WTF Wednesday: I’m going through a divorce and have become a negligent mother

single mom advice


Dear Emma,

WTF?! I am going through a nasty divorce – custody battles, bitter fighting over money. You name it. My kids are 5 and 11.

Until the last six months, I was really together: successful in my career as an administrator at non-profit, totally organized at home and on top of my kids’ activities/homework/appointments.

Recently, I can hardly recognize myself. Last week I found a school lunch that somehow made its way under my daughter’s bed and was festering and stinky to the point that I cannot determine the original contents. I’ve left my 5-year-old home alone, unattended for at least half an hour, and I completely spaced about one of my his soccer matches. Then, the other day I was trying to squeeze in a business call when my son wandered in the room and a louse crawled out of his hair! I actually screamed right into the phone with my boss. I was horrified.

Then there is the fact that I have gained 17 pounds in the past half year, the house is more or less always in disarray and despite my self-promises to the contrary, I continue to indulge in arguments with my kids’ father — right in front of them.

I worry that divorce has turned me into a really lousy mom, crazy person and incompetent professional. I am so ashamed of myself. Can I turn this around?

Battling it out in B.C.

Losing your mind? Scared out of your head? Here’s my cheat-sheet on how to live a kick-ass single mom life. 

Dear B.C.,

First, I bet every person who has gone through divorce can identify with this letter.  You know who else can identify with this letter?

Pretty much everyone.

Let me tell you a story: One afternoon when my daughter was about 5 or 6 months old she dozed off on my bed. She was a rolly-polly little thing — literally rolling around the entirety of the living room instead of crawling. I knew this. I also knew that those naps provided elusive me-time. And so I negligently let her snooze on the bed while I jumped in the shower.

A few minutes later I heard muffle screams which I found — upon bursting out of the shower — were a tiny baby, face down on the hardwood floors. In the two seconds between the time she fell and I scooped her up, an egg-size purple bump had hopped up between her eyes.

I was sick.

Was I a stressed-out, sleep-deprived new mom? Maybe. Was I lazy, negligent mom for selfishly not moving her sleeping baby and sneaking off the steamy luxury of a solitary shower? Perhaps. I recall those days as my giddiest. And also some of my most human.

Fast forward a couple years and I was in the throes of divorce. This time was a blur. But I remember this:

My son, age 1, pulled down from the counter the French press full of scalding coffee — and had an armful of blisters to show for it.

I spanked my kids.

More than once I 100% completely spaced on meetings/deadlines/appointments — so unusual for me I thought for sure I suffered a neurological disorder.

Sent my kids to daycare in less-than-clean clothes.

Wore the same (less than clean) clothes four days in a row.

Served (really, really delicious) food that may or may not have been in the fridge too long.

That was three and four years ago. Two days ago? Had a big fight with the ex in the lobby of my building — just as the cool (and sweet) jewelry designer neighbor and her baby were walking in. Stay classy!

But not as classy as the Ms. Angela Bassett. Remember this classic divorce scene from Waiting to Exhale?

My point is two-fold:

1. You are human. Humans are not perfect. Step away from the glossy magazines, your friends’ Facebook posts and erase from your mind the idea that there is such a thing as a perfect mom. We are all so, so deeply flawed. Effed up, really! Life get so much easier if you wake up in the morning and accept as truth that you will in some way damage your children. I give you permission to damage them. Try your best, and know that you will still fail. Lice? Part of childhood. Stop taking it all so personally! You’re not that special!

2. Divorce is a mother. Dissolves every shred of sense of control over your life. If you do not unravel during your split, you will unravel — X10, that shit ferments — later. If you were not somehow being a lesser mom than something would be amiss. And what  you describe is safely within the bounds of losing your mind temporarily while you get through this mess.

So what to do:

1. Hang tight. This, too shall pass.

2. Give yourself a break. I’m not one for encouraging all this retail therapy or slurping back bottles of wine or spa weekends when things get tough. Instead, set your jaw and when something goes amuck, roll with it.

3. You need a good friend. Someone you can laugh and share with who makes you feel normal. Because all of this is normal. Shame is the enemy.

4. Get help. Not necessarily a therapist. I’m thinking a housekeeper. Outsource all these little things that you’re beating yourself up over. Then you can focus on the important stuff — like enjoying your kids, getting through and over the end of your marriage, and picking nits.

Losing your mind? Scared out of your head? Here’s my cheat-sheet on how to live a kick-ass single mom life. 

What is the craziest thing you did when going through your divorce? Common, share! In the comments:

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.

7 thoughts on “WTF Wednesday: I’m going through a divorce and have become a negligent mother

  1. Good advice. Especially this:

    “You know who else can identify with this letter?
    Pretty much everyone.”

    Yep. Never married, never divorced, no kids, and male. I couldn’t be farther from her experience, or that of anyone else, male, or female, getting a divorce. Other life scenarios -the death of family, unemployment, illness, and even “mid-life crises” bring many of us to this precipice where we hang over disorganization, self-doubt, a little depression; a dark age in our life. We wonder when we’ll ever see things improve. At least in the Western world, the sun often does eventually come from behind the clouds over time. Takes work and effort, but things can improve.

  2. I am trying really hard to remember a specific crazy event from my divorce. I remember it was crazy but I think I have blocked a lot of it out. I often lost my temper at my kids, cried, spaced out at work and shouted like a crazy woman at my ex. I am glad those days are over and I have my act together. Thank God, it gets better.

    1. You know, I had to dig into the archives to find the examples I shared. I, too, blocked out a lot of that time. You know who I bet would help us remember? OUR EXES!!!! xxoo

What do you think? Please comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *