This single mom built her dream home in Hawaii after divorce

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A story that makes my heart proud and happy! I love that she owns how hard the situation was, then decided to pursue her dream. Plus I LOVE THIS HOUSE!  From single mom Illana Waxman, of Haiku, Hawaii, mom of Sahara, 4: 

When my ex left me three and a half years ago, we were just about to break ground on the home we planned to build together. I had purchased a piece of property on Maui after the 2008 real estate crash, just before I met him.

After we got married, we spent countless hours designing our dream home, where we were going to raise our children and watch them grow together.

Obviously that didn't pan out.

When he left shortly after our daughter was born, I was so devastated that I almost quit my job, sold the property, and moved away. How could I build a house by myself? How could I live in what was supposed to be our family home without him? How could I afford the construction costs on my own?

But after about a year, I decided to throw myself fully into work and to focus my energy on creating my OWN dream home for myself and my daughter. I redesigned the house, qualified for a construction loan, and spent the last year and a half watching my vision manifest into reality.

I finally moved in last week… And I cannot express how much I love it!!

Before my divorce I had never lived without a partner for more than six months in my adult life, and had never been able to create a space that was fully mine. But I did it here.

I've spent the last few days just walking around the place in happy disbelief, pinching myself to make sure it is real…

And I am so proud of myself for having brought this place into existence on my own! (Well, not really on my own – it was the product of many months of work by talented builders and craftspeople – but you know what I mean.)

Three years ago, I thought my life was over. It wasn't.

Instead, I was able to build a beautiful family home for my daughter to grow up in. Not the life I envisioned on my wedding day…. But a perfect place for me and her.

And although at the time I thought the divorce was the worst thing that could ever happen to me, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to create something that is truly mine.

I know I am very fortunate to have a career that gave me the financial resources to do this as a single mother… But it also took a leap of faith to decide that I could make my own dream home without a partner.

So I am here to say to all of you, don't be afraid to make that leap! As my late law partner and mentor used to say, think positive and good things will happen!


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How about you? Did you find real estate especially emotional after your breakup or divorce? How did you get over it? Did you find your dream house as a single mom? Share in the comments….




About 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.


  1. Lisa Hacker on February 24, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    What a beautiful house! I love the turquoise colors she used! What an inspiring story. It can be done! I’m actually doing the same thing, well. . .making a space of my own for myself and my children. It’s just an apartment, but it is MINE! I’m really enjoying decorating it, and I’m giving myself permission to spend a little on making it nice for the three of us. After all of the stress and difficulty we’ve been through, I thought we needed it. I’m having so much fun! Thank you so much for sharing this story–have a great weekend! Lisa

    • Ilana on February 24, 2017 at 10:19 pm

      Yes, it is such a worthwhile investment of time and resources! As Virginia Woolf pointed out, sometimes we all need a room of our own… and that goes double for single mothers

  2. Debra Rogers on February 24, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    This hits home for me because #1: I got married in Maui (and went back years later to get closure after my divorce) and #2: I created my beautiful home as well in CA, complete with my dream writing office. When my breakup happened, I was completely blindsided. Also, I was eight months pregnant. I was a hopeless, hormonal train-wreck, drowning in debilitating hurt, fear and sadness. My heart was completely crushed. I felt lost and alone. I took up permanent residence on the kitchen floor sobbing, “How am I going to get through this?” Like you, I thought my life was over. But now I’m engaged to an amazing man and living in a home that’s become a haven for healing and still brings me so much daily joy.

    • Ilana on February 24, 2017 at 10:22 pm

      I did my share of crying on the bathroom floor during my pregnancy as well… The handwriting was already on the wall with my ex by the eighth month, and I just couldn’t fathom the thought that I was going to be raising my child as a single mom. But isn’t it great to know that life really does get better??

  3. Living Well Best Revenge on February 24, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Beautiful beautiful house! And very inspiring! I’ve been divorced almost 10 months and am slowly building up my savings with the goal of being able to put a down payment for a place in Manhattan!

    However just like the author, I am now also focused on just building a dream life for myself and my daughter and not searching for another relationship. That said – I’ve decided life is short and if we love to travel, we must travel! So I’ve booked two trips pretty much back to back to the Bahamas and the French Riviera/Paris/Rome in the summer! I’m very excited. My credit card bill is now scarily high but you know what – money can be earned back but time can’t :)

    • Ilana on February 24, 2017 at 10:24 pm

      Love this!!

  4. brian on February 24, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    What an amazing story about a very accomplished woman and mom. The home is spectacular. Enjoy it, you deserve it!!!!!!!

    • Ilana on February 24, 2017 at 10:25 pm

      Thanks very much

  5. They call me Mom on February 25, 2017 at 6:23 am

    Your story makes me smile because I have ‘been there, done that’ and it was worthwhile. Congratulations on your new home and finding your strength to build a new ‘normal’ for you and your daughter.

