Disrupting your family routine to prioritize a boyfriend is the healthiest thing for your kids


I rarely hire a nighttime babysitter. Nothing wrong with it, and if you do so for personal or professional reasons — knock yourself out! Personally, I find that sticking to our daily routine is best for my kids, for me, and for our family flow. On the aggregate, the deeper the grooves of ritual, the deeper my connection to my family and life. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t tuck my kids to bed every single night. Everyone survives if we miss our evening routine of each kid wandering out of the bath, towel draping off their little bodies, asking, “Can you hold me like a baby?” as I sit in the rocking chair and they lay across my lap in my arms, and we indulge in a few one-on-one moments before they get into their jammies.

I’d rather not miss this jam, I mostly limit my professional obligations to daytime school hours, and romantic pursuits for weekends when my kids are with their dad.

This Thursday night? Amelie is babysitting, kids! And I won’t be home till after you’re in bed.

I’ve been writing (and thinking about and spending time with and other delicious activities) someone I really like. Someone who is becoming part of my life — and may be for a long time. I let him know that weeknight dates are great.

If you’re involved with someone you care about and hope to know long-term, you should do the same.

Sure, there’s the thrill of sneaking out of family duties to indulge in the company of a handsome man who escorts you to a nice restaurant strategically located down the block from his Brooklyn apartment. But more than that, deviating from your family’s routine is critical if that relationship stands a chance of thriving.

For one, relationships require time together. Thank goddess for Facetime, IM and text that facilitate spontaneous and intimate chatter. But real relationships more than one encounter weekly. Since my boyfriend is not yet in the fold of my family, that requires dates that require babysitters.

More importantly, rejiggering my life for a date sends important signals to my boyfriend. Relationships thrive when when the couple makes their relationship the priority above all others — including any children in the picture. Making that work in blended families is tricky business in which I have scant personal experience. But a prospective partner may struggle to envision that he might be a priority to a busy, committed single mom. My current relationship is but two months old. He does not take precedence over my kids now. But rearranging my life every week or two for him expresses my values and willingness to invest in the relationship.

Finally, making an extra-super-duper effort to create space for a new relationship is critical if you’re a woman like me — independent and proud. Feminism has taken its toll on men’s sense of relevance (just google Hanna Rosin + The End of Men). When you’re a professional single mom you are the walking embodiment of the fruits of feminism: financial independence and so much social autonomy that you can run a whole family on your own. It’s hard for a man to see where he might fit into that. But you know and I know that we absolutely need men. And not just for a warm penis, car shopping and a date to your cousin’s wedding. I need a man to be my lover, yes. But also my intellectual sounding board and my emotional support. I need someone to take me out on a Thursday night and laugh at my stories and trust me enough to share his and hold my hand on the street and make me feel like a woman.

This Thursday I will get a pedicure, squeeze my ass into something inappropriate, and make sure I have enough cash in my black clutch to pay Amelie at the end of the evening. As I kiss the kids goodbye and traipse to Brooklyn to lavish in all things good and human, I may suffer a twinge of guilt for not being home. But that guilt will be tampered with a knowing this is not family time borrowed for a decadent romp normally relegated to visitation weekends. This, this is something else.

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.

43 thoughts on “Disrupting your family routine to prioritize a boyfriend is the healthiest thing for your kids

  1. Don’t forget to also make time for that “lover”, or FWB, that you have on the side as well (per the blog “8 Rules for FWB for Single Moms” from last week.) betwixt that “romantic entanglement” with a Poindexter that single mommy is trying develop a serious relationship. LMAO. Make sure to also make some time as your relationship with Poindy progresses to write down the lies you’re telling Poindy to cover your tracks with the FWB, so that you keep all the fibs consistent.

    1. Darth – putting my foot down. I’ve appreciated your comments here, as you’ve added a lot of new perspective to our conversations, and have generally been very respectful of others. But this is mean, totally unfounded and twistedly personal. Not cool.

