Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Moved in With my Boyfriend Two Years Ago and He Still Won’t Let Me Unpack”

I’m 29 and my boyfriend, “Don,” is 39, and I moved in with him two years ago after we’d been dating for a little under a year. Since then, we’ve been through some serious shit and have fought hard to stay together. He has three boys (they are 11, 13 and 15) and I have no children. One of the biggest problems arises in his ability to allow me to be a part of the home.

Our walls look like an elementary school threw up nine years of homework on the walls. Every surface is covered (COVERED) in the kids’ art and awards. There’s unframed, ripped, crumpled paper pinned to every wall, sitting on every shelf…and I totally get it, it makes the kids feel good to have their accomplishments displayed in our home. The problem is that it’s a goddamned cluttered mess and it is seriously affecting my ability to be happy. I hate being here. I got rid of a lot of stuff when I moved in with them, and aside from some clothes and electronics, my shit is still packed because there is zero room for me.

I have communicated with Don about how all of this makes me feel like I’m a guest in their home that is low priority. It also makes me feel like my things are less important, like I’M less important, because I don’t have kids. He fires back with some bullshit about how all I do is complain and I never do anything about it. The thing is that I totally have tried. Everything I do to try to make our house look like anyone over 12 lives here is met with such fierce criticism that I feel like I really should just leave. Not to mention that, when I do decide to unpack something, it conveniently gets broken. The kids are older. They’re not out of control. The breaking tends to happen when Don has had to move it for some reason, or something like that.

Don and I have bank accounts (they’re the only bank accounts I have) and we split expenses evenly even though he makes more than I do. I’m home with the kids more than he is, I cook all the meals. The kids are responsible for most of the chores, but I pick up the slack as they are kids and often leave something to be desired when it comes to cleanliness and organization, and also sometimes they just need a break. I don’t mind doing those things. Don deals with all of their school stuff. His time with them is spent playing video games or participating in sports, where as I feel like my time with them is making sure everything gets done and taking them to appointments.

Nobody wants me to leave. I don’t want to leave, they’re my people. but I want out of this house so bad, I wouldn’t be sad if we returned from vacation to a leveled/flaming/flooded lot. I guess my question to you is: how can I convince him to work WITH me to create a home we can both be happy living in? I really don’t want this to be a deal-breaker, but it’s to a point that I’m seriously questioning my ability to exist in this environment. — Over 12 But My Home Doesn’t Reflect It

First of all, you moved in with Don and his children way too fast. How well can you even know a single parent of three children in under a year? I wouldn’t even advise someone to move in with a new partner after less than a year of dating even if NO kids are in the picture, but when three kids are vying for their parent’s attention, I just don’t understand when you had time to develop the bond and trust necessary to make such a move. Second of all, you say you “have fought hard to stay together,” and while I don’t doubt there has been a lot of fighting — some of which you have provided examples of — I DO doubt that the there have been fights “to stay together.” You do realize that fighting can just be fighting, right? And fighting can happen when two people don’t know how to communicate? Or when they feel their needs aren’t meant or they aren’t being heard or respected? Not all fights are some expression of passion and sign of a couple’s deep desire to work through their differences. Not all fights are fights to stay together. I’m not sure you understand that.

I wonder if somewhere in your life, you picked up the message that if someone is fighting with you, it means he cares. You know what a better, clearer sign would be that Don cares about you? If he made room for you in his home. If he cleared some shelves and closet space and drawers and floor space for your things. If he helped you unpack your stuff, and cleared some of the clutter from the walls for artwork you picked out. But he does the opposite of that. For two whole years, he has fought your every attempt to make yourself feel at home in your place. In the place that you are financially contributing to equally despite being just one of four people who live there, despite making less than your boyfriend, and despite cooking all the meals and doing all the chores. You are raising his children and your stuff is still packed in boxes two years after moving in because that’s how little Don cares about you.

Like yesterday’s LW, you have been conned. You have been conned with the allusion of a family and love and having “your people” in exchange for your money and your domestic skills. You have been saddled with cleaning up after four guys — cooking and cleaning for them — and you don’t even get a free place to live out of it. You don’t even have your own bank account. You don’t even get to unpack your boxes. And you are so miserable about it that you are wishing the house would burn to the ground.

