WTF Wednesday: Emma, would you shut the H@%% up already? I’m down and out and can’t relate to you.

single mom advice


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Dear Emma, WTF?!

I really enjoy your blog, but I’m getting sick of your snotty advice. Sure, you’ve got it all going on: your great career and your beautiful kids and your fabulous life in New York. Well, guess what, not everyone had all the advantages you did. We all can’t just become successful entrepreneurs hiring house cleaners and laundry service and babysitters while we go partying with our slutty single-mom girlfriends on weeknights.

I’m 24 and I have three kids ages 5 and under by two different guys — neither of whom is around. I always dreamed of becoming a teacher and had really good grades in high school. But instead of going to college I got pregnant. I live in a small town with a terrible economy and the only job I can find is at a daycare where I barely make enough money to get by. I would love to move to a bigger city — one with a university — get a teaching degree and start a new life around interesting people doing interesting things. But my whole family is here and this is all my kids know. I’m stuck, and I don’t need you rubbing my face with your blog posts three times a week. In fact, most single moms would identify with me more than you. Go to hell.

Irate in Iowa


Dear Irate,

Every night when I tuck my kids into bed we do what we call, “SayWhatWe’reGratefulFor.” We take turns listing a few things that we appreciate in our lives. With my daughter, I often include this:

“I’m grateful that we live in a time and place that women can do whatever we want.”

Our grateful exercise is about reminding ourselves of how rich we are. I also use it to rid myself of excuses. If I recognize how abundant my life is, I find few reasons not to be happy.

On reading your letter, my first impulse was to give you a rundown of all the hard knocks I’ve suffered in life, and then tell you how I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and assure you that, Yes, you can do it, too! And all of that would be accurate, but here’s the thing: You’re right. I do have something that many people don’t have: I had a mother and grandparents and aunts and uncles who supported my dreams to go on and do great things, even if we were all in a small town where things were far less than perfect and no one was doing anything that I thought was exciting. I had people who expected me to be who I wanted to be.

I can tell by your writing that you are very, very bright. You have a big personality (Who you telling to go to hell?!), and you have big dreams. Plus, you’re pissed. This all makes for the momentum you need to make a change. Whatever happens next will be scary. You relocate with your kids, you move away from everything you know and risk falling on your face. Scary! Stay put and you risk hating yourself for the rest of your life for not living out your dream, becoming a (even more?) bitter person and mother and set forth the cycle of poverty and blame and excuses for your children. WAY MORE SCARY, right?

So here is what you will do:

1. Decide where you’re moving. Not where you’d like to move. Where you will move.

2. Find the best education school in that city. Make an appointment and go to that school. Talk to the dean of admissions. Meet with someone in financial aid. Get a grip on what it will take to go there- financially, logistically.

3. Walk around the campus. Walk around the neighborhoods. Imagine what it will be like to live there. Look at the people. Won’t they be cool to know? Take your kids. Talk about what it will be like to go to school there, play in the parks, eat in the restaurants. See it and feel it. This will be your new life.

4. Make a plan. Not a 10-year-maybe-if-I’m-lucky plan. A real plan for one year from now. Your plan will include making it happen financially — rent, a new job, and school for your kids and you. The plan will include you envisioning packing a moving truck, saying goodbye to your friends and old life, loading the kids up and the four of you driving down the freeway towards your dreams. Your vision will feel scary and thrilling and hopeful and even more scary. You will think of driving that moving truck down the freeway and feeling and thinking all of those things. The sun will be shining and you and your kids are laughing.

5. Read stories. Stories about people overcoming adversity. Oprah, J.K. Rowling, Jay-Z, David Geffen. Here’s a run-down of 20 business leaders who started with nothing – even less than you in most cases. Being poor in America with dreams of teaching school in a city starts to become a normal, everyday thing.

6. Only tell your plan to a very few select people. Not people who may be jealous or doubtful and will steal your thunder. Maybe you don’t have anyone like that. So you will email me, and I will forgive you for telling me to fuck off and write you back.

