Money has been in short supply lately. I’ve been getting by OK, but in my kids’ big picture — their whole family picture — there is not enough money for reasons that I allude to here. Suffice it to say, their dad is an important part of my kids’ lives, but when it comes to logistics and finances it’s nearly all on me. Since neither my ex nor I can rely on family money, my kids and my lives really are my sole responsibility.
That I have been able to thrive since my divorce has been enormously empowering — thrilling, even. It has been an experience for which I am grateful. I’ve done way more than I though I ever could, and am (mostly) confident I can do even more. That doesn’t mean it’s easy every day. And it doesn’t mean that my family — more than many – isn’t vulnerable.
I get scared a lot. In that moment when I’m about to drift off to sleep, I am jolted awake in terror: What happens if I become sick or disabled? What if I need to be cared for or otherwise can’t work? What happens to the kids if something happens to me?
Yes, there are people in my life who would step in. But those friend and family resources are nowhere as secure as a loving spouse. If I had a financially stable and involved husband my kids’ exposure to risk would be minimized by half. If their dad remarried, by three quarters. Statistically men, women and children fare worse in the event of divorce — assets are divided between two spheres, income and housekeeping muscle diluted by as many homes. There simply isn’t enough money or energy to go around as there is when both parents live in and help run one house.
But if there are two houses occupied by two professional adults each, then a child’s economic security is twice as strong as a typical nuclear family. Even if three out of the four adults find themselves unemployed, that kid can still count on some income — not to mention physical and emotional resources of four loving parents. Four, in my fantasy, is better than two.
This all sounds like a nice, tidy arrangement — one that a mess of stepkids or an over-mortgaged McMansion could throw off. But this is my fantasy and its prospects comfort me. At the same time it heightens my anxiety. After all, if I could do just one single thing to improve my family’s financial security, why the hell don’t I just do that?
Well, because fantasies are indeed just fantasies. For one, I have not yet been ready to take the emotional risk of romantic commitment (and really – if you read my story – can you blame a girl?). I know first-hand that in my marriage I unconsciously held myself back professionally and financially for the sake of my marriage — something many women do, whether they admit it or not. Would I repeat that in a second marriage — zeroing out any financial security gained by the union?
I don’t know. You don’t know either. Because marriage and relationships are all messy business more often influenced by the whims of human foibles than tidy equations. But as I save for taxes, strategize in my business and try to figure out how to keep my kids’ whole family picture stable, sometimes I need a break. And so I slip off into my fantasy where divorce ends up making everyone richer than their Plan A.
Recently a divorced friend shared, completely unabashed, that her goal is for her daughter, who is now a teenager, is to grow up and have a child with a great man who will be a great co-parent, then end the relationship and find a loving romantic partnership with someone else.
My friend, who is an entrepreneur after having a successful corporate career and authoring several books, asked to remain anonymous. She casually mentioned her stance at a party, and the backlash was unnerving. “I'm not wired for this kind of controversy,” she said when I asked if she'd share her story here. But she encouraged me to run with it anonymously.
I really appreciate her stance. Not only is it really, really honest, I do share her sentiment, though not entirely from personal experience. My kids are with their dad one afternoon per week, and 24 hours on weekends — plus usually a few weeks in the summer. But I will say: I always look forward to that alone time, even if I'm using it to work. I am 100% a better mom because of those breaks, which afford me the time to develop parts of my life that are not focused on my kids.
Here is what my friend told me:
My dream for my daughter is that she be in a loving relationship, and have a good ex-husband who really does a great job with the kids, 50 percent of the time.
People forget the joys of divorce — sharing your kids without guilt and having alone/me time.
I am a better mom as a divorced mom than a full-time mom who was stressed and distracted. Even though I love my child, having time away from her has allowed me to have and live a more complete life — and be a better mom when I am with her.
Thanks to the fact my daughter is with her dad half the time, I have been able to nurture a lucrative career that I am very passionate about and proud of. There is so much less ‘mommy guilt' when I have to attend evening work events or travel, because it rarely means working around my child. I just go.
I also have time to exercise, enjoy vacations that are relaxing and involve lots of book-reading, and I have had time to nurture a relationship with my new husband, with fewer of the stresses of blended families.
Plus, by the end of my kid-free week, I am recharged and ready to be a mom. If you have your kids all the time, they suck your energy, and you have little opportunity to recoup. My married friends could never compete kids afternoon events and activities. I'm the mom who throws the sushi parties, and spends afternoon with my daughter and her friends making cupcakes. I gave my daughter some wonderful experiences because I missed her and wanted our time together to be special and memorable. And because I work full-time, I have the financial resources to take her on trips and other special activities.
My sister is a married, working mom with two kids and she can barely get away to go to the gym. She feels guilty when leaving her kids with nanny or babysitter because they are in daycare all day. If her husband takes the kids, then she spends time alone without him. They lose their connection as a couple and become work horses sacrificing for their children — the very reason so many marriages end in divorce.
When I shared this stance stance with other women, they thought I was a terrible person for encouraging divorce, splitting up families and for wanting time to myself. “What kind of mother doesn't want to be with their kids fulltime?” But the moms I see are stressed out and don't enjoy their children as much as they could — if they had consistent breaks.
What do you think? Is she a better mom or worse mom for this stance? What is your experience? Does co-parenting make you a better mom, or worse? Share in the comments!
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, Oprah.com, 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.