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Dear Demetria:

I am 31 with two children. Two-and-a-half years ago, I started dating a guy I knew in high school. He has custody of his three kids, but ultimately, I am raising them without his company. He is a business owner, and all he seems to care about is money! Of course, I hate it! He has made approximately 10 large purchases without talking to me about it, and I have voiced my hurt and frustration every time. I am broke. Nothing is changing. What can I do? —Anonymous

Wait. What? 

I am so confused and have many questions, but they’re all pretty much some version of this one: Ma’am, why are you putting up with this?

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You and the man you’re allegedly in a relationship with need to have a serious conversation about expectations and needs. And I write “allegedly” because your description of what’s going on sounds more like you’re his nanny—his unpaid nanny, at that—than his partner. He’s left you with the responsibility of raising his children—and your own—which is problematic on many levels. Even in scenarios in which one partner is the breadwinner and the other partner manages the home, both are still supposed to be active participants—present and purposeful—in child-rearing. Making money, which is necessary when you have five kids to feed and clothe, doesn’t absolve him of raising his kids—or yours, if you’re living together as a family.

If this is indeed an actual relationship, it’s grossly unbalanced. It seems that you’ve taken on the responsibilities of a traditional wife in the rearing of his children and running the household. How is it, then, that you are “broke” while he has the disposable income to make 10—10­!­­­­—large purchases? If you are raising his children as their nanny, why aren’t you getting a check for your work? And if you are in a relationship with him, functioning as his partner and raising his children, why is he not providing for you financially?

This is not how a relationship works, not how any of this works. You’ve taken on the responsibilities of a wife without gaining the perks of one. This here? It is hustling backward at its finest.

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Because you haven’t established clear roles, titles or expectations, what you have here is a messy gray area, a scenario in which the man whose children you’re raising is getting a lot of perks—free child care is a huge one—and conveniently avoiding the headaches and responsibilities of a relationship.

And for some of it, I can’t even be mad at him. For instance, not consulting you about major purchases? If you are actually in a relationship with him and you live with him as a partner, even if he doesn’t treat you like one, it would be nice if he consulted or informed you about major purchases. But he’s got a really good reason not to: You’re not his wife. You may be in a relationship, but your boyfriend’s money, even when you live with him, isn’t automatically also your money. That’s a husband-and-wife perk. He doesn’t really have to consult you if he doesn’t want to.

That said, he should be providing for you and the children, in some fashion. There’s no reason that you should be raising your moneymaking boyfriend’s children full time and be broke; he should either pay you as a nanny or give you an allowance of some sort to run the household and take care of your personal needs.

The next time you see him, you need to hit him with a “Let me talk to you real quick” and plainly lay out what needs to happen for you to continue to be in this relationship. Namely, he needs to actually treat you like a partner and be present and accountable to you and the five children. And since there is money for all these large purchases, you need him to provide for you—the woman raising his children while he works—as well. 

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If he won’t agree to a complete overhaul of this situation and start immediately participating in the family, then it’s time for you to go. You and your children can continue to do bad all by yourselves, without the headache of a disrespectful partner or the responsibility of the three children he’s refusing to raise. If he wants to avoid fatherhood, let him go hire an actual nanny to raise his children instead of using his so-called girlfriend to do the job.

Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at askdemetria@theroot.com.

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Previously in Ask Demetria: “My Husband Wants to Stay in for New Year’s Eve. Is It Wrong to Go Out Without Him?