      1. Yay! It’s gotten ridiculous. I don’t even read his comments anymore, but I saw yours and had to read. I mean, really Darth. That was really jacked up.

        Have fun!! My ex just moved back to town for a few months, so now I’m going to feel that little guilt when my boyfriend and I go out when I have my kids. I haven’t had to split anytime with my ex in over a year. But, relationships need that time. It’s so nice being in a healthy relationship, I want to keep it that way.

        1. Good for you Marissa! Let’s keep comparing notes. Thanks for the support but to be honest, I find Leah’s default negative attitude about dating to be even more offensive. Maybe I’m feeling defensive, as my BF’s really going out of his way to show me a special evening in his neighborhood. WTF, people!?

        2. My comments aren’t truly meant for you Marissa, they are meant for the naive men who troll this blog thinking single moms are an option for serious dating. So, you won’t read the below I assume, but here goes……

          So you don’t take issue with Emma’s presentation that a single mom has a FWB meanwhile working some relationship angle with a naive BF with the hope of a “romantic entanglement” and a committed relationship with said single mom. Isn’t leading the one guy on with the hope of something more whilst having trists with an FWB just like the horrible cheating all you single moms boohoo about that you’re exes did to you when your marriages dissolved? So the standard is different when you’re the single mom?

          As a guy I don’t think it’s cool when anyone plays the romantic angle with one person, guiding them down the path that there may be a serious relationship, getting commitments of time and money from that person, and seeming to delete the online dating profile and all. Meanwhile, they also have that FWB on the side as a distraction as this supposed romance that has all this potential is blossoming. But if she’s a single mom I should be OK with that? I don’t pursue serious relationships with single moms because of this kind of crap they pull: “Thanks for all these dinners DarthW. Thanks for spending time with my kids and I and getting to know us, etc. I think this relationship may show it’s going somewhere. Also, I’m also screwing another guy on the side, but he’s just a “lover” until we get really, really, really committed.”

          1. I have zero tolerance for cheating. I have never cheated, and divorced a serial cheater the moment I found out. I do not continue friendships with people, woman or men, who cheat. I think it shows a serious lack of integrity and is abusive.

            I actually didn’t read the blog post you are referencing, so I would take issue. I will read it later today when I have time.The problem is, in our society…cheating is generally considered ok. All the people horrified with what my ex did…still friends with him on facebook and will be very nice when they see him. Oh well, he and his lovely girlfriend ruined 2 families…Marissa is doing great, so who cares. I tend to just ignore or not read things that are ok with cheating. It sends my blood pressure through the roof.

            My main issue with the way you have been posting as of late, is it is just nasty. And has gotten nasty toward Emma. I get you had some bad experiences. But COME ON! We are all not like that! Most of us aren’t. I’m a single mom. One who is in a committed relationship. He is planning on moving in soon. We will not combine finances. He will pay me rent, not half of my mortgage. His money will not be paying for anything for my children. Now, he will sometimes rush to pay the sitter before me, come to the house with a hoody for my son, or play jewelry for my daughter, or the other day a new xbox game for my oldest. Because he IS a part of my family now. My kids come with me, so he is part of that…just not responsible for paying for it. Our only heated discussions involve me telling him he isn’t responcible for stuff involving my kids. And I really feel like this is more of the norm, than the single moms you apparently know.

        1. Just because I acknowledge that some people chose to have affairs does not mean that I am polyamorous or a cheater. Just as I support abortion rights does not mean I have ever had an abortion or would chose to.

          Noted: You only started getting really nasty here when I started writing about having a boyfriend.

          1. I wholeheartedly disagree with your presentation that having some lover/FWB on the side while anyone pursues some committed relationship hence my “nastiness”. If a single mom wants a committed relationship, then work on it, and give up the childish crap on the side. Meanwhile, I also think committed relationships are foolish, mostly for men, because of these types of double-standards.