7. Take a moment and be grateful. Grateful that you are smart and willful and a determined mother. Be grateful that you have a city and education and career that you can dream about. Feel gratitude that you live in a time and place that as women, we can do whatever we want.

8. You will do it. And it will be so, so hard. And you will cry and want to give up. And then it will be OK. And you will not be able to believe that you ever thought about staying in your hometown.

9. When you are on your feet you will fly to New York and we will go out drinking. On a weeknight.

In this weekly feature I answer your personal finance questions. Send me yours at 


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.

21 thoughts on “WTF Wednesday: Emma, would you shut the H@%% up already? I’m down and out and can’t relate to you.

  1. As someone who knows what it’s like to be on the receiving side of Emma’s stop-whining-bitch-and-do-it brand of life coaching, I can say that damn, yes, she can get under your skin! With her feminist “you can do anything” rants, her “stop making excuses,” her superhuman ability to juggle it all and –blech — her limitless optimism. But here’s the thing, Irate in Iowa: You and I both know that whining is a cry for help, and real help doesn’t come in the form of passing Kleenex and saying, “sucks to be you.” Useful help gives you the tools you need to change what is keeping you from your vision of success. Real help is telling you, without a doubt, You Can Do It. I’ve heard it from her; I’ve believed it and it’s helped me get over myself and move forward.

    Now sure, sometimes Ms. WSM should shut the eff up. But not here.Not now. She’s spot on. Listen to her. Make it happen. And I’ll join you two for drinks.

  2. I too am a mother of 3 kids, two different fathers that do jack shit for me and my kids but i will say this. I moved to Houston, TX sight unseen (thankfully my job paid for the relocation). I am now 9 years later making $30k more than I was when I came here. I STILL haven’t finished school, I don’t own a house and I am nowhere near rich…I don’t have money or childcare to go out drinking with my friends, I do my own damn laundry and clean my own house.
    What I am saying is my life is mine, I created it with God’s help. I didn’t have friends here or family I just made the move because what I was dealing with a the time was not going to be my story. I am from a small town to…it’s called Nebraska (ok I’m being a smart ass about the town part) but I didn’t feel that I could achieve what I wanted there so I left…with my then 6 month old daughter. She is 12 and she and her brothers see Mommy making it happen every single day.
    I am blessed beyond measure not by what I have but by WHO I have and what I believe is still possible.

  3. You’re not annoying. I was trying to be snarky but leaned too much on hyperbole. You’re very inspiring in the exact ways I mentioned. Your success makes me strive for my own because you show me it is possible.

  4. When my grandmother was 40 she went to college, got her teaching degree and then worked for 20 years. She is retired now with a pension. She also was a divorced mom of three kids back in the day when divorce was rare. She got married a couple years ago to her third husband (both of them are in their 80s). Some people choose to wallow; others just stfu, get off their butts and craft their lives.

  5. I love that story Morghan, and I know it has been a huge inspiration as you have paved your own amazing path. Love you!

    and Cynthia — I know, just being snarky back. But most of all: THANK YOU.

  6. Um, LOVING your advice Emma. It’s true, Irate in Iowa is angry. She’s just taking it out on the wrong person. I mean, she doesn’t need you rubbing it in her face? Are you physically going to her home and pulling a Clockwork Orange on her and forcing her to watch your blog? Doubt it. WHy is she reading it? She’s envious and wants what you have and fears she cannot do it herself. So she’s mad at you.

    She might as well write to Zappos and tell them to stop rubbing it in her face that she can’t afford $300 heels. It makes about that much sense.

    I think your advice is spot on, and props to you for rising above a petty comeback, transcending her negative smack to the face and being a source of inspiration and info. If she doesn’t like it, she should, well, not be reading your blog. Period. But you’re right–her punch comes from the fact that she is angry–and perhaps angry enough to create change. It’s a far better use of that energy, to propel her to a new spot, then to take pot shots at those who have done it.

  7. Emma:

    Very well-stated, and good advice. I, too, am from a less than progressive place, and though I did not get pregnant until my late thirties, I knew that I had to buckle down if I wanted to overcome my circumstances.