I don’t know what model of family and love and marriage you had growing up, but this is not what a functional, happy, loving relationship looks like. This is not what “fighting to stay together” looks like. Not at all. This is so many levels of fucked up that you are way, WAY beyond trying to convince Don to “work with you to create a home you can both be happy living in.” The only way you’re going to create a home you can be happy living in is if you move the fuck out of Don’s house and cut the creep out of your life.

One more time in case it hasn’t gotten through yet: If iyou have to work hard to convince your boyfriend two years after you’ve moved in to make some room for you to unpack your boxes TWO YEARS AFTER YOU MOVED IN, he does not care about you. He never has and he never will. MOA!!!

Related: 15 Things Couples Should Do Before Moving in Together and What We Wish We’d Known Before Moving In Together.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

30 comments… add one
  • avatar

    LisforLeslie May 31, 2018, 8:20 am

    Agree with WWS. You’ve been conned. You are paying half the bills, but you’re not making any equity on the house. You wouldn’t pay 1/2 the rent with four other roommates. You’re doing most of the chores. So you’re not only paying half the bills, you’re also subsidizing the cost of a housekeeper (that’s like a minimum of $400 a month) and a cook (same).

    You’re being treated like a live-in housekeeper – not a member of the family. The only difference is that you get to sleep in the big room and sit at the dinner table with the family.

    Is that good enough for you?

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom May 31, 2018, 8:33 am

    You knew what the walls looked like when you moved in. In the future make sure you discuss anything that will bother you before moving in and make sure that there is an agreement you can happily live with. You should have waited until the place was ready for you before moving in. I think you’ve learned the hard way to make no assumptions.

    As for fighting hard to make it work. He would be trying to make it work by giving you space in his home. He would be making an effort by not breaking your things when he moves them. He would be trying to make it work by not asking you to pay half the expenses when you are only 1/5 of the people living in the home. When you are contributing more than your share but not receiving much you are being used. You should be paying 1/5 of the expenses and have something like 1/5 of the space. You are building no equity in his home. If you are giving him the money he is the one getting the credit rating from your income. You have to look out for you.

    When someone loves you they try to look out for your best interests. They try to not use you. You are being used.

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    for_cutie May 31, 2018, 9:19 am

    LW, before you do ANYTHING please get your own bank account. Now. At a different bank. Put your paychecks into that account moving forward. It may be hard to withdraw savings from a joint account, but you sure as shit can take every penny you make from now on as yours. Once you have your own account, you can transfer money back to the joint account for household finances, but only do this after a long discussion about works for you.

    You’ve pooled everything with Don and now have nothing protected for yourself. Get your own money so you can leave when you want, or in the least open a retirement account so you can get some savings for your future. Retirement accounts are linked to SSN and individual property only so you can’t share it with Don, nor should you share anything else.

    Also, WWS. He has not made space for you in his life as a partner. This is not how you want to live. Instead of fighting to stay together, you should MOA.

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  • avatar

    Rebecca May 31, 2018, 10:02 am

    Any time a column title has the word “let” in it, my mind starts sirening “RUN RUN RUN RUN.”

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    • avatar

      Rebecca May 31, 2018, 10:47 am

      Also, girl, HE’S BREAKING YOUR STUFF. RUN!!!

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  • avatar

    Essie May 31, 2018, 10:20 am

    Two comments. Which will sound like cliches, but they are true.

    When you have to “fight hard to stay together,” it probably means you shouldn’t be together. People in healthy, happy relationships don’t “fight hard to stay together.” Because they don’t have to.

    People do what they want. They put effort into what’s important to them. If Don wanted you to feel comfortable in his home, he’d work to make sure you were comfortable. He doesn’t care enough to do that. He may not want you to leave, but he can’t be bothered to spend a Saturday afternoon cleaning out a closet for you. You have evidence all around you of how important you are to Don. You just don’t want to see it.

    Short version: for the love of god, move out of that house.

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  • avatar

    MMR May 31, 2018, 11:03 am

    Aside from being able to call them “your people”, what are you getting out of this arrangement? It’s a serious question, because you literally mention nothing positive about your relationship.

