I picked up Emma Johnson’s book, The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (released this week by TarcherPerigee), and at first glance, I didn’t have much in common with this woman.
Johnson grew up in a divorced family, raised by a single mom. My parents were so entirely married, so entirely over-involved, that I used to wish they would divorce so I could play them against each other for a later curfew. When married, Johnson and her husband were creative, globe-trotting Manhattanites who threw fabulous dinner parties and furnished their nursery with vintage Midcentury Modern pieces. My ex and I were based in Phoenix and used to alternate the responsibility of making up excuses to get out of social events so we could sit home and read. Johnson used the phrase “your journey” on page two of her intro. Enough said.
But then I read, “We all have one thing in common: Plan A didn’t work out.”
Before she was a single mom — and fabulously successful blogger at wealthysinglemommy.com — in New York City, Johnson was a health care reporter at the East Valley Tribune in Mesa. As she explains in the book, her marriage dissolved when her husband (the boyfriend she moved with to New York) suffered a serious brain injury in Greece. After a coma and a lengthy hospital stay, John’s husband came home a different, more volatile, less understanding, very unfamiliar man. He ultimately left Johnson, their daughter, and unborn baby (yep, she was pregnant when her husband left) to fend for themselves on her 10-hour per week job. That’s rough.
My ex and I had nothing so dramatic happen. We just had a lot of stress. We adopted a toddler from China at roughly the same time I underwent a slew of surgeries, I had a new business, we had a new house, the recession hit, our son was diagnosed with lots of issues involving lots of people with letters after their names, and blah blah blah, we just went under. In hindsight, my ex and I divorced because we both needed sleep and a quiet place to escape Thomas the Tank Engine. We divorced, and at the same time said, “See you tomorrow for dinner, and by the way, Thanksgiving is at my mom’s house this year.”
Different divorces. But still, Emma Johnson and I have one thing in common: Plan A didn’t work out.
When Plan A doesn’t work out, no matter the circumstances, the ground you and your kids are standing on cracks and shakes and you have limited time to find a stable landing place before you’re swallowed up whole. Johnson gets that.
The Kickass Single Mom is the what-to-do guide when Plan A doesn’t work out, divided into four sections: Single Mom 2.0, Money, Parenting, and Dating. And while the book sometimes reads like a 1980s feminist empowerment jingle (you can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan), I appreciated that Johnson is less rah-rah inspirational cheerleader and more “Girl, you got this, but get your shit together because you’re going to need to do more for your family than cancel HBO and cut coupons.”
In fact, I realized I really liked this woman when she said forget the coupons already. Coupons are stupid and your time is worth more. Preach.
The Single Mom 2.0 section had stereotypes in it that I had never thought much about it, but that rang very true. The myth is that single moms do not earn. We live off the state, we date wealthy men, we gouge our exes for support. And the ones that do earn work and work and work, sacrificing all self-care for our children and turning into annoying martyrs that no one wants to be around. Interesting, right? When you think “single mom,” what pops into your head? You don’t want to admit it, but I bet it’s something akin to a frazzled woman with dirty, Cheeto-feet kids in line for food stamps. I jumped on Johnson’s rebranding train when I realized that even I, a professional single mom, needed to work on rebranding what “single mom” connotes in my brain. Kudos to Johnson for this.
I’m going to be honest and tell you that I skimmed the chapter on Parenting. I’m also going to be honest and tell you that I am sensitive to books like this because my kiddo has special needs and advice in parenting books never quite fits my world. I think a lot of readers would enjoy these chapters and even find them useful. But as much as Johnson emphasizes that single motherhood is not one-size-fits-all, the advice she offers in these sections started to make me feel excluded. Instead of getting irked at my new best friend author, I skimmed, and made a mental note to give a personal shout-out to all you single moms with kids with disabilities.
And dating? That section gave me anxiety just thinking about it. I’ll read it later. I promise.
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The chapter I enjoyed the most was Money. A lot of it was common sense (“make a budget”), a lot of it I knew already (retirement plans, improve your credit score), but what I found that I actually needed was a kick in the pants from another single mom to increase my earning potential. I’ve got skills, yes! I can and should earn without feeling like a money-hungry snake, yes! I can take time away from parenting and not feel guilty about it, yes!
Common sense? Maybe. Did I, personally, need to hear this? I really did. I’ll tell you what, I finished that section, woke up at 3 the next morning and revamped my client agreement for my special education consulting business, made a commitment to stop cutting my time “because I feel bad,” and made an earning goal for myself. That’s not nothing. In fact, it’s awesome.
As Johnson writes, "sometimes in life your plan A doesn’t work out. But Plan B (or, maybe plan C, D, Q, or Z) can be really, surprisingly, stunningly amazing.”
Johnson clearly believes this, she lives this, she is her own success story. Yes, Johnson uses phrases like “your journey” and “yay women!,” but she also offers useful and solid advice without resorting to inspirational quotes and feel-good tactics. For those of you in the market for a Plan B, The Kickass Single Mom might be the kick in the pants you need.