Girlfriend or Nanny?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: Im 26 and my boyfriend of 6 yrs is 32. The past two years have not been so good. When I met him he worked nights and was getting ready to move home with his parents to care for them. His father had limited mobility and his mother was mentally unstable. He was also going to ask his kids to move back home with him (they were currently living with their mother since he worked nights.) He ended up moving home had his kids move back with him and asked me to be a part of his family and move in as well. So everything was great for about 2 years. The kids and I developed a great relationship and his parents and I also connected.

Then I started noticing how he let his mother do for him. His laundry, cook him dinner if I wasn’t home from work early enough, doing more for his kids than she should. I thought “oh, its just a mother being a mother and if I bring it up he we wake up and start doing for himself.”

Then his father passed away and things got worse. His mother started to pinpoint me as all the problems. If there was an arguement between my boyfriend and his mother , it was my fault. Then I wasn’t allowed to wash his kids clothes because she said “You and my son have sex” ?! Now I am not even acknowledged by her. I have tried repeatedly to be understanding and let her odd behavior go. I bring it up to him and he tells me that he won’t put her on medication or make her seek help because he wouldn’t want someone to do that to him.

His mother and I don’t agree on a lot of things which causes a wall between my boyfriend and I. Add on the fact that he has become extremely lazy. He still won’t do laundry, doesn’t pick up after himself. I get home at about 5 pm at night. I would cook dinner so my boyfriend could eat before he would go to work and for the kids and I. Then I move on to homework and making sure they have their baths. Well now his mother cooks every night for them. They are usually eating as I walk through the door. NEVER , NOT ONCE has she offered me a plate. She has made it very clear that she intentionally does not make enough food for me. I made a comment one night that I had a long day at work and I was hungry and she told me that she didn’t make enough the leftovers were for her lunch the next day. And let me clarify I do not ask or expect people to cook for me but I was just raised differently. I would never think about eating or cooking in the house unless I made enough for everyone. I have always asked and made sure that when I cook that she is taken care of as well. I brought it up to my boyfriend that it hurts my feelings and his answer was “She is from a different generation and I shouldn’t be offended.” Needless to say I usually eat a sandwich by myself every night.

Now his behavior is starting to side with his mother. I don’t expect an award for what I do I just want him to understand the situation. I try to do all I can to be a family with him and the kids.Since he works nights I take on majority of the responsiblity for the kids. I care for them when they get home from school. I get them ready for school. I am the one who encouraged them to get involved in school activities which turns out they love it. I take them to all school activities and parent activities. I volunteer for the kids and when teachers need to contact a parent it is ALWAYS me. I let most of it go since he does work nights but I notice that even when he is home, everything is an issue. I schedule a dr appointment for the kids he doesn’t take them. I ask him to take them to get clothes or once his son needed some shoes and he won’t take them. His excuse is he is tired.

Right now the issue is his daughter is having trouble seeing at school. The school called me and wanted to set up a parent meeting to talk about it. So I set up a day and since I work an hour away I told him he would have to go alone. I also told him that I scheduled an eye appointment for his daughter on that saturday. I come home from work on the day of the teacher meeting he didn’t go. Saturday came around and he didn’t take his daughter to the eye dr either. I was at the college doing homework since not only do I work fulltime but im going to school as well otherwise I would have done it. Here it is two weeks later no dr and no teacher meeting has taken place. Her teachers emailed me twice about when we were going to meet with them. I forwarded both emails to him and asked him what he plans on doing. He tells me “Don’t worry about it I will take care of my own kids.” So Monday of this week asked me to call again and make another appointment for friday. I told him only way I would do it is if he called the school to reschedule the parent meeting. I made the appointment and come home to no suprise that he hadn’t called the school. Tuesday didn’t call. Wednesday didn’t call. Thursday didn’t call and tomorrow will make FOUR Weeks.

I’m really angry. Why do I care more about his children than he does? and am I looking at it wrong? I am the one here with the kids on a daily basis we have a very close relationship and it bothers me to no end that he does this. I want to leave him because I don’t want to be with a man that doesn’t care about his children because I want children one day too. We have sat and talked about this situation several times and somehow end up in the same situation.

A: It looks like your boyfriend has become one of the kids and you’ve become the nanny. His mom has resumed her position in his life and is doing all she can to evict you from the picture. He likes things as they are because the two women in his life are taking care of all his home and parenting responsibilities. The dinner situation would be the last straw for most people. They sit down for a meal and you’re left eating a sandwich alone in your room? It’s a sad picture of your place in this family in spite of all you do. I can’t help but wonder what the kids make of it.

You seem very committed to the children. His mother certainly can’t do for them what you are doing. He doesn’t seem inclined to. I’m concerned that your worry about the children’s welfare is really the glue that is keeping you in this situation, not love between you and your “boyfriend.” If your relationship is primarily with the kids at this point, you could move out but still stay in touch. Better to be a loving “auntie” in their lives than an unwilling servant.

You have some hard decisions to make. Your boyfriend isn’t willing to change. He’d rather be a boy in the house than an adult partner for you. Are you willing to continue being the unpaid nanny? Do you love these children so much that you can’t bear to leave them to be neglected by their father and grandmother? Are you willing to sacrifice any chance of having a genuine partner and children of your own? Please think hard about these questions. If you don’t take care of yourself, you could easily slip into continuing this arrangement for years. You would end up resentful and lonely. The kids would end up with a very, very bad model of the role of a woman in a relationship. And your boyfriend would never grow up.

In the meantime, you are within your rights to let the school know about the situation. The teachers expect you to take care of things because you always have. If you continue to act as a buffer between the school and the father, the school will never see him as the responsible party and neither will he. Please tell them to treat your boyfriend, not you, as the parent. If you get out of the middle, the school will push him to take care of his children. If he doesn’t and there are serious consequences, schools are mandated to report neglect.

After 6 years together, this all must be very disappointing. You miss the relationship you had for the first 4 years. But that’s not what your boyfriend is offering you now. I hope you have some good friends to support you as you figure out what you want to do next. If not, please consider seeing a therapist to get some support and perhaps some practical advice.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Oct 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). Girlfriend or Nanny?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/10/26/girlfriend-or-nanny/