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