A big part of my Mean Mom approach is being married to a Mean Dad. My husband is old-school in the right ways (he’s tough and consistent) while eschewing some of the old-school-dad stuff like hiding his face behind a newspaper and leaving all the child-rearin’ to me. He’s out there (literally) kicking a soccer ball with our younger son and helping our older son with math homework. And while we have some minor disagreements about discipline (you might be surprised to find he’s tougher than I am in some instances!), we can discuss these differences rationally and work through them together.
What I’m saying is that I’m glad I’m not going this alone. But plenty of parents are — perhaps plenty of you. So when I realized that a writing colleague of mine, Emma Johnson, had started a blog called Wealthy Single Mommy, I had to ask her to answer some questions. Emma’s a powerhouse — she’s successful and smart and has two adorable little ones (a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son). And she seemed, as best any outsider like me could tell, to have enjoyed a nice life with her husband. That is, until things fell apart.
And things do sometimes fall apart. The best laid plans and all that. It’s reality: people get divorced, spouses become ill or pass away, jobs are lost (been there!). But in my opinion — and apparently in Emma’s, too — that doesn’t mean you forgo your dreams, backslide in your finances more than is absolutely unavoidable, or slack off in the parenting department.
So without further ado, here’s an interview with the very talented Ms. Johnson:
Tell me a little bit about Wealthy Single Mommy. What prompted you to start it?
I’d been through a few very, rough, rough years, but everyone kept telling me how I was doing such an amazing job, how I was so strong. And I felt strong. That happens when you go through tough times, you come out better on the other side (hopefully).
I am very interested in money and wealth and class, who has it and who doesn’t, and what that means for us as individuals, as a group, and as a country. There is a well-deserved stereotype that single moms are welfare moms. When women divorce, they get poorer. That is a fact. But if we focus on that, we’re never, ever going to be anything but poor and our kids will never go to college and will become meth addicts.
The only people who can turn that around is mothers — and as a group of educated, professional women, we have the power to make that change – for ourselves, for our own families, and for single-parent families everywhere. I want to help women find the resources and emotional strength to turn this thing around.
What else do you want the blog to be about, especially considering it’s still a pretty young enterprise?
I saw lots of women have a hard time seeing that their own lives could be fulfilling and rich without a husband/father in the house. I’m still trying to work out all the details for myself and my kids, but I wanted to share my thoughts on this and empower women to live big, full lives, too. I’ve been writing about dating and sexuality and chores and volunteering – it all relates to money and finances and wealth, in some way. But more importantly, these are all issues that all moms face, not just single moms.
You obviously feel — given the “wealthy” in your blog’s title — that a single mother need not be impoverished. I know there are many reasons women end up in a worse spot financially after a divorce. How much of that is reality that can’t be avoided (for example, a longtime stay-at-home mother who is forced to accept a lower standard of living), and how much is not, or is a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Excellent question. I believe that by staying at home and abandoning your career is a passive act of fulfilling that prophecy. We’re all living in the same world. Half of us will divorce. Tell yourself you are immune to that, and you’re just asking for trouble. Similarly, tell yourself that you can afford to stay at home because your husband is a banker and he loves you unconditionally – well, bankers lose their jobs. They die unexpectedly. They suffer chronic illness and debilitating accidents. Thinking your family can survive on one career and one income is just silly.
That said, I see a lot of women find themselves divorcing and they just belly up to the food stamp line or devote hours to clipping coupons instead of investing in their careers or building businesses – and these are professional women who should know better! A simple exercise of tracking your time and thinking about billable hours goes a long, long way in earning enough money to have a comfortable life.
I don’t believe I’ll ever be a single parent, but then again, who does? As you now, shit happens. What would you say to a woman, a mother, who is facing down the possibility of single motherhood? Or who finds herself in that situation suddenly?
Sit down with a someone in your field or even a professional and figure out how you can make more money. If you have a spending problem or no budget or otherwise live way beyond what you should (you know who you are!), get that under control first. But then the key is to make more money – not just spend less (read: stop focusing on those stupid coupons!). Does this mean going back to school? Investing in building your own business? Switching departments or taking on more responsibilities at work?
Of course all these things may take away time from your kids. Figure that out, too. We are so lucky to live in an age when there are so many ways to own our time – flexible work programs at corporations, self-employment, contract work. How can balance your work/life time? It will not always be easy – but it is possible. but you have to be able to see the possibilities before you can work towards them.
What do you think is the worst enemy of single motherhood?
The worst enemy is fear that your life is over. Everyone has that fear when they divorce: They’ll be poor. Their kids will suffer. They’ll never find love again. But once you go through that (and you do just have to go through it – no avoiding it!) you see that life goes on. There is an infinite amount of love in the world. There’s also an infinite amount of money. Do you really think you’re so special that God will pick on you and deny you happiness? Get over yourself and take charge of your life and your family’s future.
Another enemy: Anger. Even if your ex-husband is the biggest douche in the world, you must, must, must scrutinize whether fighting him, taking him to court, etc., is the most efficient way to get your life and finances back in order. Fighting is negative (though absolutely necessary in some instances). Building a career and wealth and happiness on your own is positive. You have a choice. Divorce does not rob you of your choices. It makes the conditions different. But it does not take them away.
I want to ask you specifically about things like discipline and order and being in control in your house. What issues along those lines do you face? Do you see them as different now that it’s just you?
When there is one parent, there is one personality and one voice telling the kids to pick up the chunks of banana pancake they threw on the floor. There just isn’t that support. That said, many married moms feel they don’t get discipline support – and I wonder if that silent or contrarian parent might contribute more to unruly behavior when compared with an absent parent, or two parents who support each other in discipline issues, but live in different homes. Some researcher needs to check that out, and we will both blog about it!
Do you consider yourself a Mean Mom? How?
I try to be a mom who says, “Yes” a lot. As in, “Oh, a rainbow cake party? Sure! This Friday!” (In fact, come on by this Friday! Lots of six-layer cake to go around!) Or, “You want to grow up to be a female firefighter who also does hair on the weekends? That sounds great!” But we have rules, a routine, and I put my foot down and there is discipline.
One thing I write about in my book is how many modern parents feel the pull of making their kids’ lives all fun and simple and sweet all the time, and end up capitulating to a child’s demands or requests because they don’t want to be the heavy. They don’t want to be the one who says “no” or who says “it’s bedtime” or who says “veggies first.” Do you think the temptation to make it all fun, to give up your spot at the top of the home hierarchy, is stronger for a single mom? As though you’re trying to “make up” for a deficit in your kids’ lives?
I do feel a lot of pressure to be fun, but I also believe in discipline – and I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. But I think I use fun activities and outings to replace a second parent in some ways. If I had a full-time, involved father around, he might hang out and play Legos with the kids on a Saturday, which would entertain them and also give me a break. Instead, I figure that going to the zoo or a music festival is much easier than trying to entertain them at home.
I read your recent post about chores and loved it. I agree that kids do better with responsibilities around the house if they’re clear on exactly what those are. So, it’s easier and more effective to make a list of things each child’s responsible for, than it is to ask a child to do one thing at a time and get into all the push-back and the “I’ll do it later, Mom.” But I also think it’s smarter because when you set expectations and implicitly assume your children can and will do it, they rise to that occasion more readily. Do you agree?
Expectations are huge. That is how life is: things need to get done, and people have responsibilities. Not so very long ago, kids were responsible for chores like feeding chickens and milking cows and helping harvest wheat. If those things didn’t get done, families would starve and societies would become unhinged. Let’s keep it real.