This single mom traveled alone for the first time with her kids. It was empowering, devastating and awesome.

 Bumping this up, as it was published last year, and is so lovely. Enjoy, and be inspired!
Today I received this letter from a Canadian reader, Samantha. I love the bravery it exhibits — both in her story of mustering the courage to leave a bad marriage, then to venture out into solo vacationing with kids, then again for Samantha’s sharing of her feelings about being alone in what feels at times like a world of perfect two-parent families, my own experience of which I shared yesterday in I cried when I compared my life to a perfect family’s but the joke was on me. 
Samantha graciously allowed me to publish her note with the confidence that it will resonate with others. 
Hi Emma,

You’ve helped me a lot over the last two years. More than I can express in an email, but I will try.

It’s been a hellofa ride through the disintegration of my marriage and divorce. You know all about it, Emma. Ups and downs. But I knew I had no choice but to make the best of it for me and my two young kids. I knew I’d screw my kids up more by staying–I need to show them a life with a happy mom who expects more for herself and doesn’t eat shit to keep peace.

Yesterday, my 7-year-old daughter said to me, “You are good at showing your feelings. You laugh and cry. You used to cry a lot around that divorce, but you are happy now.”

I asked her how she knows I’m happy. She said, “Mom… look at you! Your face smiles and you laugh.”

“I’m doing OK,” I thought.

A story for you about my own summer vacation:

I took my kids on vacation this summer — something I did, in part, due to your advice. We flew to Vancouver Island to find mini crabs and sand dollars on the endless beaches, to try kayaking and to walk in a magical forest called Cathedral Grove. I was so proud of myself and naturally, my kids had a fabulous time. But I felt very single. Everywhere I looked, I saw families building memories on their summer vacation. Families with daddies and mommies. The friends we stayed with were perfect nuclear families. I felt very… divorced. Very single mommy.

My 4-year-old son broke his arm quite badly, which meant a terrifying ambulance ride and stay in a local hospital. Nurses and doctors repeatedly asked about the father (WTF with that anyway?). The nurse asked about custody situations they should know about. I called my ex on the phone from emergency to tell him Alex broke his arm. I felt so single. Alone with my son in the hospital. And really wishing I had someone to be a partner through this scary, new experience. I sucked it up and focused on my son. The fear on his face only softened when I hugged him and told him everything would be OK. His arm would heal and he would play again. In the moment, I pushed away my self pity for my kids. That’s what we do. (He’s fine now, healing in a cast.)

We had such a wonderful vacation, and created new memories together as a new family. But I bawled my guts out after dropping them at their dad’s after the trip. Our vacation made me feel single mommy-ness more than regular daily life. In my daily routine, my world is filled with single and divorcing friends. It feels normal. At times on vacation, I felt a spotlight of divorce and single mommy-dom on me.  I knew deep down, it was all my shit. My feelings of guilt and sadness. No one else was putting that on me. I just felt… less than. Like I would prefer to share this life with someone I enjoy.

I reminded myself that traveling alone with the kids was much better than traveling with my ex. He hated traveling and passive-aggressively sabotaged simple pleasures like trips to the beach because he would rather be in front of his computer than feeling the sand in his toes. In the hospital, he would have been freaking out more than anyone and I would have to calm him down and my son. I reminded myself that I laughed a lot on this vacation. I saw old friends, felt the sun on my face, watched my kids make new friends and I achieved a goal of taking my kids on a real summer vacation.

I’m telling you all this because I want to thank you for your article about your summer vacation. I regularly have to tell myself that people’s family realities are not what I perceive on the outside. Everyone told me that my marriage looked perfect (something I worked hard at portraying.) No one else writes so honestly about the issues I face as a professional single mom. Thank you!

Also, thank you for encouraging me to take them a summer vacation. My son is fine now. And most importantly, we had a memorable adventure together. My kids swam in the ocean, made dog friends and held crabs in their hands. We hiked together, picked wild blackberries and found 3-inch slugs in the wet forrest. We watched the ocean sunset and roasted marshmallows. I faced fears and uncovered more truths…. on this wonderful and humbling fucking journey!

