Giving back — what can single moms afford?

Lately I’ve felt the urge to give back more. Before I had kids I would volunteer on and off for various projects – ESL tutoring, teaching newspaper reporting to an adult literacy, Christmas gifts for poor kids. I give money, but there’s no substitute for doing actual work. Getting out of my head, out of my comfort zone, meeting people I normally won’t – all without financial compensation. After all, altruism wouldn’t exist if giving didn’t feel good, right?

Being a mom – a single one, as you know – makes the time required to give back seem even more precious. So when I found out about a great little public plaza that was going to be voted on by my community board, attending a board meeting in support felt like a great idea.

I didn’t have a real agenda in attending, I just knew our councilman opposed it. If I needed to, I could stand up and speak in support of the plaza, which would be a mere four blocks from my apartment. I’d explain why it would remedy a harrowingly dangerous intersection which my kids and I frequent. I’d explain why this modest investment of public funds would benefit local businesses, boost property values, and better our quality of life.

I’m not sure which was the bigger force in squelching the plan: the influence of business, or board members’ mental retardation. But after three hours of spirited debate, three-fourths of the members voted it down.

I was crestfallen.

Lucas and Helena, volunteer mulchers at Astoria Park.

Afterwards I went for beers with a mommy friend. I admitted that I questioned whether it was a waste of my time to go, not to put the kids to bed, and spend nearly $50 on a sitter. True, I learned a lot. I enjoyed the theater of the event. Maybe my presence added something. After all, I cheered loudly when others spoke in support of the plaza, and rolled my eyes and whispered in disgust to my friend when board members verbally fretted over a mere four lost parking spots. But what did I really give back? How could I be of more use?

When I got home, I found I’d received a Facebook message from an old friend with whom I’ve recently reconnected through this blog.

Hi Emma,

I wanted to let you know that I think your blog is very powerful. I have a dear friend who is a single mom and she is having a very hard time with dating and just doing it all alone. I sent her your blog and it’s really been inspiring for her. She asked me if she could contact you, she wants to talk with more single moms and your blog has really hit home. She has a great job and is really working hard every day to be a good mom and friend, but right now she’s feeling pretty low about dating. Anyhow, would it be OK if she emailed you? Thank you, Emma and thank you for putting yourself out there. You’re really making a difference.


Nothing could have made me happier. Like I said, altruism – it has to feel good. 

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.

13 thoughts on “Giving back — what can single moms afford?

  1. Hi Emma, One of your friends sent your blog my way and I could completely reiterate what Catherine sent to you. Another divorced friend and I keep talking about the need to start support groups and a desire to start a blog, but you are actually doing it! The best I have been able to do is I volunteer to share my story with anyone who is in the new stages. There was no one to relate to when I was going through it so I feel like I have to “pay forward” the support and learnings I did gain from the experience to help others. What you are doing really is a great way to “give back.” Keep on doing what you are doing and if are ever looking for others to help you, we should talk!

    1. Hi Lisa- thanks so much for your supportive words! I agree– there is a need for support for single and/or divorcing women. Feel free to email me offline if you’d like to discuss working together, or anything at all, for that matter!

  2. Another great article woman. I love to give back, and post-marital drama, I actually started a women’s network at work and we’ve been doing so much in our community. It even gives me something to do and not think about what’s going on with my soon-to-be-ex.

  3. Even though I’ve not always practiced this, I think giving back during our darkest hours can be a great remedy for heartache of all kinds. Puts things in perspective. Good for you for being proactive by creating the network — that is amazing!

  4. Emma, I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of weeks, and I really like your ideas about making your own personal wealth. I didn’t appreciate that you called the board members mentally retarded in this post. I have no problem with you insulting the board members’ decision, but please don’t make fun of (unintentionally) people with mental retardation/intellectual disabilities.

    1. Hi Nicole — I appreciate the perspective and I’m sorry you are offended. However, I stand behind my use of the term. These board members do not suffer from disabilities (as far as I know), but are indeed retarded in their thinking about urban development, the betterment of our community and their power as public leaders.

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