            “Just because I acknowledge that some people chose to have affairs does not mean that I am polyamorous or a cheater. ” – It means you’re open to cheating. You may not have done it, but you are excusing it in other single moms and showing you’re open to the idea. You’re boyfriend needs to pay attention.

            Interestingly, I’ve read so many other single moms post about having such disgust for their own former spouses cheating, but somehow it’s OK for a single mom. I’ve seen this crap in my own dating life (but expected better of you Emma based on many of your blogs.) I’ve dated many a single mom that expected me to put out my time, my money, my home, my 401K, and my paycheck to pay for their children and mistakes they made, but single mommy also wanted what she wanted – that lover on the side – with no respect for my sacrifices and commitment in the relationship. That’s why I’m no longer a Poindexter. That “8 rules” merely solidifies my reasoning.

            1. I agree with your above statment.

              My ex’s GF (one of the many he cheated on me with. Hilariously enough he has already cheated on her…and she took him back. Idiot) My ex tried to make me feel sympathy for her initially, saying her ex husband cheated on her. I actually have more distain for someone who went through the pain of infidelity and turned around and involves herself in doing it to someone else. She deserves the hell my ex will put her through.

              FWB should be something that is done when both parties aren’t otherwise entangled in a relationship. Period

            2. If only life were so simple. What about if a married couple is separated, not romantically connected, but still connected financially and pursuing divorce? Still entangled.

              What about the woman I met recently who had an abusive husband and only found the confidence to leave when she met and had an affair with a wonderful man who would become her husband?

              What about office flirtations that consume both parties but are never consummated in any way other than emotional feelings?

              Life is complicated and messy. Stats suggest that 70 of married people full-out cheat. There are so many shades of grey that it seems that 100% of us are cheaters in our hearts or bodies —

              I don’t believe in paybacks and anyone “deserving hell.” People are unfaithful when a relationship is broken and that takes two people.

              And I say this as someone who can confidently say I have never been unfaithful in my relationships.

            3. My ex husband cheated our entire marriage. He would still be with me if I hadn’t kicked him out. She deserves exactly what she gets. She started this affair knowing he just wanted her as a side dish. They didn’t “fall in love” They banged in his truck outside of Alanon meetings and at her house during his lunch hour while the kids she babysat where napping and I was home taking care of his kids. He banged randoms in his truck at walmart. He sexed my bored housewife neighbor. I was a good wife and didn’t deserve it. If you want to get out of a marriage, leave. Don’t cheat. If you haven’t been through that, you don’t know the pain. Only selfish people do that to others. Especially when kids are involved. No marriage is perfect, but finding someone else before you leave it…I will never agree with that. I had a friends who’s ex husband did that. 2 years later he regretted it, saying he ended up in the same place with his current wife. I feel sorry for my ex’s GF. That she thinks so little of herself that she signed on to be a mistress. She knows he would still be with me. But, she did it to herself. In my opinion, you walk into that with your eyes open, willing to mess with 4 other people’s lives, you reap what you sew.

              Being completly separated, but married in only paper is different. When physical abuse is involved, I don’t judge anything anyone needs to do to get out.

            4. And for the record, I agreed with not promoting cheating, NOT him personally attacking you. He needs to chill out big time

            5. I remember a guy telling me about his wife having a friend, and the friend was cheating on her husband with another man. This guy had met the husband on times out, and liked him. This guy’s wife comes to him one day and says “My girlfriend and her boyfriend are coming to town and would like to stay with us.” Now, this “friend” was still married to the husband – not separated, not divorced, simply cheating…or as Emma would say “romantically entangled”. Of course, the guy I know had some class, and told his wife “No way she’s staying here with her FWB.”

              Here’s the takeaway…. The guy I know never forgot that his wife was cool with her friend bringing her guy on the side to stay – under the husband’s nose – at their house. That idea never left him, because he knew if his wife approved of bad behavior in her friend that hadn’t left the sham of a committed relationship, then his wife was capable of same. NEVER.

