Sharing a home with my ex

Dear Meredith,

I am a mother in my mid-20s with three amazing children. Currently I am living with the father of my children, who has a child from a former relationship. We broke up months ago, live in separate rooms, and have split up the house (essentially like a two-family split house). The children are able to pass between both floors. My ex and I never married, and it was never a huge issue considering I thought that we eventually would. I broke up with him because I felt he could not commit. It feels weird to say that after three children, but I slowly realized that he was controlling, every day we would fight over nothing, I never felt appreciated, and it was more stress than I needed while taking care of the family.

A little bit about him. He works full time and helps pay for the things the kids need (food, clothing, etc.). Aside from that, it has always felt like I am burdened with taking care of the kids all of the time. Don't get me wrong, I love my children and their existence keeps me fighting every day, but Mommy needs a break every once in a while. I work double shifts throughout the weekend, and a relative takes care of the kids during that time so that we both can work. During the week, I'm with the kids with no help from my ex. He believes in gender roles where the mother takes care of the kids and the father works, but I also need to work to make ends meet.

I do not mind taking care of the kids -- I just need him to change. I need a break every now and then, but he seems unwilling to help. I recently was very sick and still had to take care of the kids. He did not want to help just so I could rest. The baffling thing is that he wants to get back together. I try to tell him that things will need to change before I can commit to him. I need to know that he is willing to help. I am willing to get back with him if we can start to compromise and if he helps more than just financially. Sometimes all I ask for is 30 minutes out of the day to maybe feed the baby, or help our oldest with homework. And it would be nice if he wanted to take the family to the museum or something. Instead he works on the house (which I don't entirely mind) or sleeps and hangs out in his part of the house.

One other complication to us getting back together is that in months ago, I met this amazing guy. He is honest, straightforward, and always fun to be with. I feel very comfortable around him and can tell him anything. We went on a few dates but he has been very clear that he does not believe he could be in a relationship with me because of the kids and all the drama with my ex. I do not mind, and I completely understand where he is coming from, so we have grown to be great friends. My ex knows of him, but has said that if he and I were to get back together, I would have to end the friendship I have made with him. I cherish the relationship I have with my friend, and he is one of the only people I can tell anything.

Now that you have enough of the background, should I try to find a way to have a relationship with my ex? Is there a way to create boundaries between my ex and I, but not have it hurt the kids? Do I have to move out? I want him included in their lives, but I do not want to suffer everyday having to fight with him and having him tell me everything I am doing wrong. Is it right of him to ask that I end my friendship?

– Doesn't Know What to Do, Cambridge

It seems like you're in a perfect position to find out whether your ex has any intention of changing, DKWTD. Sure, you're separated, but is he making any effort to show you what life would be like if you got back together? Can he take the kids for an evening after you've had a long day? Can he plan a family activity on a weeknight? Can he be a friend and just listen for a while? Have you told him what you need and made very specific requests?

If he can't be a better guy while you're living on different floors, he won't change if you get back together. Be very clear about what you require to make this work and see if he has any interest in trying.

As for whether you have to move out if you don't get back together, well, yes, you should. If this relationship isn't going to work, you need to sit down with a real mediator to determine a visitation schedule and to talk about who'll cover specific expenses. Married or not, you have three kids. If you want to separate your households, you need boundaries and rules.

As for your friendship with the other man, I'm on the fence. If you have romantic feelings for him and you're simply suppressing them to keep him around, it's not healthy for anyone. I want you to have a pack of good, platonic friends. You should minimize the importance of this man and expand your circle. That's what's best for you anyway. I have a feeling that your ex would be less stressed about this guy if he were one of many friends in your life.

There's a lot to cover here, but you can start by telling your ex what you want from him right now. Again, if he can't help you out and treat you well while he's on another floor, he's basically telling you that nothing will change.

Readers? Will he change? Should she try? What about the other man? And what about the kids? Help.

– Meredith