WTF Friday: Should she take her daughter away from the dad for a better career?

In this weekly feature I answer your personal finance questions.

Dear Emma, WTF?!

I’ve been a single mother for the last 5 years. I had my daughter when I was 17 and she is now 7. I live in a place where jobs opportunities are scarce and there is little to no room for growth. However, I’m finishing up my journalism degree in a month and I want to relocate to Boston or NYC where friends, family and opportunities await.

The problem is her father. He’s very involved in her life, which I’m grateful for. We are great parents. However he won’t agree to me taking her out of state. 

The guilt that is weighing on me is tremendous. If we lived closer to the city then I would certainly stay where I am. I grew up without a father and I know what it’s like being raised by a single mother. But I’m tired of struggling, living on assistance and I have so much financial burden that it makes having a full and happy life with my daughter difficult. I’m currently applying for jobs and internships and am so excited about a new future. But all those good vibes quickly evaporate when I consider my daughter’s close relationship with her dad.   

Does it make me a bad mother for wanting more out of this life for her and myself? I want to be successful, independent and run my own business someday to take care of my family. I consulted a lawyer and it seems that if this goes to court we both have an equal chances.

My question is, should I try and be content where we are currently living or should I choose to relocate with my daughter and give my career a good start? I understand that her summer vacations, holidays and school breaks will more than likely be spent with him and I’m prepared to keep the lines of communication as opened as possible.


Dear Conflicted,

I have good news and bad news.

Bad: From a purely moral and parental standpoint, I think it would be wrong to take your daughter away from her dad unless you had absolutely no other financial opportunities (which you d0 – read on). That is a precious bond that you must honor, and as you and I know as mothers, it is that regular, frequent interactions with our young children that keep that bond alive. Another reason: I am so impressed at the positive way you describe your relationship with your ex. “We are great parents.” That is so enormous. Such a precious gift you are giving your daughter. You take her away, not only does she miss her dad and miss the loving co-parenting relationship you share, but you will instigate animosity that she will suffer from.

That said, I 100% understand and support your dreams of moving to the city to pursue your journalism dreams. Um, hello! That was me!! I also appreciate how important it is for you to provide financially for her, and that you have creative and professional ambitions you need to nurture. If you don’t you will be angry, bitter and poor. Despite what you say, you do want it all.

I suggest you can have it all.

But first, more bad news: Journalism jobs are tough to come by, and if and when you find one, you may a) hate it, b) be disgusted to realize how poorly they pay, c) dislike raising a child in the city. Because you are just starting out, you have little idea of the realities of the workforce and how your talents, passions and personality fit into it. I have many friends with journalism degrees. Very few of them work in traditional journalism any more — everyone has migrated to PR, marketing, political consulting, law school, teaching, media consulting. Media, like so many industries today, is experiencing a tremendous upheaval. This is scary, but it is also creating many opportunities for creating the careers and lives we want and need.

Your quandary comes down to this: Do you wager your child’s emotional well-being by moving her away in the hopes of a brighter financial future with a professionally satisfied mother? Or do you stay put to honor that father-child relationship and risk remaining poor and angry — which will take its own emotional toll on your daughter?

If we look at this from a purely practical standpoint – remaining in your hometown and honoring your daughter’s relationship with her dad is low risk. You feel certain that that part of the equation will continue on its positive path. But you seem certain that if you stay where you are, you will continue to be poor, and become angry and have a lousy life. Moving her away is a high-risk proposition with definite negative outcomes: relations will be certainly be strained, and you may or may not find the professional opportunities you envision.

Which brings me to the good news. There is always a way to make it work. It won’t be easy, and everyone has to be flexible and creative. Maybe you find a way to be a ghostwriter, or a media consultant or find that your passion is really public relations and you land a good communications job at your local hospital. There are untold ways your story can unfold in a way that will satisfy your family’s emotional and financial needs. You just don’t know what that situation might look like. Because you are just getting started.

There is plenty of work out there – but you have to figure it out, find what your talents and passions are, and how to make money on those. The only way to do that is to work hard, seek out and take opportunities and be bold. You can do that. You are smart as hell and a great writer. You can do this.

This is what I suggest – apply for those jobs and internships. Come to New York for a summer or a half year. Maybe if you change your tune and let your ex know you are committed to staying in your town, he will be flexible in allowing you to take your daughter away for a few months at a time. Or maybe you will start to feel comfortable with leaving her with him for extended periods.In essence, make your goal to have your cake and eat it, too. Have a big and fulfilling career that gives you financial security while also giving your daughter her father, and yourself the peace of mind knowing you are doing the right thing. I believe that when you live in accordance to what you really truly feel is right and just, the universe swells up around you with good fortune. I am not preaching that as truth, but only as my own personal truth. As I tell my kids: stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

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.

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