By Lenore Skenazy
When Emma Johnson was growing up, she was certain of one thing: She would never be a single mom.
After all, she’d been raised by one. And while she appreciates her mom’s hard work and how it paid off — “My brothers are really good guys, we all turned out okay” — bottom line: They were broke. Emma didn’t ever want to be scrimping and scraping and sad like that. So she left Illinois for the big city (well, Astoria), became a journalist, found a great guy, got married, had the kids. … And now she is a single mom of two.
Shortly into the marriage, Johnson’s husband was on assignment as a cameraman in Greece when he fell off a cliff and suffered a brain injury. Things never went back to normal. In fact, they grew harrowing. Before the kids were even in kindergarten, the couple divorced. And that is how Emma started her journey to become the person who you’ll find in the title of her honest, wrenching and ultimately stand-up-and-cheer memoir and self-help book coming out in October, “The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children.”
“For a long time, I was alternatively livid, confused, overwhelmed, accepting and thrilling in that role — a process that I have seen countless women go through in my work, which is now committed to the empowerment of single mothers,” she writes.
Empowerment is a word we hear a lot, but for Emma it’s a mission: She doesn’t want any moms to be downtrodden just because they’re not married. After all, she says, 57 percent of millennial moms are single. And they’re so young that we don’t even know yet if the married ones will stay hitched.
Commonplace or not, single motherhood often elicits the gloomy assumptions Emma set out to bust: You’re a failure. You’ll never make a decent living. You’re screwing up your kids. You won’t find love.
Her own story proves the power of positive doing. Realizing she’d have to be a breadwinner from now on, “I just buckled down,” she said. She started calling all her editing contacts and threw herself into work. She hired childcare and was determined not to feel guilty about it.
“I can’t make money if I’m cleaning my house and doing laundry all the time,” Emma said. She also ditched the idea that kids needed a stay-at-home mom. She did the research and learned that, empirically, “the things that hurt kids are conflict between parents inside or outside a marriage.”
As she went out into the world, she found herself drawn to the stories of women like her, women whose Plan A did not work out. Some were thriving, many weren’t. So five years ago she started a blog called “WealthySingleMommy,” which just may go down as one of the most radical ideas online. We are so used to “barely making it single mommies” that the idea that a mommy can be single, wealthy, and fine is rewriting an entire demographic’s story.
In her book, as on her blog, Emma uses journalistic research to provide strategies for finding work, getting over guilt, and demanding a decent life. For instance, how do you keep a father involved in his kids’ lives?
You let them.
“When dads only get weekend visits with their children, they are much more likely to drop out of the picture,” Emma learned. But if you start custody negotiations assuming a 50–50 childcare split (so long as the dad is not abusive), it is much more likely the ex will become and remain an involved dad.
Similarly, when it comes to dating, single moms should face facts: If they are earning a living, they will be less needy and hence more attractive. And by the way, she says, “You probably already had a husband, so why are you in such a rush to find another one?”
She profiles women like the stay-at-home mom of three who was pregnant with her fourth when her husband ran off with another woman he’d also knocked up. At first, the abandoned wife was declaring, “ ‘I’m going to take him for all he’s worth!’ She was in that angry, miserable spot,” Emma recalls. But for all that, she went and got her real estate license, started working and a year later was making about $100,000.
“Now she looks awesome and she started to date,” Emma reports.
More amazingly, the mom just posted a photo of her, her ex, the “other woman” and the five kids they have between then, out for a day at the water park.
Kickass single moms may be the silent majority we just haven’t heard of — until now.
Lenore Skenazy is founder of Free-Range Kids, a contributor to Reaso