    You pay half the living costs and take on more of the tough parenting than Don, and you clean up after everyone. Of course they don’t want you to leave! What you really need is good reason to stay… ?

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  • avatar

    Ron May 31, 2018, 11:10 am

    You sound desperate to have a bf. Your bf sounds like a louse who has picked up on that desperation and used it to take advantage of you financially and otherwise. The more he takes advantage, the harder you try to make it work. You pay for the privilege of being the cook and maid for a guy who clearly doesn’t love you, or even like you much — he would treat you more like a real person to be treated as an equal if he did. You make his financial and domestic life easier. You are confusing that with him loving you. I’m convinced he doesn’t. You need therapy to escape this manipulative ass. I would start by telling him this isn’t your house, you’re not allowed to feel comfortable in it, you are allowed to accumulate any equity in it, you are one of 5 people living there, you earn less, so your share of future expenses will be 20-25% and you’ll be getting your own bank account immediately. If after a month space hasn’t been cleared for you so that you can unpack, you will be gone.

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  • avatar

    León May 31, 2018, 11:19 am

    This is ridiculous. For this guy you are a maid, not an equal partner. And having to figure it out just after two years is absurd.
    Get a grip and stop being such a dumbass. Grab your conveniently packaged stuff and move asap.

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  • avatar

    CanadaGoose May 31, 2018, 11:35 am

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet – the impact of your relationship on the kids. Their dad thrust you into their lives pretty quick . Where is their mother? It’s odd for a father to get full custody, which it sounds like he has. Why? Did mom die? Is she in prison? An addict? Did she just up and take off? It sounds to me like Don moved you in because he couldn’t cope with trying to raise three kids on his own (no easy feat) and he may well have needed your income to keep that house he doesn’t want to change. You may have been the solution to his problems more than someone he loves so much he needs to have you around as much as possible.

    There are more people than just you and Don in this relationship. For two years, you’ve been a de facto parent. That doesn’t mean you should not look out for your own best interests and leave if Don won’t evolve, but do try and help those kids be ok on your way out the door.

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    • avatar

      Vathena May 31, 2018, 12:33 pm

      Yeah, I’m wondering if he didn’t put on the charm offensive full-court press for her to move in so he could have someone to function as a housekeeper/babysitter and pay half the bills (not to mention provide sex).

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  • avatar

    dinoceros May 31, 2018, 11:45 am

    Like Wendy said, I think you are mistaken and learned the wrong lesson if you think that fighting to stay together is anything other than a sign that you are not right for each other. People tend to misinterpret the concept of “relationships are hard work” into assuming that they are going to have to go through a lot of drama and conflict to stay together. That’s not what it means. It just means that you have to put in an effort — you have to communicate, compromise, make time for each other — rather than just passively watching life happen. I don’t know if you legitimately think that fighting is a good sign or if you just don’t want to break up/be single, so you are putting up with it, but everything you described about your relationship makes it pretty clear that you are not compatible and that you should not have willingly lived with him for two years.

    No healthy, lasting relationship involves one or both partners actually being miserable living with the other person. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to be able to say, “I really love this person and I don’t want to be single, but this relationship is not good for me and doesn’t add joy to my life, so I need to end it.” That’s what you should have said sometime in the past two years.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse May 31, 2018, 12:07 pm

    You pay for half the bills.

    You make less money than he does.

    You have no claim to the house, legally.

    You pay half the expenses for his three kids.

    You cook and clean for all four of them.

    You still haven’t even unpacked after two years.

    I wrote that out so you can be confronted with your reality. You are subsidizing his kids and his house. What do you get out of this?

    You wrote you think you should really just leave. Get your own bank account, and find a new place to live. He can’t and won’t make real room for you in his life.
    Why haven’t you?

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    • avatar

      va-in-ny May 31, 2018, 1:22 pm

      Seriously. This.

      Girl, what do YOU get out of this relationship?

      Make THAT list and see how it matches with his.

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  • avatar

    Wehaf May 31, 2018, 12:34 pm

    Don keeps “accidentally” breaking your things? Does he “accidentally” break his things as well? No, because these aren’t accidents; he is deliberately breaking your things as part of a pattern of abuse. Please read “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft and see how much of it rings true (even if you think he’s not abusive, and I am wildly off-base, please read it – it may help you help a friend somewhere down the line). You deserve so much better than what this scumbag is giving you.