    I believe if we as women will learn to bond, rather than bash, we can get a lot more accomplised. To Miss Irate in Iowa, I would also say to you to volunteer in a school system, so that you can get a full understanding of what teaching a 21st century student entails.

    I taught high school for 13 years, before I made the switch to college, which means, even with three degrees (each one higher than the next, and none being an associate), I have found myself to be single, pregnant, and underpaid.

    So what am I doing? Headed to get a new certification in a different field. You are in an excellent position, as this country is dying for new blood in education. Ensure that you have money to take and pass the certifcation exams, because they are not cheap.

    Additionally, the day care you work at–do you get a discount for your children? Utilize your resources. Type/edit papers; offer to do resumes; run errands for people; baby sit, but definitely get back in school sooner than later.

    As Captain Planet said, (dating myself, here), the power is YOURS!

  8. I’m doing the same! And yes I will admit to some whining along the way. But you know what? I AM blessed! I am gearing up to make that move. I don’t see myself or my kids being able to thrive where we are right now. And I have family and friends that are rooting us on! We just have to believe in ourselves. We as single parents are given one of the most difficult, yet rewarding jobs on this planet. We are celebrities in our own right! (At least our kiddos see it that way). But the only one holding us back is ourselves. We are blessed to be born in a time where we have so many resources available to us. Use them! And if they aren’t readily available where we currently are living, then we must step out of our comfort zones and seek them out. Sending love and well wishes to Ms. Irate. I commend you Emma for turning something so potentially energy draining into a positive message for all.

  9. Reading that letter I could closely relate to the writer Irate. Not necessarily to her anger at your blog and I only have one child… but the frustration in the situation. My frustration is at peaked and it’s causing pure agony. At the end of the letter to discover that Irate is in Iowa, of all places, hit home even further. Emma I dearly needed to read this, and perhaps you can supply a little more advice if you see a place you’d like to add.

    The briefing: Born in Los Angeles as a result of a one night stand. My Armenian immigrant father (only 16 when he was with my 25 year old mother) was amazing and raised me for 9 years until my, essentially absent, mother claimed her right to take me to (big sad gulp) Iowa… I have been here for 20 years now and I hurt and lately I cry and I feel like a prisoner and ache to get the h*** out of here. (p.s. I despise cold/snow)

    10 years after my mother took me away, I was 19 with my 4 month old son, my father killed himself. My plan was to move back home, to LA, when I turned 18 and I got pregnant instead. Now I don’t necessarily believe that is why he made that decision but I feel guilt that I could have prevented it had I made better choices and valued my father’s pride in me and not allowed my distant, absent, and very selfish mother rub off on me.

