As a single mom I am totally non-traditional. Which is why I’m attracted to an unusally traditional man.

Lou says he’ll buy me a Cadillac if I have his baby.

“That’s ridiculous!” I say. “A Cadillac is so not my style!”

“That’s the rule! You have an Italian baby, you drive a Cadillac,” he says, flashing that killer smile.

We’re joking. We’re not even seriously dating. But there is truth in every joke.

The truth is that I like that Lou has a lot of rules. His life is governed by a lot of tradition: He’s old-school Italian American with a big family rich with food customs (seafood pasta at Christmas, a magnum of rosé always in the fridge). There are rules about about marriage (no living together beforehand, divorce only in cases of abuse), babies (always named after a relative), women (never without their nails done, zero interest in casual sex), and religion (most of the men I date go to therapy and AA meetings, Lou goes to mass).

My life is mostly without rules: As a single mom, I head a non-traditional family. As a self-employed writer, I have a non-traditional career (worse: as a blogger, I’m a non-traditional self-employed writer!). I live far from my hometown and most of my family and all of the traditions with which I was raised. Each holiday becomes an exercise in cooking up new ritual out of thin air. In my professional life, I’m trying to single-handedly reinvent the entire institution of marriage, for crying out loud!

People need ritual and they need tradition. Children thrive on this structure, as do the people who raise them. Childrearing is riddled with questions and challenges, and many days I crave a guidebook to tell me how to discipline, what to cook for Easter, or what to instruct my children to say in the quiet moments before bedtime. We need models for how we structure our relationships and create family that works with how we live today. I join the majority of adults in this country for whom the dated Ozzie-and-Harriet family model did not work. I’m doing my damnedest to bring awareness to our dire need to change the marriage paradigm with my 10-Year Marriage Contract, which is a start. In the meantime, life without adherence to established tradition requires an inner resolve that I find tough to maintain day-in and day-out.

And so, despite our differences, I find myself drawn to Lou. There is a peaceful strength that comes with a life lived within the comfort of tradition that has guided your ancestors for generations. For me, I am seeking peace by living outside of tradition that I know is not right for me. Yet I feel I’m constantly reinventing the wheel of life, which can be overwhelming, tedious.

“I always liked those mosaics,” I say, pointing to the Ukrainian Catholic Church as Lou and I drove around my neighborhood on his Harley.

“What religion are you?” he asks.

“I don’t have one,” I say, leaning my head against his back.

“What about your kids?

“They don’t have one, either.”

“But what happens when they get married?”  he asks. “What will their wedding look like?”

“They’ll have to figure that out themselves,” I say. And when I do, I accept that as a likely truth. I also feel a little sad.

Other stories in this project:

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,, 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, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, 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.

8 thoughts on “As a single mom I am totally non-traditional. Which is why I’m attracted to an unusally traditional man.

  1. I am a single mom, who desires some tradition in my family but also makes my own rules. I am independent, strong, and take care of myself and my son. I like to weight lift and do boot camp classes, which are not “traditionally” activities for women. Since I have been going to my church (Lutheran), I am the only single mom I can remember who has baptized my infant son. It almost seems like I am the only single mom in my large church, although that is unlikely, I am just too busy to connect with people. We have created specific food traditions for holidays that are pretty Midwestern (green bean casserole for example). I find it interesting that since I have a professional job; people tend to assume I am not a single mom, since I do not fit the single mom stereotype.

  2. Thanks for this Seanna. When you talk about how you stand out at your church, I wonder how you feel — does it make it hard to try to fit into a traditional environment? Or do you find strength in the traditions that church provides? Or maybe both? I imagine many single moms shy away from situations populated with “typical” two-parent families: school and neighborhood events, for example. But then it depends on the community and the single moms involved.


  3. There are other single parents that go to my church, I feel a bit odd man out because my child is so young (19 months). Most of the single parents have older school age children. Also, I work full time in a professional job, which makes me quite different from a lot of the other moms of toddlers there. At first I didn’t want to bring up that I was a single mom and have been since I had my son, I had left an abusive marriage while pregnant. Now I could really care less what people think, because I am learning to stand on my own two feet again. I have gotten some strange comments from my mom friends at church, like “I am glad I don’t have to date again” or “that is so nice you get your child all to yourself.” I just try to let it roll of my back, since they don’t get it. One thing that I don’t mind hearing from them, is how strong I am to do it on my own. I sometimes want to talk to my church about making a single parent support group/fun event night, but then I think of my schedule and think when would, I have the time. I would rather go to the gym or work on dating in my free time.

  4. I was always the odd single parent, attending all of my daughter’s functions at school without the other parent showing up for anything. I craved ritual and normalcy until I realized I could create either of them anytime I chose.

  5. I’m a widowed (4 years now) solo mom of two boys, 10 and 12. Tradition is pretty important in my family, but we’re flexible about those traditions – creating and discarding as we mature. Some things will never change (sleepover on Christmas Eve – 20+ people, stockings for all, etc.), but others evolve.

    I adore it that a couple of years ago the family said that Christmas is so much fun, it’s a shame we don’t get together like this more often. Before we knew it, everyone was whipping out their iPhones and paper calendars and ta da – once a month is family dinner night at my house, with 15+ people, ages 4-79. And my kids love it. I overheard my 12-year old decline a swim party with his best friends, saying, ‘nope, that’s family dinner night.’

    And camping. We’ve gone camping at the same campground for more than 40 years and we’re going again in a couple of weeks. My mom is bowing out for the first time in my life, she says it’s time to pass the torch. I love the idea that 30 years from now, my kids will be taking their children camping. And Grandma will show them how to properly cook a marshmallow.

    1. Love all these examples, Chris. Thanks for sharing, and good on you for keeping these traditions alive even if your original family plan did not work out. Xo

What do you think? Please comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *