When former Real Housewives star Braunwyn Windham-Burke left Orange County for Franklin, Tennessee, she thought it would be full of newly-engaged bliss with fiancée Jennifer Spinner. Instead, it turned into a full house of 10 — including her seven kids and ex Sean Burke, she tells Us Weekly exclusively.
“We have really hard days. There’s some days where I’m like, ‘I don’t know what to do,’” Braunwyn, 45, said. “Getting divorced, moving across the country, leaving your family, getting engaged. It’s a lot. I will say Jen makes it a lot easier. We balance each other out a lot, but as far as the kids go, this is the best we could be doing that.”
The former reality star added that the cross-country move into a rental home last spring was intended to be a fresh start for the couple, but it didn’t go exactly as planned.
“We were supposed to move here with the four little kids and then Sean was going to stay in the guest room 10 days a month. And then Sean came to visit and he hasn’t left,” she said, laughing.
“I think when he moved here, I don’t think he thought he was going to stay,” Braunwyn continued. “I think he thought he’d go back and forth and I think once he sort of finds his own friends, maybe he starts dating someone here. I think that will be great because right now he’s still so much a part of our life. I really have to give him props. He is rolling with it.”
“He’s being forced to deal with a super weird situation. I think he’s doing great,” Jennifer, 39, added.
For now, Braunwyn acknowledges that their uncoupling arrangement is anything but typical.
“It’s not your typical engagement bliss, but it’s nice. I think for me it’s nice with the kids and my family to be like, this is my person [Jennifer], this is who I’m going to spend my life with and kind of solidify that,” said Braunwyn, who proposed to Jennifer in July after one year of dating. “I think with little kids especially, there’s always Is Jen going to leave? Is Jen going to be here? And I think for them they haven’t had that at all and that to me was really the most important part of it — is the kids know that this is their stepmom.”
In fact, Braunwyn’s children — Bella, 23, Rowan, 21, Jacob, 17, twins Caden and Curren, 9, Koa, 8, and Hazel, 5 — already call Jennifer their stepmom.
“I love it. I view them as my own kids,” said Jennifer. “I mean, as one of three parents, not that they’re just mine and Braunwyn’s. But I already viewed them as that for pretty much the past eight months. So it’s nice to hear them say it.”
She continued: “I think they know that I’m not going anywhere and I think that security is really important as they navigate their own parents sort of going through a split … [and] their relationship with me is never going to change.”
Jennifer says their unconventional “nesting” situation with Sean won’t last forever as Braunwyn also navigates their divorce, which she filed last October. But, for now, the kids get the best of both worlds.
“This cohabitation is going to end eventually, probably soon,” Jennifer added. “I think Braunwyn and Sean, even though it’s a pressure cooker sometimes [and] divorced people probably shouldn’t live together, they’re learning how to coparent in a different way in real time.”
“Last night I literally had to mediate a discussion about creating boundaries around coparenting with them,” she continued. “And that wouldn’t happen if they lived separately. They just wouldn’t be forced to have those conversations. So I think it’s good for them and I think it’s good for the kids. I don’t think it’s sustainable forever, but for now I think it’s a good thing.”
And with so many roommates, it comes with its “awkward” run-ins.
“Like, you know, his underwear ends up in my underwear. And now it’s Jake’s, too,” Jennifer revealed. “It is very awkward at times, but for me it’s been really great because I get to see how the kids interact with him and how they interact with Braunwyn, and it helps me to define where I fit in.”
Jennifer is also quick to note that Sean has been incredibly supportive in her new coparenting role.
“I really can’t say enough about how great he’s been about making me feel comfortable as a coparent. And I think for him, even though we get along, even though he knows that I care about the kids, it could be really anxiety-provoking just knowing that your kids are living with another person,” Jennifer shared.
“I do one-on-one days with all the kids [and] he sees how I parent them in the house. I think it’s making him feel better about what it’s going to be like when the kids are just living with us and have separate homes,” she added. “So I do view the awkward challenging parts. Some days that’s what I focus on, but most days I look at the fact that this is such a unique opportunity to get to learn how to coparent with the kids’ dad. And I don’t think a lot of people get that.
“And it’s nice too because the kids never feel like they have to choose between the two of them,” added Braunwyn. “In the kids’ eyes, it’s one big happy family. I love Jen, I love dad, I love mom.”
Although Braunwyn says her divorce should go through “soon,” there have been some setbacks.
“It’s really nice having that extra parent here. It really is easy … The hard part is just there’s certain things that are going on with the divorce right now that are tough,” she said. “Some of the financial stuff. Sean hasn’t been paying the child support and spousal support. So while I am trying to make this happy home, I’m having to do it while my lawyer is doing this other stuff and getting the summons from the court to the house and [saying] ‘Here, this is yours.’”
Braunwyn said, “It’s pretty cut and dry since it’s not contested. And then once the divorce is final, then we get to get married.”
The pair have already started planning their nuptials with a southern hoedown theme set for October 19, 2024, in Tennessee. They also plan to buy a home together next spring.
“We want our own space,” Jennifer said.
Braunwyn added, “I would like to have time to be not just parents with her all the time, but a couple to have that intimacy at home.”
“Right now, we’re able to do [that] when we travel, but we’ve never had that at home,” said Jennifer.
“And I want that,” continued Braunwyn.
There are no regrets about moving the family far away from Newport Beach where she found fame. The best part – she says “no one cares” about her reality TV stardom.
“I love it here. I love the kids’ school. I love getting involved in things that I used to find such joy in,” said Braunwyn, who’s oldest daughter, Bella, also just moved into an apartment down the street with her fiancé. “I think leaving Orange County where everyone knew my whole story and where I was and coming somewhere where no one watches the show, no one has a clue who I am.”