              Anyone who seriously engages in a relationship with someone so open to FWB on the side, needs to make sure they are OK with the idea that the single mom will likely entertain and excuse the same if they are tempted themselves.

            6. So marriage is difficult?! Wow, go figure. Who the hell knew? So Poindexter takes a risk at loving and caring for a single mom and her kids (giving tons of money and time to help raise another man’s kids), but because life is so, so complicated it’s OK for single mom to go cheat with an FWB on the side because BOO-effin-HOO life is so, so, so complicated.

              Puhleze Emma. That is so weak.

              A male or female in an abusive relationship needs to leave it, get straigtened around, and THEN get an FWB. A person separated needs to end the marriage, and THEN get an FWB. Nice try, but office flirtations are not the “romantic entanglements” to which you were referring as they are not romantic at all. That last crap you tried like “if they think it it must be cheating” is you just making another weak excuse.

              Why are you bothering to try to seek out a serious relationship if it’s just going to end in tears? I came to the conclusion that serious relationships are a waste long ago. You pretend to support them, yet undermine them. I guess as long as a single mom gets Poindexter’s wallet it doesn’t really matter anyway.

    2. @DarthW – Methinks you’re spending too much time on the PUA blogs. If this blog is so horrible, maybe you should start your own. Your pen name could be “Victim of Love.”

      1. Harry, you’re obviously a white knight. Rescue you a single mom and tell me how that works out for you. Me thinks it will not.

  2. I’d love to “be there,” but I just recently decided to put dating on the freeze for now. I was a SAHM for over 10 years when my ex left, and I’m the primary parent of three kids. After two years of looking for work, I only obtained a part time job earning less than I did when I quit to have my second child 15 years ago (now it’s barely above minimum wage). So, I came to the conclusion that I need a BA degree to get any decent paying job because I won’t be able to survive on what I make once support payments are expired in the next few years. I’m currently a full time student, part time employee and full time mom. So, the dating game will have to wait. I know my limits and I chose ME for now. I have plans and the timing is off. Love is definitely something I hope for in the future, but for now, I’m trying to keep my sanity in a high-stress lifestyle. I don’t really have other options, since it’s about survival.

    1. Hi Shiela – I understand. There are times of life that you just have to get through crisis. But please keep that notion alive: “Love is definitely something I hope for in the future, but for now.”

  3. Just curious: why are you “traipsing to Brooklyn” . . . I hope he assumes some of the relationship chores and makes himself available closer to your home.

    Everything doesn’t always need to be “best/most healthy” for our children. Our needs deserve attention, too. And it sounds like you’ve got a long list of needs. Since none of us have mastered bi-location . . . we can only be one place at a time . . . it may be time to consider whether this guy is willing and able to meet the needs you described.

    Good luck. Have fun.

  4. Dating as a single mom is *not easy*. So, I appreciate your taking a stand and making your needs (desires?) a priority. That said, I get stuck on this statement,

    “Relationships thrive when when the couple makes their relationship the priority above all others — including any children in the picture.”

    I have a child and am in a relationship (close to two years). In my life, my well being comes first, which I find is a necessity in order to keep chugging along. This means I work out (as often as possible with my gal pals), read/go to book club, visit family, cook and sleep. Sometimes these things take precedence over my child, but I feel I *need* them in order to stay sane. My child comes second after me. Divorce is no picnic for most children. For my daughter it meant moving from a nice home to splitting time between two apartments (and mine is no great shakes). When she is with her father, she now vies for attention and resources with the live-in girlfriend and her three kids. I think that kind of sucks for her so I almost never sacrifice time with her to spend time with/do something for my boyfriend. I’ve been clear about that with him from the beginning and I think he understands. My reasoning is that for as long as she benefits from it, I am going to put her above anyone else. I don’t think it will be forever, and so I am willing to take whatever hit comes with my choice.

