Single mom doesn’t mean welfare mom


I can tell people wonder. My kids are little, after all. Not too many divorcees at the preschool. I don’t wear a ring. I might mention that I just refinanced my apartment (I’m in New York, where real estate is the default conversation starter). Or gossip about the other parents. Or about a recent vacation with my kids. But I don’t talk about a husband or girlfriend or partner. I’m a single mom. If it comes up, it comes up. Otherwise, I don’t feel the need to explain myself.

It took me a little while to settle into this role (no surprise there!), but I’m nearly three years into it. While barreling towards the possibility that I would have to run this show on my own, I spent hours with an Excel spreadsheet, a calculator and my account. How would I make the numbers work?! I had a career and income, but my husband was the primary earner then, complete with health insurance and a 401(k) match.

For a while there was child support, but that didn’t last. Nor did the health insurance. And there were teeny, tiny kids who needed a mom around — a lot, I felt. I had mostly stayed at home for my oldest kid’s first year while I was still married, and I couldn’t bear the thought of not cuddling and nursing my newborn son for hours like I had his sister. I also refused to accept that single motherhood automatically meant I would be constantly stressed, or that my family would be outcasts, or that my kids would worry about being homeless. I worried, maybe most of all, that I wouldn’t be the mom I’d dreamed of being — the fun mom, the mom abundant in time and love.

I wanted to create a big, full, happy life for my little family. I wasn’t totally sure what that meant (I’m still not), but I’m feeling pretty good that I’m on my way. One thing I am pretty sure about: you need time, and you need energy, and you need money to make this happen. It doesn’t mean I have to be rich. It doesn’t mean I need a lot of stuff or designer stuff or expensive things (to the contrary, actually). But making enough money, and managing that money well is critical to creating the family life that I want.

It’s intense, this life as a single mom. If I spend my energy stressing about whether the mortgage payment will clear, I compromise my ability to be that fun mom. Feeling OK about paying a babysitter once in a while affects how I feel about dating, which impacts how I feel about myself as a woman — which again, comes back to the kind of mother I hope to be. A little cushion in the bank gives me the confidence to take professional risks – which can lead to more money, more fulfilling work, and a better quality of life for myself and my kids. See how it’s all connected?

So this blog is about creating that wealthy life as a single mom. It’s a big topic, but I’m going for a big life.



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.

18 thoughts on “Single mom doesn’t mean welfare mom

  1. Courageous, insightful writing! Beautifully said. I pray this platform inspires others Emma and know that it will! I love it and can’t wait to read your next piece!

  2. LOVE the blog. I’ve been on the single mom journey for twelve years — almost all of my daughter’s life — and this is the first time I’ve found a personal finance blog/perspective that understands where I’m coming from. Can’t wait for more!

  3. Wow! Everything you just wrote is exactly how I feel! I’m not a single mom-YET. It’s just a matter of time and I’m on a mission before it happens to try to put some ducks in a row so that I have some control over all of the factors you just mentioned when it does happen. I am determined that we will thrive when we are on our own, so I welcome your posts and discussions about making that happen! Get that autoresponder up & running so I don’t miss a post!:)

    1. @Anonymous For Now – I installed the autoresponder just for you. Let me know if it works, and feel free to reach out if I can answer any questions

  4. Can’t wait to read more! I’ve been a single mom for nearly 18 years, my youngest will be 18 in March so subtract 4 months from that. Yup, left at 5 months pregnant with my fourth.

    Has NOT been easy.. and is nice to see someone with some perspective on how it REALLY is..

    Oh I made mistakes along the way and have regrets and think what if a lot, but we’re happy, healthy.. two kids out of the house, two still at home.. youngest is going to be a SENIOR!! (sob).. but we made it and will continue to sail right along..

  5. Now that I have discovered your blog, I have to sit and read every single post, from the first to the last. I need it, believe me!

    Pretty soon I will be a single mom for the second time (If you place me in a room with a thousand men, I will pick a lazy, irresponsible, and preferably abusive one without mistake:) and even though I cannot wait to be on my own, I realize that I am in a predicament that is going to take a lot of “undo” button pushing.

    Yours is going to be one more encouraging voice I can add to my life, as I don’t intend on staying poor for much longer (and yes, I am very poor and unemployed at the moment).

    I use my writing as a form of therapy, but I want to jump ahead and start earning money from it.
    I am looking forward to leaning on your wisdom and experience!

    1. >>If you place me in a room with a thousand men, I will pick a lazy, irresponsible, and preferably abusive one without mistake

      Made me laugh! Then cry. Then laugh again! There is a lot to be said for self-awareness. You’re about to turn a corner!

  6. It’s been a challenge for me as well. Specially the idea that i lost my freedom. But i learned how to enjoy myself along with their company. I work full time and study full time as well to finish my degree. I also help my 7 year old son with ADD in his day to day in school and homework. I love my life and im making more money every day. Everything changes when you set and focus on the happy loving side :)

  7. Hi Emma,
    You couldn’t have said it better. I love your writing and how honest and provocative your posts are.
    I am also a single mom and let me tell you it took me a while (a long while) to get used to that “status”. There is so much prejudice and how people view single moms. I work as a Video Journalist at a TV station in Queens, NY and since my work entails to be on camera and to meet people I try to dress well. I was born and raised in Bulgaria, and there are dress codes for any place and occasion you can think of. Also, I do believe that we have to dress for the position we want. You cannot imagine the comments I would get from some people who know that I am single mom. “You certainly don’t dress like a single mom,” “How do you do it?”, “How do you buy clothes if you are on a single budget?” and so on.
    Some of them even asked me suspiciously, implying that I must have been doing something on the side or have a rich ex who gives me a large alimony check.
    At first I fell into the trap to excuse myself. I started thinking: “Really how did I do it and shouldn’t I put the money to a better use and so on. I started feeling guilty, even though, my clothes didn’t cost a fortune.
    I have a friend that is a Stylist and has her eBay business so each time she goes to the thrift store she will buy me brand clothes for almost no money, so my closet doubled. I stopped wearing the new clothes she gave me so I won’t attract more comments like that.
    You are right Single Mom connotes pour mom.
    One day I had a meeting with a friend that I was supposed to interview and he said to me: “wow you look great for a mom”. Okay, now what was that supposed to mean. It means one thing: People will always find what to say and you should ignore it and do what feels right to you.
    So I decided that enough is enough.
    I now wear whatever I want and when people make a comment I smile and say: “Thank you for the compliment. I have clothes, and I wear them.”
    Thank you for the great post.

    1. >>I now wear whatever I want and when people make a comment I smile and say: “Thank you for the compliment. I have clothes, and I wear them.”

      Good for you! I was just talking with a single mom today about how people say, “Wait, you are a mom! I never would have guessed!” I say – own it, not just for yourself but moms everywhere!

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