    • Emma on February 27, 2017 at 9:27 am

      Yes, such a beautiful story, glad it resonates with you!

      • Ilana on March 6, 2017 at 8:55 am


  6. Cynthia Thompson on February 26, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    Congrats on your lovely home!

    I promise I’m not trolling, but I do have what could be considered a “troll” question:

    Did you receive any assistance/alimony/settlement in your divorce that facilitated the building of your beautiful house, or did you genuinely do it all on your own? I ask only because I’m in a similar situation (or will be shortly), and I know that often people are remiss to mention these sorts of variables when telling their story. It would help me to know what I’m up against.

    Hope you don’t mind me prying!

    • Emma on February 27, 2017 at 9:26 am

      She can answer herself, but she is a very successful lawyer, and did this all on her own.

    • Ilana on March 6, 2017 at 8:54 am

      Actually, one of the things that precipitated my divorce was the discovery that my ex-husband had spent almost $100K of our house fund during the first few months of my daughter’s life, and refused to tell me where the money had gone. (He eventually disclosed about a year ago that he spent it on extravagant gifts and fancy hotel rooms for the new girlfriend he met when I was six months pregnant…)

      I nevertheless wound up paying a small cash settlement of about $8000 in the divorce, because under Hawaii law he had a potential claim on the increase in property value of the land where I built the house, as well as my 401K and other investment assets (all held in my own name, thankfully, but which had appreciated significantly during the time of our marriage). I could perhaps have fought that, but I didn’t want to put my time and energy into a court battle over $8000.

      So I definitely did not benefit financially from the divorce.

      I get a small amount of child support from him every month, which I put straight into my daughter’s college fund.

      Other than that, I do it 100% on my own.

  7. Lisa T on February 27, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    My ex kept the home we’d lived in for almost a decade. I didn’t want it – too many memories and I wanted something for my 2 kids and I. Right after my divorce I couldn’t afford exactly what I wanted so I rented a house for almost 3 years. The time was so worth it. Not only was I able to get into a better financial situation but I got to spend some time thinking about what I wanted in a house and where would be the best part of town for me and the kids. Three years later I was able to buy our perfect house in our perfect neighborhood that was fully renovated. Taking the time was important for me. I think there’s an urgency to rush into a decision. When we were in the rental house (which met our needs), the kids knew it wasn’t our forever home but they were happy there too.

    • Ilana on March 6, 2017 at 8:55 am

      Glad you were able to take the time to find the right place!

  8. Samantha on March 4, 2017 at 11:07 am

    Way to go Girl! You are such an inspiration to the women who thriving to make their dreams come true despite obstacles and bad experiences. It is really motivating that there are people who gets to shine and succeed in life despite the pressure. After all, that’s what diamonds are made of. Keep the faith!

    • Ilana on March 6, 2017 at 8:57 am

      Thank you! As a wise woman once told me, you can choose to live in faith or you can choose to live in fear. Much better to live in faith!!

  9. Cassie on March 7, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Well you’ve got to keep going forward with your life after a divorce and there’s no need to live like a loser. Keep winning in spite of everything.

  10. joli on March 12, 2017 at 9:14 am

    Great house! And very inspiring story! Congrats on building a beautiful place for you and your family. Wishing you all many years there filled with good health, happiness and all the best!

  11. Alaina on March 25, 2018 at 1:08 pm


    This is very inspirational. <3 Long story short for me – Recently moved to South Maui & have uncovered many secrets from my husband after moving…trying to decide our future now. We also have 2 little girls. Trying not to be terrified that after finally living the dream of relocating, my life was turned upside down & am not sure if I can be a single mom of 2 girls living on a high cost island (if that's what the outcome is). Not ready or wanting to give up my dream on Maui that I worked so hard for!

    Mahalo nui loa!

  12. Dawn on July 13, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    I remember reading your story on Millionaire Single Mums facebook page and being both inspired and very happy for you – your home is beautiful and made more so by your courage and resilience in taking a shitty situation and turning it in to something wonderful. Thanks for the reminder, you’re an inspiration :-) <3

  13. Enny on July 14, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    We can do it!!!
    It is amazing how a heartbreak can make us be more inspired to do things that we never thought we were capable of. I never knew I could do this without a partner and I did it too. I am In Cali with skyrocketing property prices so my condo is super small and very conservative complex. However, is super functional for both of us and we absolutely love it! What I love the most is that is MINE!! And is my first RE investment in either a rental or a property to sell in 2 years … if no then longer but it was a good call for me and my little, we did it!
    Go us! We mommas are amazing and love to hear successful women to inspire me

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