Your first wife was a stay-at-home mom? Single moms won’t date you

Recently there was a very interesting discussion in my Millionaire Single Mom closed Facebook group (join us!) that addressed the challenges of dating men whose first wives were full-time stay-at-home wives. A number of women refuse. Reasons include:

Men whose only example of a long-term romantic partner is someone who cared for the daily minutiae of running a home and family is incapable of overseeing the basics of life, and will treat any future partners like, well, wives:

If a guy has had a stay at home wife, I won't date him until he's lived in his own for at least a year and has had his eyes open that some fairy doesn't take care of his shiznit in the background. They're overgrown children. — Lynette 

Others are bitter about their own marriages that were informed by exes who were, in turn, informed by their own stay-at-home moms:

My ex was/is sooo used to his mother doing everything. So when we were together I ended up doing everything because he was either incapable or oblivious. Realizing I was already doing all the parenting/housework and working (from home) was the trigger for me to leave. I figured out I was doing it all anyway, why have him around? Didn't need him… It was a freeing and very empowering. — Rebecca

Other moms felt that these men simply did not get them — Ambitious, independent women who are thrilled to earn and achieve on their own terms:

I recently dated a man — long distance — whose ex-wife stayed at home. She never finished college, so her career choices were limited. I thought it interesting that he just assumed I'd give up my 20+-year music career in a large city to move to his mid-sized town where there were zero opportunities in my field. He even once said, ‘We'd be OK if you had to take a pay cut.” I briefly turned into Cruella De Vil: Why on Earth would I take a pay cut when I've worked REALLY REALLY hard to get where I am?? It was that presumption that a woman would give everything up and fold into him that was the deal-breaker for me. — Prianka 

Other moms said they found these men to be the bitter ones — feeling they'd been taken advantage of financially (since women without careers often are awarded alimony, at least in the short-term), and often when it came to unfair parenting schedules, with courts defaulting to archaic gender stereotypes in which men work and financially support women who stay home and care for babies.

Reasons men love financially independent women:

These insights were really eye-opening to me. I've had a really great time over the past six years dating like a maniac in New York City, a place teeming with interesting, successful men — many of whom were married to stay-at-home wives whom they are now paying a lot of alimony and child support. I've found that these dudes really, really appreciate a woman who makes her own money, and love when women will commiserate with them when they complain that:

  • He did not agree for her to quit her career, but by the time they split up it was too late, or …
  • She couldn't keep a job, or pursued a career that was not lucrative, but felt entitled to maintain the lifestyle his career had afforded her, or …
  • She refused to get a job, or chose low-paying, part-time work to qualify for more money from him — none of the above of which are the same as both partners mutually agreeing one would forgo their earning potential for the sake of the family, which is what alimony is designed for.

That said, there were a few men in my recent history who clearly didn't really get what it means to be a single mom who has a career and big goals. They didn't get me, and these men didn't understand women, either.

Take, for example, the movie set designer, who made a lot of money, judging by the $10,000 he paid his ex monthly, his flashy Upper West Side apartment, and the fact that he told me all the time he made a lot of money. This guy was in his early 50s, and after a year-long affair with a hot 25-year-old blonde who worked retail that ended his 20-year marriage, he'd dated a stream of hot 25-year-old blondes who worked retail, according to his Instagram feed. We went out for a few months, and I appreciated that he was creatively brilliant and a basically good guy, and he did treat me well. But we never gelled. I always felt that while we connected intellectually, I was a good 30 lbs too fat for him, and frankly, too independent. I'd imagine that he'd tell his therapist about me, and because she'd urge him to pursue someone age- and professionally appropriate like, say, me, he stuck it out for a while, even if my flabby ass and full bush didn't really do it for him. He did, however, really appreciate that unlike his other, less hard-knocked-life honies, I understood his divorce woes. But, because he had for 20 years a wife who did not have a career, who had their kid 80 percent of the month, he did not understand me.

The designer'd often suggest we go out to loud clubs populated with hot 25-year-olds and guys in their 50s in expensive suits during the week, at like 10 p.m. Finally, after the half-dozenth invitation, I said: “You know, I can get a sitter from time to time, but weeknights aren't my thing. I have kids at home, you know!”

Him: [Blank stare. Blink. Blink.]

And after the 100th bitter rant about what he saw as his lazy, entitled ex-wife who refused to work full-time, I said: “I appreciate that being a mom to one teenager is not a full-time job, and your ex-wife needs to stop being so entitled, but your career did benefit from having her home taking care of your kid all those years.”

Him: [Blank stare. Blink. Blink.]

I have said it before, and it stands saying a million times: The power of pussy is real. The life you lead is a force for activism, or not. You inform others around you how to treat you, and also how to treat others. The way you manage your romantic life — whether in casual dating, or in a long-term marriage — affects those around you, directly and indirectly, which trickles into politics and policy, near and far. When you demand respect for “women's work” at home by presuming it is shared, you, by default, are demanding respect for “women's work” in the rest of the world.

Related posts on single moms and dating and money:

9 reasons why dating is better as a single mom

How single moms can find affordable child care

Which brings me to the other important power of wives. I have overheard countless discussions — online and IRL — from professional women who are endlessly frustrated by working for and with men with SAHM wives. These women describe their colleagues and bosses as men who cavalierly pop out for post-work drinks or to networking events, or sign up for career-advancing conferences and sales meetings without a single worry about managing child care. After all, they can afford to take for granted that their wives have it covered. These are men who tend to be far less sensitive to their colleagues and underling's family challenges— a sick kid, disabled parent, or maternity leave are much harder to sympathize with when you, yourself never have to manage these career disruptions. After all, they can afford to take for granted that their wives have it covered.

