Don’t use your single mom status as an excuse to be a dumbass


No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.  — Eleanor Roosevelt

In the past couple of weeks I've heard two smart, professional women cite their single parenthood as an excuse for their shortcomings.

Exhibit A, “Nincompoop Nancy”: “I have this $10,000 credit card balance I can't shake. I racked it up last year when I paid for my son's wedding. What was I supposed to do?! I'm a single mom!”

Exhibit B, “Idiot Irene”: “I understand why you might want to go with the other consultant who is much more experienced than I am. But keep in mind – I am trying to build a business while being a single mom. He's a single guy with tons of time on his hands.”

Hi, Nancy. I get why you want to give your kid all the advantages in the world. In this instance, sending him and his lovely new wife off into the world with a beautiful wedding. But personal finance basics apply to everyone: Spend wisely. Don't finance anything that is not an investment (home, education). A wedding is no exception. Um, hello?! You are twice divorced! Did you learn nothing from your own over-priced nuptial celebrations?! You don't get a spendthrift pass just because you're overspending on a child. And you certainly don't get a freebie because you're a single mom! If anything, you there is a GREATER responsibility to be financially smart: without a partner to depend on in retirement or in case of a financial emergency you run a bigger risk of being a burden on your kids. Ask your son — and your daughter-in-law especially — Which do you prefer? A big wedding today? Or for you to live in their home wiping your elderly ass for a decade?

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And now you, Irene. Irene! You are a businessperson selling me a product, in this case coaching services. My business doesn't  have an affirmative action program for single moms. If I'm going to invest thousands of dollars in your services, it's because I expect there to be a return on that investment. Not because you are a charity case in need of financial assistance. And when your sales pitch includes blaming your lack of competitive advantage on your personal circumstances I wonder how on God's green earth you can help me get over my own fears to succeed.

Related story: Last week a divorce coach reached out to bemoan her difficulty finding financially independent single moms to share their stories. I told her that I meet many successful single moms through work and personal networks, but I agreed — most do not lead with the “single mom” title, and instead identify by other parts of their lives: Parent, professional, Junior League President, etc. For better or worse, “single mom” has negative connotations. It connotes poverty and victimhood. At some point in  life you embrace the fact that you are not in a relationship, that life didn't turn out as planned, and you went through a whole lot of pain as a result. Then you get over it. At least most women do.

Others wallow in that grief and don't ever really move on. And like these women I bumped into recently, you use your family status as a crutch for poor decisions. The net result was that others (and by “others” I really mean “I”) think even less of you than you do yourself.

When you frame yourself — and use as a manipulation tool — your single-mom status, you really play a victim role, and demean women everywhere. You believe — and assume others to believe — that unmarried mothers are ALWAYS poor, and ALWAYS in need of charity and special consideration.

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In reality, that is sometimes true. Also in reality: You are a woman in 2018 who has more rights, opportunity and access than most PEOPLE in the world, and certainly WOMEN EVER IN HISTORY. Pause for a moment. Count all your blessings. Consider how much more you have to today, and how much you can achieve when compared with what your grandmother had. Mind-blowing, right?

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The takeaway? Yes, you are a single mom. You likely feel many different ways about that: proud, empowered, liberated, ashamed, scared, angry, frustrated, stuck, isolated or part of a wonderful community — even a revolution! Some days I cycle through each of these! But “single mom” is never allowed as an excuse. Yes, it can be devastatingly difficult to face all the challenges that comes with parenting alone. But your task is to overcome those challenges. Dig into the strength that you do have to work through each difficulty. It is your obligation to shake free from this victimhood — for yourself, for your kids, for single moms everywhere. And for women. Stop using “single mom” as an excuse for the sake of the advancement of women. For which, I say: Thank you.

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How about you? Have you used “But I'm a single mom!” as a leveraging tool to get what you want? Have others used that on you? Share your story in the comments!


About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.


  1. Honoree Corder on March 31, 2014 at 1:18 pm


  2. Seanna on March 31, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    I have used the “I am a single mom” card for when people ask me to buy things I do not need and cannot afford. Like scentsy, Boy Scout popcorn, girl scout cookies, etc. Maybe it is a cop out but if it does not fit in my budget, I do not break it for shit I do not need. Telling a two year old, nope Kevin (from Thomas) is not in our budget, gives me this proud moment that I stood up to my kid.

    • Emma on April 2, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Seanna – good for you for sticking to your budget, but why do you reference your family status? Maybe you are strapped now, but being a single mom does not commit you to poverty forever!

  3. Seanna on April 4, 2014 at 8:51 am

    It is just used when they get super pushy, they know I am saving for a house, retirement, etc. When they just won’t take no for an answer. Once my kid is out of full time daycare, my budget should be a little less tight, but I have big plans in the works. I think the idea of funderaising is kind of ridiculous, I rather just give the kid some money towards camp or whatever it is for than have item I don’t want or need.

    • Em on May 14, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      I agree, Seanna, I use it sometimes in that situation, too. The conversation goes like this: Person/child: “Would you like to buy/donate xyz?” Me: “No, thank you, but good luck!” Them: “But it’s just $xx and for a great cause!” Me: “No thank you, we stick to a strict budget, and unfortunately that is not in our budget.” Them: “You could only buy one/we have a payment plan/it’s only a few dollars/don’t you care about xx cause?” Me: I appreciate that, but we just cannot afford anything right now, we stick to a strict budget, and I need you to respect the fact that I said and meant that.” Them: “But surely you can afford just $xxx” Me (forced with the decision of slamming the door in their face, when it often includes a child, or pulling out the single mom card): “Look, I’m a single mom and my child’s father doesn’t pay his child support, so I need you to respect the fact that I said I can’t afford it and meant it.” I am always met with an immediate apology and they shut up and leave. They should respect ANYONE saying they can’t afford it, but the fact is that they do not, and pulling the single mother card ends the argument without total rudeness. If children aren’t involved, I have actually shut the door on someone before, but I’m just not willing to be as harsh if an innocent kid is there just doing what his mom told him to do.

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