WTF Wednesday: I’m thriving, but so MAD at my trust-fund ex (plus, NPR interview!)

single mom advice

wealthysinglemommy wtf wednesday

After reading this post, NPR host Steve Pomeranz interviewed me. Check it:

Dear Emma,

WTF?! Two years ago my husband up and left me. At the time we were living off of his meager earnings, and I mainly stayed at home with our three kids and had a little crafting business that was more of a hobby than a real career.

My husbands’ parents are rich. Like, multiple tens of millions of liquid dollars. When they pass (they’re in their late 80s) that goldmine will be split between my ex’s sister and him. Meanwhile, he has dabbled in various businesses and careers and now mainly gets by with gifts from his parents. Oh, and did I mention he is a total a-hole?

He is fighting me for shared custody, which he will likely get because he has access to funds for better lawyers, and also his leisurely lifestyle means he has plenty of time on his hands. Even if we go 50-50 with custody, he will be the one spending the majority of time with them, taking them to activities and having a nicer home — because his parents are rich and he doesn’t have to work.

Since the split I have bumped my hobby into a full-blown career and in just two years have built something that I can live off of. Any extra money I invest back in my business. Professionally, this is the most exciting time of my life, and my colleagues are rooting me on, giving me hope that my business can be huge.

However, throughout the day and weeks I often find myself paralyzed and unable to make decisions or move forward with projects—whether they be for work or family. Instead, I am consumed – obsessed – with how unfair it is that I have to hustle and skimp and take on all this financial responsibility while he gets to sit back, enjoy the kids and never have a worry.

Several lawyers have told me that there isn’t much I can do about getting money out of him, or getting a larger share of the custody. So I ask you: WTF?! How can I move on and make the best of this?

— Cheryl in Cincinnati

Dear Cheryl,

You said it yourself: He is an a-hole. Nothing good ever comes from an over-abundance of resources. If you have too much access to inexpensive food, you get fat. If you have a very fast car, you probably won’t drive within the speed limit. You spend your entire life within easy reach of loads of dough you don’t have to work for, well, you said it, I didn’t.

So here we have your ex-husband who you describe as being a miserable human being owning in part to the fact that he is spoiled. On the surface, we all love the idea of a giant financial windfall. But the majority of big-time lottery winners go bankrupt within a few years of their gains. Money very rarely solves problems.

In fact, your story illustrates how a lack of money can create greatness. In your fear of post-divorce poverty you have launched an amazing business – one that not only shows great financial promise, but brings your life joy and meaning in ways you never imagined. You have stepped into your greatness. This may not have happened if you received a fat alimony check every month. This may not have happened if you were married to an heir and spent your days with your children.

This divorce and all its financial circumstances are a gift. Never doubt that.

Which brings me to your motherhood. Until recently you identified yourself as a full-time, stay-at-home mom. Our society deems SAHMs better moms, and you likely did, too. In the many losses that come with divorce, we must let go of our previous ideas and scripts about the kind of mother we are and the family we are creating. That is a real loss, and I urge you to grieve it.

Your new family life is different, but it is not worse. In your message when you write about your career, you come alive. Your children see that electricity in you, they are watching your success and struggles and ultimately your triumph through this difficult time. That is no small thing. You are the only parent in your family who can teach your children work ethic, business and professional success. Without this divorce no one would have taught them.

Again, this divorce and all its financial circumstances are a gift. Never doubt that.

And so you will see less of your children than you did before. But they are older now and don’t need to see as much of you. And the many hours you will have with them will be charged with the energy you pull from your work and confidence. This new life is different. But I do not see that it is anything but better.

As for your husband, forgive him. From the outside it looks like he has everything, but now that we get a peek on the inside, that is not apparent. You have separate lives now. You are on separate paths. Would you ever trade the one you are on now? All the promise that you find in yourself and your life? How could you ever go back?

And so let it go. Let him go. Let him go from your heart and head. And let him go on his own path so you are free to go on your own.

About 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.


  1. DarthW on June 20, 2014 at 12:07 am

    Again, excellent advice. While I’ve not faced this type challenge, I find that it helps to twist what may seem a crippling hurdle into something more positive. Change the perspective to a “challenge”, which is really what it can be, and see what can be made from the setback or problem.

  2. Emma on June 22, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    So true – I’m thinking about a post about how I hate the throwaway use of the term “survivor.” It presumes life is supposed to be easy, and when something hard happens you get an award for getting through it.

    The baseline premise of life since forever is that life is hard and full of pain. Shit, some days with my kids feel like I deserve a reward at the end, but do you have one for me , Darth?

    • DarthW on June 29, 2014 at 2:08 pm

      My perspective about life is indeed, that it is difficult….. and then you die (and a man who marries wishes he were dead much sooner. LOL). Still here in the USA we have it way too good compared to others. What we perceive as “so, so hard” is usually a mere setback compared to a lot of third world day-to-day living.

      No rewards for a rough day with the kids. If you’d known me years ago I would have advised you be an aunt, so you could send them home when the kids start wearing on you. Ha!

  3. kofybean on July 19, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    “He is fighting me for shared custody”
    What does that even mean? Why does he have to fight to see his kids? She sounds upset that he has money for lawyers so he can actually spend time with his children. If he didn’t have money for lawyers, would she take them completely away? She sounds like the pot calling the kettle an ahole.

  4. kofybean on July 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    “Two years ago my husband up and left me. At the time we were living off of his MEAGER earnings”
    “that GoLDMINE will be split between my ex’s sister and him”
    “HE IS FIGHTING me for shared custody, which he will likely get because he has access to funds for better lawyers”

    This is not a good woman. The fact that this blog is defending such a person and calling her great immediately exposes a huge bias to me. I suspect, between the time he got married, and the time he left, he realized it too, she is pissed that she can’t get her hands on his birth right. What an great woman indeed.

    If he is such a bad man, why is he FIGHTING to see his kids. If she is such a good and innocent woman who’s “greatness” was manifested, why is she making a man fight to see his kids? Why is she angry that a man’s kids get to spend time with their dad? Nothing described makes him an ahole.

    If doing what is best for him and his child makes him an ahole, then the entire feminist culture is an ahole.

    “This may not have happened if you received a fat alimony check every month. ” This statement to me is the most disingenuous. The very thing you say makes her great, is the very thing that exposes how low she is. You think she would have written this if she took the kids from their dad, and receives a huge fat monthly child support check?

    This is the definition of greatness??

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