Warm wishes from up north,

Samantha from Canada

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.

19 thoughts on “This single mom traveled alone for the first time with her kids. It was empowering, devastating and awesome.

  1. Thank you for sharing! I’m a single mom as well, not from divorce, but I still have a 2-year-old living alone with me more than majority of the time. The pang of “less than” is all too familiar when surrounded by the nuclear families. Although, I, like you, focus on what I can control and what blessings are in front of me (they are abound!). 100% agree with Emma, you are very BRAVE! Get on with your bad self!

  2. This is beautiful and I, too, can relate! I have a 2 year old who is the JOY of my life. Never married. I travel alone with him a lot. We have family all over. Although, I never traveled to a vacation spot alone with my son yet, maybe when he’s older we will, but if we travel sometimes his aunties will want to go so we’re never really alone, but I see other families with a mom and dad, and sometimes feel bad because I can see my son staring at the father figure with the kids and THAT Breaks my heart. He calls some men Daddy because he’s thinking that’s a figure that IS NOT MOMMY and it’s basic knowledge for him to call someone who isn’t a female figure a.k.a mommy, to call them daddy. It’s worse when people ask you “where’s your husband?” and you have to politely explain there’s no dad involved but then feel kind of “less than”. Anyway, We just have to keep going for our Kids and their happiness and our own happiness too, and remind yourself, we’re much better alone than with the wrong person!! Keep going Mamas!!

  3. It makes me feel so much better to know that others feel the same way. I take my kids on vacation every summer with my parents and my sister’s family. This is the second summer I’ve been divorced and it seemed like I was more aware rhan ever of all the “perfect” families. I also tell myself that they’re not as perfect as they appear but it reminds me of how I would love to have a partner to share life with. But that being said, my daughters and I are much happier now than when I was married and my life is blessed in many ways.

    1. This is a great perspective, thanks for sharing. I know for myself, even if I have a big, break-through revelation, I can slip back into negative thinking and need a refresher course on, well, life :) xxxx

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I, too, have felt that utter single mommyness even when traveling with family or to visit someone. I know there are a lot of us out there…it doesn’t always seem like it on vacation:)

    1. I think eventually we start to accept that it doesn’t really matter as much … time goes on, we acclimate to single parenthood, more of our friends divorce and we stop idealizing married life as much.

  5. I too live in Canada and decided to plan a car camping trip with my almost 3 year old last year. Just the two of us. And yes, it was a lot of hard work and I felt very much the only single mom in the entire campground. And I was afraid I would not be able to handle it all. But in the end, we both had a good time and I came away knowing I can do it alone.

  6. I’m a single professional working mum from Lodon UK and we’ve been a single parent family for about 9 years. I used to get that isolated feeling of being the only single mum in a sea of nuclear families, but no more! After a particularly lonely camping trip – (have to say my kids loved that trip) I stumbled upon the idea of vacationing in groups of families and they’re usually single parent families, there are a number of organisations that specialise in this in the UK – we’ve done this now for about six years. If there are such organisations in the US/Canada I would certainly recomend this idea. We’ve had some really fun trips, we all enjoy hanging out with new people in similar situations and the workload for me as the mum disappears.

    This summer for the first time in six years the three of us chose to vacation by ourselves rather than in a group as we wanted to do a house swap to New York – we are here now having a fabulous time – today we are cycling around Central Park! We haven’t had any stigma feeling thus far but perhaps that is because we are in such a cosmopolitan city or maybe it’s because we are having too much fun exploring to notice!

    Love your blog by the way.

    1. Sarah! Can you share the names of these orgs? We don’t have anything like this here in the US! So happy you found this — thanks for sharing!!

  7. I’ve been on my own for 4 years now. Readily identify with how hard it is initially to go away on holiday with the kids. I did feel far more alone than in every day life. Not any more. We just had a week in NYC (from London) and I couldn’t have had a better time.

    I’ve long abandoned the idea of what the perfect tribe looks like and embrace mine. And from the early going through the motions, we are now a new unit. A good one, and the groupings and dynamics within our family of 4 (three teens and me) constantly change which makes for a very exciting time. I work on my bond with each child, glad for the relationship I do have with them.