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  • avatar

    csp May 31, 2018, 12:55 pm

    LW – I agree that this seems like a raw deal. However, I will say that one line stuck out to me that he said “All you do is complain and not do anything”. When you bring up things that really need to change, do you bring up solutions?

    For example, can we buy bins for each of the boys to put their art work in so it is organized, preserved, and off the counter. If he says ok, buy the bins on Saturday morning and make it a project to get it done. Or for your stuff in boxes, is it clothes or decorations? I would plan a day to go through boxes and see what can fit and what you have duplicates of. Make a real plan and put it on the calendar. I found my husband was much more responsive when I came to him with a problem and a plan and a timeline.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy May 31, 2018, 1:24 pm

      But not only has the LW tried to come up with some solutions to problems, she actively tries to implement those solutions and when she does, she says: “I am met with such fierce criticism that I feel like I really should just leave. Not to mention when I do decide to unpack something, it conveniently gets broken. The breaking tends to happen when Don had to move it for some reason, or something like that.” A caring partner doesn’t make fierce criticism every single time his live-in girlfriend tries to make herself at home….in their shared home. This is not a guy who is going to respond well to scheduled day of going through boxes and organizing the kids artwork and putting it in storage bins. But if the LW tries to get him to, I would really love an update on how that goes over.

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      • avatar

        csp June 1, 2018, 4:08 am

        If I was a betting person, I would say you are right. Here is the thing though, I know people who fight to vent not to resolve things. I know early in my marriage, I would say, “There is shit everywhere” and yell it rather than saying what the specific problem is and really articulating what I want and the solution. Once I stopped talking in generalizations, we almost never fight because the conflicts never escalate that far.

        lw, Before you do this. Get a bank account of your own, change your direct deposit, so if this goes sideways, you have money to leave. You need to come at this from a place of strength.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros May 31, 2018, 1:50 pm

      I think that sort of tactic works well in some cases, but it also seems like it’s an example of taking on extra emotional work in the relationship in this case. It’s not too much to ask to be with someone who is capable of hearing “There’s nowhere for my stuff. I can’t unpack” and not needing to be written a set of instructions on how to solve that problem. If you have to go through all that in order to feel welcome in your own home, then you’re not actually welcome.

      I think that strategy works best for couples who generally have a healthy relationship, but perhaps have procrastination issues or something. Not for a couple where one person clearly does not value the other.

