Stop being ‘just a mom’ and start being a cool woman

single mom travel


I am writing from a charming apartment in Copenhagen (complete with wood floors, white walls, and minimalist, teak furniture — biked parked outside on the cobblestone walk), where I will spend the next three weeks living, working, traveling, hanging out with friends I met last year when I accomplished more or less the same trip. My kids are with their dad in Greece, visiting family there, and last year I decided that I deserved to go somewhere  fabulous, too.

My return was as cliche’ as my Danish apartment: I felt energized, grateful for my regular life, thrilled to reconnect with my kids, routine and work. The feeling was familiar. Since I was a teenager I’ve been in love with travel — the more remote, the better. Before kids, I’d lived in France, Ecuador, Bulgaria. Traveled to Laos, around Europe, Brazil, Cuba. I love that scariness of knowing it is not safe to go where you do not have a hotel booked, but you go anyway. Of the magical way the universe swells up around you to create lifelong friendships and memories that make you who you are. That travel, perhaps rivaling only parenthood, keenly reminds you of your humanity, and possibilities.

I’ve gotten on planes with my kids. Driven across the country with them a few times. I don’t need to tell you it was great, but different. Those trips were cliches about family travel. This one was cliche about travel-travel.

Ladies, cliches are a cliche for a reason: They are true.

These trips to Europe remind me of who I am. My greatest joys, things that have resonated with me since I can remember. Manon DeFelice, the founder of the recruiting agency for women, tells clients searching for what will make them professionally happy: “What did you write your high school senior thesis on? That is what you are most passionate about.” That is true for me:  I wrote that paper arguing why prostitution should be legal, and now here I am advocating for sexual and financial freedom for women every day in a career I love. Ta-da!


By prioritizing my most ancient joys means being a fulfilled person, and being that person for myself, for the world, and my children. I have crazy and wonderful travel stories from my younger years I often share with the kids (smuggling cigars out of Havana, getting stuck in mud when biking Costa Rican rain forests, falling in love with an older, English school teacher). But I don’t want my kids to ask for stories from when I was person, before I was a mom. No one ever thinks their parents were better as ‘just a mom,’ when compared to before you were a mom. Before you-were-a-mom stories are in full technicolor, narrated with raunchy music and laughter and flirting. Those stories are of when you were a woman.

I was recently visiting with an old friend who had been staying home with her three kids fulltime, and is about to return to school to study art. “I know I’m supposed to find my fulfillment in them,” she said, nodding to her kids, who are, I admit, really, really delightful. “But it’s not enough,” she whispered, ashamed.

No shit, it’s not enough! Motherhood is pretty awesome, but it is just one part of you. There are other, wonderful parts. Parts just as — if not more — important.

You are still a woman. A mom, too. But a woman. Get in touch with that chick. What did you love before you pushed a baby out your vagina? What made you squeal with laughter? Feel ALIVE? Keep you up at night, commiserating, dreaming, hoping, planning?

Maybe it was a career. Or your art, a sport. Maybe it was love affairs, or time laughing with bestest girlfriends you no longer see.

So, see them. Fire up an affair. Jump on the bike, or join a tennis league or drag out the easel and brushes. Do that thing that made you really, really joyful. Be that joyful woman. Show that person to yourself, your kids, the world.

Do you feel pressure to sacrifice yourself for motherhood? Did you rediscover yourself? Share your struggles, and journey, in the comments! 





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.

15 thoughts on “Stop being ‘just a mom’ and start being a cool woman

  1. Very inspiring article ..i am a mom to be.Actually i am a single mom to be and i reckon the years to come as the gravestone in the woman inside me. Glad to see that some women made it. When i finally find balance inside me (hopefully before i deliver) planning to rediscover that woman that i thought i ve left behind. Hopefully life doesnt stop to motherhood

  2. I completely agree with you. I had forgotten what it was like before i had the kids that when they started spending weekends away with their dad i felt at a loss at what to do. It was really lonely and my home was just way too quiet..Over time i started socialising again, at first i felt guilty for some reason but eventually i learnt to relax, let loose and just enjoy myself.

  3. Holy Crap! This is exactly what I am experiencing! I took my place to a (semi) nice place for lunch for the first time last Sunday, ALONE! I felt to sad, awkward, simply alone. I tried to be brave on the outside, but it sucked. And I realized how silly it was, how pathetic I felt not feeling easy or confident being by myself. I once was a strong, vivacious, confident young lady, and having kids (and an abusive controlling husband) sucked the life right out of me! I lived for them, and them alone.

    Now the husband is gone, thank God, I am healing (almost 3 years) and I am SOOOO on the right path to finding my confidence again! I want to find who I am!
    This post was on pointe for me! Thanks!!
    ~ Vicki

  4. So true. My kids have seen me actively pursuing a life I love and as a result they don’t view my pre-mom life as different to my life now and I feel fulfilled. I went through a nasty divorce (abusive ex, we ended up homeless etc). I didn’t let it define me, went on to be a multiple international award-winning CEO, author etc. My kids love my example, they set goals for themselves, encourage me to travel because when I travel they get new experiences too, whether they are with me or staying with someone else.

    I toyed with the idea of being an at home mom, took a day off and by lunch time was bored out of my brains. It’s not me. I like being an entrepreneur. I like travelling. I like taking care of myself and I am a better mom for it, my kids are better for it and we are all happier. There is a significant difference between my kids, their ambitions, their interest in my life compared to the other kids in their school and their parents. We get compliments on it all the time.

    Being a mom is a part of your life, not the whole point of your life nor are you meant to stop being everything you are once you have a kid.

    Side note, my 7yr old keeps seeing ads for Bad Moms and she thinks it looks like the best movie ever and all moms should do stuff they love and have fun etc. I loved the conversation with her about it.

    1. I LOVE YOU! Love this: “Being a mom is a part of your life, not the whole point of your life nor are you meant to stop being everything you are once you have a kid.”

  5. Love this article, Emma! Thanks for the reminder that we are more than only “Moms’. Although this is one of our most important and fulfilling roles, we have other facets of ourselves that we also need to nurture to feel whole and be healthy. All the best to all!

  6. Great article Emma, I love that we make the shift and find our dance again and become unstoppable. Leaving a great example to our kids and inspire other women.

  7. Emma, thanks for this article. It seemed to come right on time for me. My two young daughters are with their dad for some time, and I am going crazy sitting in a quiet house. but your article has inspired me to get back in touch with who I am.

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