    My son changed my life. He is 9 years old and he’s an amazing child. My parenting method has been that he is the number 1 priority and my decisions I make are all weighed upon whether they are in his best interest and to do the exact opposite of my own mother. So I have stayed here to keep him close to his father, who doesn’t financially support him but does see him every other weekend and they do love each other.
    I have made a decent career for myself and have a lot to be proud of, but I am simply miserable. I want badly to move back to California but feel it is my responsibility to sacrifice and not put my son through what I ever went through. Unlike my father, my sons dad has gotten married and created a family for himself, which is wonderful, we all get along very well and they live about an hour away. But how long do I have to sacrifice myself and chance to be happy?
    I have decided I cannot take this place anymore and have told myself that I need to relocate, even if still in the Midwest, so that my son can realistically still be in driving distance of his father, step-mother, and baby brother. So I have thought perhaps I will go to Minneapolis or Chicago (that have small Armenian communities that I have longed for so many years) or look into Des Moines, IA which is a significant step up from where I am now. This is not my dream of where I want to go, but I am breaking apart, spending every other weekend either socializing (let’s be real, going out to the bars) with the same people with the same lack of aspirations or desire for any more of a life or self improvement.
    The problem is that I don’t know what I want or what to do, or how to fine tune these options despite my trying, research, speaking with a life coach, and continued therapy to work through issues that I’ve described along with many other popular small town Iowa issues like the raging cheating and abuse that goes on around here!
    My week: Some days I am a zombie, zoned out, and overcome with agony I do nothing but simply get through the days. But most weeks: Wake up my son, get us ready, get him fed (I don’t eat breakfast) and get him to school, morning drive to school involves practicing his spelling test. Go to work, where I work in Audiology, some days so busy I work through lunch, and when I don’t work through lunch I go to the gym in the building to walk on the treadmill, so again I don’t eat. Leave work (hopefully on time) getting my son from the pricy after school program, discussing the day. To work on my sons concentration with his work I developed a routine that he (under my supervision of course) is to plan and make dinner once a week. (which due to the busy schedule it realistically only happens about twice a month) We do math, we read at bedtime, we do prayers, we joke and laugh together and give hugs, kisses, and express lots of love. We even have a dog. I also manage to find time to clean, do my own laundry (in my own home & laundry machine), then there is dishes, sweeping, vacuuming, mopping (I love you swiffer jet-mop), having to remember to remind him to brush his teeth and monitor his time on games and tv. THEN during winter you throw in these snow days or delayed starts! Putting a major damper on my job with scheduled patients. There are no men anymore because I’m convinced they are hopeless and lack ambition here! My real stress relief comes from working out (if I get to it) and singing into an app on my phone which I find time around 10pm well after my son is in bed and I eat everything within reach. (I’m such a loser!!! lol) Now my chaotic life is still in a routine, leaving shakes the whole pot. I am terrified that my son’s school wont be as wonderful if I move, that there will be bullies, bad crowds of friends, or the staff wont be good. Will there be an after school program? Will I be able to afford a larger city? Will my loneliness kill me before I get a chance to breathe and feel “ok”???

    I am SO sorry, I know this was brutally lengthy. But not having the best mother, unambitious friends who don’t wish me to move, no real role models, therapy, a NEDA navigator, and so on and so forth, I am simply desperate. And your advice above was the best advice I’ve heard so far.
    Please help if you can…

    Amy- Broken & lost in Iowa…

    1. Dearest Amy –

      You sent your post 7 months ago in response to Irate’s message and Emma’s supportive reply. I wonder what you decided to do? It sounded like you’re bright and loving, and decided for obvious reasons to be superMom to your son, but you were absolutely bored witless! It’s not surprising: I would be bored witless too with such a self-sacrificing routine. It sounded like you needed a bit of space to think about what Amy actually wanted for herself.

      After going through a similar period of self-sacrifice, for similar reasons, and feeling like I was going a bit mad, I decided I had to make time for me. I joined a community choir, discovered talents I never knew I had, that other people valued, and never looked back. I actually think I’m a better Mom as a result: my kids see a resilient, self-confident woman able to be true to herself and able to grow every day (i.e. take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them). What a great role model for a child, male or female.

      I loved how organised you sounded, how much energy you had, how you managed to look after yourself physically despite the frustration. I loved the fact that you had already identified things which mattered to you: a fresh perspective (moving) that might re-energise you, connecting with the Armenian community, keeping your son in contact with his father. I hope you either did these things, or else are planning to do them. Your plans sounded well thought-out, practical and sensible. I hope you find friends who encourage you to try new things and find contentment.

      Best wishes. I really hope you reply so that I, and others, can see how you have got on.

  10. I’m very late for this post but relate to many single moms. After years of crying and blaming my ex husband for putting me and our four children throught our divorce and endure hardships I would never dreamed of, I realized it wasn’t his fault. And then it hit me like a brick on the head. It was my fault I had not gotten my education. It was my fault I was not financially set to provide for my children. And after many years of struggling and bad mouthing him. I acepted my responsability. I forgave myself, because it first takes forgiving yourself for blaming others and for not knowing better and for covering your eyes at times to the truth. Then major changes happened. I worked had, learned, got into college. Now I’m soon to be getting my BA in education. Im not completely financially set but I’m working towards it instead of my old ways. And I never ever talk about my past in bad ways, but as in a learning experince. So yes it can be done. And for the record I have not a single family member in my state to help out.