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  • avatar

    convexexed May 31, 2018, 3:47 pm

    In some ways this letter reminds me of my own situation. I live with my boyfriend and his two kids that we have 50% of the time. We moved in together (into a new place, not either of our former homes) after 2 years of dating. It’s a small house for four people, and between my boyfriend’s curb-side couch ‘finds’ and the kids constant influx of papers from school and random junk they bring home every day from somewhere (glitter slime, stickers, whistles, 1000 rubber bands) it looks like a cross between a frat house and a kindergarten stuffed into the back of a van. My stuff is unpacked, but the kids (who are older school-age, not toddlers) can’t resist the urge to go through my things and mess with them. It’s been 3 years we’ve lived together and they just can’t stop doing things like taking a lipstick and rubbing it on the wall. I have had to buy a big metal cabinet system with locks, and while they are here (half the time), I keep anything sharp, expensive, nice, or highly personal under lock and key. Nobody particularly likes this arrangement. They don’t feel like I trust them not to mess with my stuff. Which is true. Because as soon as I leave a bottle of perfume on my dresser, someone sprays half of it out. We HAD talked about how we would integrate homes before we moved in, and were in consensus, and had gradually integrated me into the kid’s lives carefully first, but the kids went through some traumatic stuff with their mom last year and devolved into terrible acting out behaviors, for which they are in therapy. In addition to destructiveness, they are physically aggressive as well. Basically all the energy of the house goes into just getting through each day, and it is an extended crisis. I have not left (yet), because I want to give the therapy time to work, because I love them all, and because I neither move in lightly nor leave lightly. But I do keep my stuff very organized so it will be easy to grab if that time comes, and I do keep seperate finances and savings, and have a plan in place for how to get out quickly and simply if it becomes too much for my own mental health. That plan includes having a list of moving resources (storage, trucks, movers), a place with friends lined up to go to, and keeping track of whose name is on which utility. It also includes self-care now, including that I step out and go for a walk or go to a friend’s if I need space and recentering. And I have a timeline in my head for how long I can stay if things don’t start showing some signs of settling. I know what I’m looking for concretely as improvement, and I know how long I am willing to ride the waves of circumstance in the meantime. What I hope for, desperately, is that with therapy and time and love we get over this rough spot together. Even though I want that, it takes such a weight off to know I can get out IF I HAVE TO. It makes each day more bearable to know I’m here by choice, dealing with this, rather than here because I have no money of my own and no place to go. So what is my advice, and how am I qualified to give it given my own complicated home life?
    -You don’t seem to have the extenuating circumstances I do right now. There is nothing in your letter that says this is a temporary rocky spot. It sounds like this is your partner’s permanent, chosen way of having you in the home. So you need to talk to your partner with a come-to-Jesus talk. Either things change now (ie this weekend) in specific ways, like space is made for your stuff and you redefine the terms of your obligations in the household, or you leave (ie this weekend). Have this talk AFTER you have a plan in place and some money saved up, so that you don’t end up on the street or losing your momentum because you have no options and end up backing down. State your terms under which you will stay or leave and do not back down.
    -Alternatively, trial some hardball moves. For instance, say, ‘I’ve given you 2 years to clear out a closet for me. You haven’t done it, so I’m going to clear out this closet for myself. Your items that are in the closet now will go in this box for you to deal with however you see fit. I don’t break your stuff ‘accidentally’, so I expect you not to break mine. And if my stuff keeps getting broken, I will deduct the cost of that broken item from what I contribute to the rent.’ Yes, it sucks playing hardball with your beloved, but people have different learning styles and sometimes they need to be retrained. It doesn’t have to be emotionally loaded or passive aggressive; it should be straightforward, respectful, but firm as hell. You have asked for boundaries, and been ignored. Try taking your boundaries. Just taking them for yourself. Either he will respect it (oddly enough some strong-headed people respond best to the no-bullshit, zero-tolerance approach because they respect it. Men (as a stereotype, ie in the boardroom)deal with other men like that all the time, so in my opinion they should be used to that since they dish it out). Or he will become a huge jerk about it, but either way you have nothing to lose. If he loses his cool and kicks you out, well, you will be on your way to a better living situation. If he hears you and respects your backbone, you’ve won a victory for your self and your relationship. You’ve tried asking, you’ve tried gently offering solutions, you’ve tried quietly making adjustments in the home. Now try being forthright and hardball about it.
    -If the situation is so bad that you are taking it out on the kids, it would be better to leave. By ‘taking it out’ I don’t mean requiring the kids help out or being authoritative with them; that’s your role. I mean becoming resentful of them or withholding affection because of the way their dad is treating you.
    -You can also consider (as I have considered, and am still mulling over) whether this relationship could continue and be healthier without you living together. Not all relationships progress to cohabitation, and some people have wonderful relationships that thrive because they have separate spaces. Just because many relationships follow a certain path doesn’t mean yours has to.
    I recommend picking up something like ‘The Assertiveness Handbook’ from Amazon.
    Best of luck!

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    • avatar

      csp June 1, 2018, 4:14 am

      I think this is a great perspective, thanks for sharing.

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    • avatar

      csp June 1, 2018, 4:14 am

      I think this is a great perspective, thanks for sharing.

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  • avatar

    Teri Anne May 31, 2018, 4:19 pm

    I am worried about the LW, because abuse tends to escalate when the victim tries to leave. He is already breaking her things whenever she tries to unpack. When his unpaid housekeeper and nanny tries to leave, will the boyfriend become become more violent and actually hurt her? Will he try to leave her penniless by withdrawing all the money in their joint account, so she has no resources to get her own place? No one can predict the future, but I urge the LW not to take any chances. Since she is already considering leaving, I strongly urge her to make a careful plan for leaving. She needs to open her own bank account, and consult HR at her job to find out how long it will take to switch her direct deposit to her new account. She needs to have the rest of her plan in place before she makes the direct deposit switch, because at that point the BF will definitely notice and her situation may become dangerous. She needs a credit card in her own name so she has available cash to pay for her leaving expenses; and she needs to have important papers such as her social security card and birth certificate. I also recommend that she slowly move her boxes of things out of the house to a safe place.