    Perhaps it helps me that my marriage had become so rigid and controlling that we all just trooped about meekly in formation to avoid the wrath, irritation or sarcasm of their Dad.

    Miss that? No ho ho I do not. Miss the notion of a loving family unit? Yes of course. Sadly for me, that was never my reality. This new family is real. And strengthened by our fab Big Apple jaunt. Keep on going !

    1. Thanks for sharing, Polly … it is indeed always a process, and there are great things from your marriage that you will cherish and share with your kids. But life propels us forward and you are making the best of it. Well done.

  8. I have found taking my 8-year-old camping to be some of the best-shared experiences I have had with my son. When he was almost 5, I started camping with a tent in safe places. I graduated to a pop-up and ventured out to campgrounds. Now I tow a 22-foot trailer behind my mid-size SUV and we are starting to plan longer road trips. People are always so amazed, especially when I back in to a spot. I take my sweet time. What is great about campgrounds is that it isn’t just other families, but often very friendly older couples who are super sweet. They love to tell their stories and show my son a thing or two. Sometimes I start to feel a longing be part of a “healthy couple” raising my son… then I go fly a kite, wade in a creek, chop some wood, build a fire, roast a few marshmallows, and enjoy my kiddo’s big smile as the firelight hits his sleepy face. He is content…and that makes me happy.

    1. Jess, that’s so amazing! I am so inspired by your evolving camping trips! I’ve often thought about getting my own pop up trailer and going with my kids camping. So far we’ve only tent camped with family.

      I did recently have my first real vacation with just my two boys and I. We did spend a couple nights at a friends’ house with their family and kids and then had a trip to an aquarium and a night at a hotel, just us, and then a 6 hour car ride home. I was very unsure of myself doing this on my own. I had a lot of those feelings while we walked around town and visited the aquarium. And, while I know it was only the one night, it felt like a really different experience then all of the other vacations we’ve taken with family and friends. I felt like the boys were so happy and they are just confident in me to be their mom. They don’t think of it in the same way we do. They don’t have that same framework we put around it of this being a “lesser family” vacation because just mom is there. I saw that in them…that they were just having fun, and that indirect confidence in me really gave me the strength to just enjoy them and to not compare myself to the families I saw around me. I enjoyed them so much! We stumbled upon a farmers market and ate treats and then just goofed around in the hotel room at the end of the day. I think this trip has inspired me to go and do bigger things just the 3 of us. We might not be the “perfect” family, but we are perfectly happy in each others’ company.

      Samantha, thank you for sharing your story. It is comforting to know we aren’t the only single moms out there trying to make these special memories with our kids and feeling often unsure. I love how you thought about how it would be different if your ex husband were there and then you realized it wouldn’t be an improved situation. That’s a reminder I needed too.

  9. I want to echo the same! Thank you for sharing, it makes everything feel better:) I have two kids, ages 8 and 6, and the longing to travel eventually became stronger than the fears of inadequacy. We’ve now taken several trips, and while they’re challenging and I never go the whole time without feeling somewhat alone, I no longer feel that time is passing by without actually living life as the family that we are, and enjoying these precious times of adventure. You never know when things could change, so I try to stay as present as possible! Thank you both for your authenticity.

  10. Love these stories! I live abroad and being a single parent in an expat community can sometimes feel like being in that holiday situation All The Time. Always being the only single parent at children’s birthday parties is the worst! But I am also surrounded by a higher than average percentage of people who haven’t married and feel they have missed out on having kids, which does make me really, really appreciate having my two crazy little people. So now I often end up traveling with my single friends and my kids (6 and 4) which brings a totally different perspective for all of us. The best lesson I have learnt from my divorce is just how many other people out there are open to creating a different type of family or community. I know this is slightly off topic, but just wanted to share and echo the sentiments in the post above – better alone than in bad company!

    1. ” am also surrounded by a higher than average percentage of people who haven’t married and feel they have missed out on having kids, which does make me really, really appreciate having my two crazy little people.” I often share that sentiment.

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