    1. That all seems perfectly reasonable, Alexandra. Some food for thought: If your relationship were to move to something more serious — like living together or marriage — there is no way it would survive unless he was prioritized over your daughter. Not all the time, every day. But devoting time and energy to make that relationship the sun around which the rest of your lives orbit. Inevitably that is a tricky and painful process for all parties, including and especially the kids. But when the dust settles and your children can benefit from the love of another stable adult and the stability of a committed relationship, they end up with more — not less — in terms of parental time and care.

  5. You are a breath of fresh air, Emma. This post is so comforting. I almost always feel guilty whenever I go out with a guy on weeknights. But now, you reassure me that it’s perfectly okay to take care of my own needs. Happy mommies make for happier kids :)

    1. The past bunch of weeks I have noticed my kids and I have been so happy – just in a nice groove and enjoying each other’s company. Certainly no coincidence that I am also happy in my romantic life. Carry on!

  6. “He does not take precedence over my kids now.”

    He doesn’t “now” but does this mean he might take precedence over your kids in the future? I am a firm believer in making myself happy and having a life (as a single mom). However, the thought of a man taking precedence over my kids does not make me happy. I choose not to place any man above my children. If that is what a relationship requires (it doesn’t) then I’d rather not enter into one. In reality, I think it’s possible and best to keep a healthy balance when it comes to your life as a single mom and dating rather than placing the desire for a relationship over children.

    1. Yes, it means he may in the future. Your family can thrive even if you are not in a relationship — or married or dating. But ideally you are in a long-term committed relationship. Studies find that adults and kids alike benefit from traditional family structures.

      1. My comment “rather not enter into one” was more rhetorical rather than what I expect in the future. I have no problem at all getting married. I somewhat disagree regarding the studies. Studies show that children do best with their biological mother and father married to each other. However, children are at a higher risk of abuse when their single mother forms a relationship or marries a new man. So if a single mom decides to stay single for her children’s sake, she is wise. She is also wise if she vets a new man properly and carefully allows him into her children’s lives. I remember a divorced father stating that any new woman in his life will have to understand that she will never be his highest priority…his daughter will. I respect that. A man entering my life will need to accept that if and when a choice has to be made, I will choose my children.

  7. Marissa – I’m sorry about your marriage, but you paint yourself as a victim. “I was a good wife,” “She deserves what she gets” etc. He sounds like a serial liar and addict – substance abuse, maybe sex addict. You chose him, committed to him and ignored warning signals. That is what co-dependent people do. I say this as someone who has a taste for addicts myself: https://www.wealthysinglemommy.com/dating-can-therapy-figured-yen-men-addictive-personalities/
    But you were part of the problem – big time. You will not move past this pain and grief until you accept your role.

    Yes, when one person cheats it hurts many people. But it that is not the whole story, ever. If you excuse my friend who was married to an abuser, why not someone who is miserably married for decades? What about the guy I know who, together with his wife, decided to move forward to divorce, were meeting with lawyers, and then she found his online dating profile and flipped out– calling him a cheat? So many similar stories of shades of grey. Not realistic or fair to paint in broad strokes.

    1. Look, I’m not saying I had the best picker, but everyone was floored. My ex is truly amazing at lying. No one had any idea he was like this, least of all me. Doting husband. The day before I found out I had a sweet VM he left me about how much he loved me. Only when all this came out because my best friend’s cousin lived next door to one of the woman he was cheating with, did his life start to fall apart. He is really good at lying and manipulating. Many of these woman had no idea he was married. But many did. Some where friends. I was the victim of a liar. As soon as I found out, I moved on. I’ve been through therapy, I know the warning signs. What scares me the most is my ex didn’t display the signs until after he was caught and I left. Then the crazy started.

