What Freelancing as a Single Mom is Teaching My Son About Money

freelancing single mom
Dena Landon

By Dena Landon | May 28th, 2018

“Mommy, are you working today?” my son asked on our morning drive to school. I knew why the subject had come up. When I’m not working I can pick him up at 3:30pm instead of when his after school program ends, and he gets more time in the pool.

“I’m not working, but I have writing to do,” I told him, pulling into the drop-off lane.

“Okay, then you can pick me up at release!”

I sighed. One of the biggest challenges of freelancing is setting boundaries around work. Sure, I’m sitting at my kitchen table in pajamas, but I still have three pieces to turn in. And while I can take two hours of my day to deal with name change issues at the bank, I don’t get paid if I slack off.

I’m not quite a full-time freelancer, as I also work as a consultant for an accounting firm. When I’m between gigs, as I am now, I fill in the gaps with writing. I never thought I’d end up freelancing, mainly because most of my career has been a search for security and an attempt to overcome my childhood trauma about money.

When my mom left my dad, he dumped everything on me. Worries about losing the house, bitterness about not getting enough money when it sold. Complaints about having to downsize to a less nice neighborhood. He was self-employed. Unfortunately he didn’t spare me from any of the ups and downs of that life. I knew when business was good and we’d be able to eat out, and I knew when he had to close stores and worried about another bankruptcy.

Kitchen Table Desk

He’d also send me with envelopes of receipts over to my mother’s house, demanding payment for expenses. Complain about her flagrant spending, her new car, or grill me for details about our weekend. Did we eat out at a restaurant? Did she take us to the movies? How much money did she spend? I came to dread going over to her house, and my dad’s debrief when I returned.

After filing for divorce I promised myself that I’d never do the same to my child. While I wanted to teach him how to handle money, and financial literacy skills, I didn’t want to pass on my father’s legacy of financial insecurity, worry and fear.

It’s not his job to worry about money, his job is to play and be a kid.

Post-divorce, you may face many financial challenges. One of the hardest for me has been the psychological impact of living on one income. If I lose my job, I don’t have a spouse’s income to fall back on. Like many divorced women, I started a side hustle (my writing). Lacking a 9 to 5 paycheck every week, and with legal bills to pay off, I’ve had to learn how to tell my son ‘no’ when he’s asked for special treats or to go to the movies when money is tight.

Keep money issues with your ex between the two of you. I’ve never once told my son that his father doesn’t pay for half of his swimming lessons, or piano. Never told him how I’ve asked and asked for his father to chip in and he’s refused, claiming that child support should be enough. For my own mental health, I’ve stopped keeping track of what my ex would owe me if he was willing to cover these expenses, and I refuse to put my son in the middle. No envelopes of receipts, no notes tucked in his backpack. After watching how my father acted during my parents’ divorce, I firmly believe that your children shouldn’t be placed in a nasty triangle with your ex, with money between you all.

Choose your words carefully when talking about money and your budget. When I say no to a request to buy a toy, sometimes he’ll ask if we can just ‘put it in the budget.’ I’ve learned to not speak from a place of scarcity. “Mommy’s broke,” or “Mommy only has a hundred dollars in the bank account,” are scary, anxiety-inducing phrases. Instead, I’ve practiced talking about money as if it’s an exhaustible but renewable resource.

“All of this paycheck has been budgeted, but there’s more coming next week,” I’ll tell him. “I’m not working right now, but I will be next week when my new assignment starts,” if he asks why I’m not dressing up for the office. My words are chosen to reassure him that any variability in my income is temporary. And I’ll periodically throw in a reminder that it’s not his job to worry about money, his job is to play and be a kid.

READ MORE: When Your Co-Parenting Relationship Didn’t Turn Out As Planned

The teenager I once was, caught between two parents in a nasty, bitter divorce, never thought I’d end up here. Forty years old, divorced, only one child, living in a city that will never be home, and working as a freelancer. But my adult self studied and learned from my parent’s mistakes. While I never wanted to be divorced, I’m glad that I’m not passing on the same baggage about money to my son. And I’m secretly kind of glad that I get to work in my pajamas, too.

Dena Landon

Dena Landon

Dena Landon's bylines have appeared in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Salon and more. The proud mom of a boy, she specializes in parenting and divorce.


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