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, Oprah.com, 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, Oprah.com and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.
Her popular blog Wealthysinglemommy.com, 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.