      I’m talking about real deal cheating. Not some woman who flips out right before the divorce. If someone is miserable, leave first. That’s all. I’m very traditional and loyal. I have always felt this way, even before I was cheated on. I’m not naive, I can totally see how it can happen. But, I reserve the right to think it’s a terrible thing to do. Marriages have ebbs and flows. Kids, work, life can just blot out the happy fun relationship. Clearly, this is something I hope to work towards preventing in my current relationship.

      Obviously my blood still boils over when I think of the lengths people go to cheat and keep the other person in the dark. My health and that of my childrens was put at risk. So #8 on your list did upset me, thinking of people having a FWB while carrying on a serious relationship. Maybe I need to do more yoga…cause I really went off today…I’m usually pretty zen about it all now.

  8. or probly has to do with the fact that I’m dealing with some negative effects on my kids right now since their dad is back in town for a few months after being in a different state for over a year. Our divorce, while difficult on my older 2, (5 & 3) has been just me and the kids. Now, they are upset and not liking the split time. (which frankly, isn’t a ton. He’s amazing me with how much he doesn’t want to see them.) My almost 4 year old has started having potty accidents & I was pretty down about it this weekend. So, I flipped my lid more that I would normally. Deep breaths…

    1. I get it, Marissa — it is a process and so emotional. So been there!!! Sorry you’re having a tough time and feel on the defensive. Hang tough … it does get better (cuz could it get any worse?)

      1. Thanks, Emma!! I felt like crap going off last night. I almost deleted my comments, but I’m all “Hey…I’m crazy sometimes, don’t sensor it!” Had to sit down and really look at where it was coming from. He and I are cool, I hang out with his girlfriend. Its just hard now that he’s back. Like “HEY!! I’m here for a few months, it’s gonna be great kids!” Dude, there is going to be some adjustment time, man. He’s just a super damaged guy. And sometimes it’s hard being the only adult. He’s doing his best and I picked him in the first place. Sigh.

  9. Hooray for you!!!!! I have a boyfriend of 5 months and am at 50% custody with my ex on child time so have been able to make this work pretty well. My next big hurdle is introducing my boyfriend to my son (almost 4), and I’m planning to do that in about a month. Very nervous about the whole thing, but it’s really important to continue moving forward. Will look forward to following how your relationship unfolds.

    1. Good for you Lois! There are no hard and fast answers for these things …. do what you feel is best, and accept that you are probably messing it up :)

  10. Emma, I know this wasn’t the main focus of this article, but here goes anyway…

    You said feminism has affected men’s sense of relevance. Maybe to a degree. What feminism is really affecting more than anything is men’s impatience.

    The Ray Rices of the world, real workplace discrimination, etc. will give feminists legit areas to focus on for some time to come. What a lot of men are getting tired of is the continuous quest to find fault with men & of the apparent inability of many (but not all) feminists to distinguish between real and imagined issues.

    Granted, a lot of men aren’t helping the cause. Hanna Rosin’s book was kind of a hatchet job, but unfortunately, I have to admit I know too many men like the ones illustrated in the book.

    I guess we’re all better off if we just sweep our own sides of the street.

  11. Darth: No more. I don’t put up with women on here bashing men here, and I’m not going to tolerate your weird and very personalized hatred for single moms. There is simply no grounds for your continued charges single mothers are more prone to dishonesty and cheating and gold digging.

    I ask you to refrain from posting here.



  12. Good for you! I was a divorced mom for eight years. I took full advantage of my weekends without my children to date and have fun. When my now husband and I became serious, we indulged in one week night date per week alone. Once he met the kids, we began doing a Thursday night date with them. They are now adults, but will still mention how nice they thought our Thursdays were. My husband is a fantastic storyteller, and each week they would be eager to listen to his tales over Chinese food. We’d then watch a short family movie before their bedtime. They grew to love him as much as I do, and were absolutely delighted when he proposed with their permission. Fourteen years later, life is awesome! Best wishes to you for similar success!

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