    1. Eva! This is an amazing story – the about-face and self-awareness is really remarkable. I am so proud of you for getting it together and pursuing financial independence, but moreso for taking full responsibility for your life, despite investing so much time and energy in blaming your ex. Giant kudos.

  11. All of these are great comeback stories and Emma you give wonderful advice. FEAR will be the biggest heartbreak you will ever experience in your life. FEAR robs you of your strength and your power to make decisions. Single mothers have something that nobody else has . . . they live to feed the children. Even when they fudge up, they wake up every day to do what they need to do. If I am down and out I don’t need a cheering squad but I need a reality check. Irate in Iowa needs to say all of those things she wrote in her letter to YOU and write them to herself. She should be angry and we shouldn’t be using white glove treatment. Anger means she has love and that should be motivation enough to get going. Also don’t underestimate the power of financial assistance, welfare and community outreach. That is there purpose to help families. We want better citizens pursuing higher education and getting better jobs. There are so many non-profits that will help find you housing, food, budgeting and financial assistance. If you are at the rock bottom research those organizations. You will use them temporarily but will get to where you need to go.

  12. “most single moms would identify with me more than you. ” With Irate in Iowa, on this I sadly agree. LOL.

    Really, on your points to Irate, Emma, I have to agree. Too many people assume that when someone is successful it’s all based on luck or privilege, and not pain, sweat, blood, and work. My path to the success in my life has been the result of hard work, education, and a lot of long days. Now, I have been fortunate, or “lucky”, in that a couple career opportunities were presented to me, but had I not already had the education, attitude, and work experience that I’d earned, there is no way I could have taken those opportunities, nor would I have had someone presented the chance to me without them knowing of my work ethic already. And the work takes a lot of time and effort (not telling you something you don’t know), so a person just has to keep stepping forward even when an opportunity isn’t right in your grasp so that you’ll be ready when opportunity does arrive.

  13. Irate can leave her small town and go to college or a big city or whatever. But she’ll succeed only to the extent she leaves that bad attitude behind.

  14. I just realized this is a re-post from over a year ago. Would love an update from Irate….

    I know for me, looking back over the ground I’ve covered since crawling up from my own rock bottom is a startling and humbling and exhilarating practice. There was luck, yes. And friends and support I didn’t know I had or would come to have (there were also many, many friends and “support” systems I thought I had but turned out not to….). And, there was strength and tenacity in ME that I am convinced I would never have otherwise come to know. So much so that these days, while I appreciate that my life is no longer the mess it once was, I am much more grateful for my struggles than my successes. Those are just icing on the cake. But my struggles – and my decision and effort in facing them head on – are what formed me, and allowed me to become the woman I was meant to be. Can it get any better than that?

    And so, when you email Emma, Irate, she has my permission to share with you my email address as well. And I will listen and offer what advice I can, and if asked. Because blogs like Emma’s can bring us together, for support. I’m grateful for that, too. :)

  15. Reading that response just reiterated what I am taking the first steps toward. I was angry and hurt and have spent the majority of this last year playing a victim even if I didn’t mean to. I have yelled at whole websites for continually writing articles about “You and your partner after baby” blah blah blah. It honestly hurts every time I read that because I, like most of the women here, don’t have a partner to lean on as I traverse through the landscape of being a single mom. But whining about it doesn’t do a whole lot either.

    I suppose I didn’t sign up to read these articles hoping that I’d get some “magical” easy quick-take pill of advice that would overnight turn me into the single-mommy Bill Gates because I hope I’m together enough to know that doesn’t exist. Just like this post baby-fat isn’t going to melt off magically. It’s slow, it’s difficult, and it takes determination.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  16. Your advice and tone and willingness to reach out and be a real friend is the breath of fresh air I needed to find just when I needed to find it. Thank you

  17. It’s SOOOO easy to become the VICTIM of situation. I struggle with going down that road all the time. I think your response was just what she needs to hear.

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