and the parents split the bills fifty-fifty.
“Our house is hectic all the time. There’s always someone screaming from playing, running around, chasing each other. It’s loud,” Katie tells PEOPLE. “It’s kind of like being with a college roommate, but it just works. I was nervous, but it has all just fallen together and we have a wonderful family.”
Katie, who first shared the family’s story with Love What Matters, says she decided to speak publicly about her “blended” crew to encourage families that may be struggling with co-parenting.
“As far as our family and close friends go, they are all supportive. We do run into people who are like, ‘Have y’all lost your mind?’ ” Katie says.
“There’s been a lot of positive feedback, but there’s been a lot of negative too. People say, ‘I’d rather drink bleach than live with my ex.’ My family and friends, that have seen our kids through the divorce, they always talk about how happy our children are now that they have everyone together.”