These challenges within office cultures impact how women in those workplaces are treated, advance and earn. But it also affects policy — whether corporate policy supports families and women, or whether or not local, state, federal and international policy advocates for gender equality.

In the Millionaire Single Mom Facebook group, a poster opened the discussion by writing: “I don't mean to take a crack at stay-at-home moms, but …” To which I responded:

Well, it IS a crack at stay-at-home moms. We are all part of the same ecosystem — choices we make in our personal lives affect everyone around us. There have been some excellent pieces written in recent years about how men in powerful positions always have SAHM wives, and that informs the policies they promote. The personal is political and vice versa.It pisses me off when people toss up their hands when called to social, environmental or economic justice. It is not just a ‘personal choice' to litter, smoke, feed your kids junk food. We are all responsible to each other. That is the nature of society, and community.

I will tamper that harsh stance with this: I very much appreciate all the societal pressure for women to stay home full-time. I did it for about a year myself. I blindly folded into the pressure to be omnipresent for our kids and families, which we erroneously presume is best for the kids, and for marriages. This, despite the growing bodies of research that finds that when mothers work outside the home for pay, women are less prone to depression and domestic violence, children fare better, and marriages and the economy are stronger. When my marriage ended abruptly, and I was soon totally financially on my own, I was so angry at myself for choosing without consideration what it meant to be financially dependent on someone else. That was a choice that I deeply regret, and I am working really damn hard to make sure other women know what that means.

That I said, I get that the choices women face about work and family are hard, and complicated. I very much appreciate the crippling cost of child care in the United States. I paid for two tiny kids to be in child care full-time since they were babies. In New York City. As a single mom. These financial and social pressures are real, and call for policy and culture changes.

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Which is the big takeaway here: This is collective work, and change is happening, like it or not. Collectively, single moms are rejecting men who were informed by stay-at-home women. Collectively, business and government policy is mostly controlled by white men, most of whom have stay-at-home wives. This is changing. Change is painful, necessary.

As Jessica Grose describes at Slate, researchers at Harvard Business School analyzed 4,000 executives worldwide, 44 percent of whom were women. They found that while 60 percent of male executives had spouses who stayed home full time, just 10 percent of women did. Grose wrote:

The men tend to choose work without regret when conflicts arise, because they frame their family role as “breadwinner.” This seems to alleviate any guilt. One interviewee says he doesn’t regret his divorce because he was always a good provider and was able to achieve his goals, and now he spends more time with his kids on weekends. Another says: “The 10 minutes I give my kids at night is one million times greater than spending that 10 minutes at work.”

As the authors point out, most women would not brag about only spending 10 minutes a day with their children. Contrast this with how a female executive frames her experience: “When you are paid well, you can get all the [practical] help you need. What is the most difficult thing, though—what I see my women friends leave their careers for—is the real emotional guilt of not spending enough time with their children. The guilt of missing out.” That women are paying for the practical help—while male executives tend to receive practical help from a stay-at-home spouse—might explain the guilt differential.

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, noted blogger, and bestselling author. 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.  Find out Emma's top Single Mom Resources here.


  1. Julie on November 17, 2017 at 3:08 am

    I see this all of the time in my home. If the kids are sick, guess who has to take time off of work? Guess who has to try to find the sitter? I was a SAHM for 12 years, never had a well paying job even though I have a BA (anthropology majors done make much) and now I am kicking myself for not working. I am going to be divorcing, but at this point, I have to work part time at a low wage job so I can be home for my special needs kiddo who has therapies after school and during school hours. My other kiddo has counseling during the day too for her anxiety. I am trying to find ways to either fund a CCN license or creatively do wellness education and other services during night hours or when stbx has the kids. I wish I had a firm financial footing, but I dont so will have to depend upon him for a while, it sucks.

    Adding that interestingly enough, a lot of the sahm mentality comes from Christian teaching, but if you look at the Proverbs 31 wife, you see that she has her own business! In the Bible! And she is the ideal woman and wife. So go figure.

    • Emma on November 29, 2017 at 7:33 am

      I need to read Proverbs!

      • Amanda on January 5, 2018 at 9:47 am

        That chapter, though beautifully written, is about a mythical “virtuous” woman who is “doing it all” – taking care of business and the home, making healthy food for her family, creating domestic bliss, serving everyone else’s needs above her own (husband, children, friends, neighbors), being frugal, and doing so effortlessly and selflessly of course. I’ve read that this chapter is not about a woman living perfectly, but rather with purpose, but I see it as the Biblical version of the 1980s Enjoli commercial.

  2. Emma-Louise Smith on November 15, 2017 at 5:15 am

    Wowzers! This is an awesome post Emma! You always manage to articulate my own thoughts so well! I had this very conversation with my best friend (a stay-at-home mum) on the weekend. She wants to work but feels she’d be letting her kids down. She’s a highly educated woman who hasn’t worked since her first child was born eight years ago, but I could see the doubt on her face when I tried to convince her that not being available to her kids 24/7 wasn’t detrimental to their wellbeing. The other problem is even when women do work it is STILL them that shoulders both the practical and mental load of taking care of the home and kids. In nearly every marriage I see around me the men are still able to swan off to after work drinks/a round of golf without a care in the world because invariably it’s the mother who will be the one factoring in the kids to her schedule, arranging a child-minder/babysitter and making sure their food on the table. The woman’s career/life invariably takes second place, and many women just go along with that. I’ve learned my lesson the hard way and definitely wouldn’t ever date a man again who was used to having a woman at home to pick up after him!

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