As a worried single mom I fantasize about a four-parent family

single mom scared

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.

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Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, 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,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

5 thoughts on “As a worried single mom I fantasize about a four-parent family

  1. Emma, I love this post. I have been pondering just the same thing-love/marriage are not one in the same-I’ve landed on my feet after divorce, but would I risk my/my daughter’s financial future to marry again? Thats a tough question. Divorce with children really makes me reframe my whole view of marriage.

    1. Valerie – interesting that your knee-jerk take is that marriage would be more of a risk, whereas I am seeing marriage as a ticket to more financial security. Of course it can go either way, no matter what — you marry a great guy with a good who ends up with medical needs an an inability to work on one side, or, say, you marry an unstable person with a low income who gets his act together after marriage. But in general children with married parents enjoy more financial stability than if they are divorced or single … lots of questions and variables….

  2. I came upon this blog after doing an Internet search since I am recently divorced with children, and remain miffed after reading some of the posts. According to the links you provided, your husband suffered a near fatal accident, had some serious head injury–

    You became pregnant post-accident–and then divorced your husband, after he suffered a TBI/Brain Injury.

    Just curious if your ex-husband is aware of the things being said about him in your blog. My experience tells me there are two sides to every story–Would love to hear from the “Ex” about his perspective about being “featured” in your blog–and some of the choice things you say about him–has he consented to your inclusion of him in your blog? Curiously, Jules.

    1. Jules, memoir is always a tricky writing form, and I try very hard to write about my my experiences from the perspective that they are just that: my own experiences. Of course other people are part of those experiences. It is not perfect or always easy to navigate, as many essayists before me can attest.

  3. I dig this post, and in my own life, have been working towards making it a reality, by browsing real estate listings, talking with some long-time friends (a couple whom I’ve known since before we both had kids) about co-habitating & childcare-swapping. Also recently signed up for, a roommate-matching service for single moms, though activity on the site seems low. My version doesn’t hinge on a romantic relationship. After one post-divorce lover had me head-over-heels, yet without any desire to co-habitate or have his babies, I realized maybe I’d be happier leaving these 2 realms of my life separate – the beautiful, volatile uncertainty of sex, and the stable, predictable, familiarity of family & home. We’ll see what happens!

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