    There is a good possibility that she may not have the ready cash to pay for her first month’s rent and security deposit on a new place, and saving the money may be difficult without her BF noticing. If this is the case, I recommend that she use her new credit card to pay for staying at an extended stay hotel. I did this when I was moving for a new job, and did not have upfront cash to pay for my security deposit. She could also stay with a friend or even a shelter for domestic abuse victims.

    I know this will be very hard for the LW, but she will get through the pain and soon be very much happier. She also has a job, so she can earn her own living. I wish her good luck.

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    • avatar

      Loo June 1, 2018, 8:54 am

      If the LW doesn’t feel comfortable making a large withdrawal from their joint bank account (yet, although I hope she does this before telling the bf that she’s leaving) then in the weeks leading up to this, get some cash back every time you buy groceries. It’s discreet and you can just toss the receipt for groceries. It’ll all show up as groceries on the bank statement and can help you get a little padding for the change that’s coming.

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      • avatar

        Teri Anne June 1, 2018, 2:57 pm

        When the LW opens her own bank and credit accounts, statements coming to the home she shares with her boyfriend may clue him in before she is ready to leave. She should open a PO box at her local post office and direct mail from her new accounts there. I did this when I was living away from my house during the week and it was really easy.

        Also, she needs to get a cell phone account in her own name so her BF does not see any texts or messages related to her leaving. When my friend was trying to leave her abusive husband, she needed to get her own cell phone. On her new cell phone, she can create a new email account (gmail works very well) that her BF will not see. Her new accounts will probably have the option of going paperless, and she can send statements to her new account. But some items such as her new cards will still go to her home address, hence the need for a PO box.

        This commentator’s idea of saving money gradually through grocery money is also an excellent suggestion. She can put the money in her new bank account.

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        JD June 1, 2018, 4:20 pm

        Do it once and see how it shows up on the statement. One store I go to actually shows the breakdown off cash vs items purchased on the statement.

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    CET June 1, 2018, 8:01 am

    Show him some photos of really cute ways to display kids artwork etc. I used to have a wall with wires hanging across (3 of them) and I used little clothes pins. I’ve seen magnetic metal strips you put on the wall and you hang up the art. I’ve seen large bulletin boards with a wood frame you can get made to fit a specific wall. Show him different ways to organize and tell him you think this would look so cute. Pick a few different areas to display stuff and leave other areas to hang a painting or whatever. I have one wall in my kitchen for kid art. Each kid has a large bulletin board in their room. I’ve seen people have a hanging wall in the hallway by the kid’s rooms. Also, after half a year goes by I take down the old awards/art to make room for the new. Show him how you can buy a large “portfolio” for each child and they can keep whatever they want to keep over the years in this. If an artwork is particularly great I like to get it framed and it stays up! Look on Pinterest for ideas on how to display kid art. I think a big problem here is you are the newcomer and so your ideas for change might be seen as intrusive and overbearing.

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    • avatar

      Christine June 1, 2018, 10:20 am

      She’s been there for two years. She shouldn’t be considered a newcomer. She is being considered as a maid and surrogate mom, however.

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      anonymousse June 1, 2018, 10:22 am

      Is that why he keeps breaking her stuff? Because she’s intrusive or overbearing?

      This is not a redecorating issue that will be solved by a quick search on Pinterest.

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  • avatar

    Sapphire June 3, 2018, 2:50 am

    I’m going to tell you a story about this person. She dated a single parent with 2 girls. They were only dating for 3 months and he introduced her to his kids (definitely a red flag). The mom was not in the picture. My friend was kinda of shoved into this surrogate mom role. She helped with the homework, drove them to school, and took them to their appointments and such. She was so involved with the girls more than the dad. That relationship with that guy was turning from causally dating to his nanny/sex buddy. She just found it so much harder to leave because of the kids and how attached she was to them. That sh**bag was always using the kids for leverage. Eventually she left, but now she’s being by harassed by the ex about she “abandoned” them.

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