WTF Friday: Can I be divorced AND the mom I always dreamed of being?

In this weekly feature I answer your personal finance questions.

Dear Emma, WTF?!

I’ve been separated and now divorced for three years. My daughter is 7, and I feel like I’m in crisis. Before she was born I launched a freelance marketing business with the aim of having a flexible work schedule once I had kids and be home with them after school and during the summer. This was a shared goal of my husband and me, and the plan was he would be the primary breadwinner until our kids were in middle school.Then he left and refuses to participate on any level, and here I am.

Now that I am the sole provider for my little family I’m constantly stressed out — in order to build my business, I have to work many more hours than I’d hoped, and my daughter is in an after school program. I hate it (even though she seems to love it), even though I find building this business thrilling. It seems every single day I suffer guilty battle within myself — am I working long hours because I have to? Or because I want to? Will the financial security and material things I can provide my daughter worth the hours I don’t spend with her? Does my professional success and resulting happiness count for anything? And every time I am faced with the decision to take on a work opportunity vs hiring more child care, I feel sick to my stomach.

Then I find myself getting so mad that I don’t have a spouse to help manage this scheduling mess — not to mention my emotional mess.

How can I get a grip on all this?

All worked up on the Upper East Side


Dear UES,

Divorce always requires giving up a dream. You had one idea of how your life would be, and now it is different. I am struggling with similar issues in my own life, so when I write you this advice, I am also writing it to myself. There are some cliches we can take from here.

Don’t spend energy on what you can’t control. There is not one thing you can do about the fact that your husband left and is not involved in your daughter’s life. You have every right to be angry, but you can’t make it change. Mourn that loss. Then accept it.

You are now financially responsible for you and your daughter’s financial well being. Your professional success suggests you have embraced this fact, but your stress and conflict indicate you have a ways to go. Give yourself permission to get there. Then stay there.

Embrace the fact that there are many definitions of success. You will let go of your dream of the type of mother that you wanted to be, and embrace the type of mother that you can be in your new circumstances. While you may not spend the hours you want with your daughter, she will gain other things from you that you could not imagine before. She will see you rising to the occasion in a very difficult decision. She will learn about business and people from your professional success. She will learn about setting priorities and tapping into inner strength and loving a child and building family — all by yourself.

Open yourself up to the possibility that the universe has thrust you into a situation in which you are your best self. Sit quietly for a few moments each day. Ask yourself what is really important to you. Are you succeeding by those terms?

Eliminate as many guilt-inducing decisions as possible. Last year I was suffering some stress-induced health problems and I called my friend Kate Hanely, the writer, mom, yoga instructor and mind-body coach. She drilled into my daily decision about what time I picked up my kids from daycare. I paid for them to stay until 4 p.m. every day, but I hoped to pick them up at 3 p.m., because that was the kind of hands-on and involved mom I always dreamed of being. But work obligations meant I usually picked them up at 4 p.m. Guilt and stressed ensued each time I had to decide the time. Each and every day.

Kate helped pick one time and stick to it. I chose 4 p.m. and never looked back. Relieving yourself of stress-causing decisions and accepting the consequences is critical to be content with your life. I’ve applied the same theory to other parts of my life. For example, I give myself permission to hire an evening babysitter once per week. If dates or evenings out or work obligations would require more childcare, I decline. I am so much happier for it.I suggest you set a maximum number of childcare hours you are willing to hire. If work opportunities present themselves that would require more, you must stick to your self-imposed limits and turn them down. You will be surprised at how liberating it is, and how easy it is to be at peace to with the hours your daughter is with a babysitter. Everyone will be much happier — most of all, you.

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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