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Wealthy Single Mommy creator has an answer for kids after divorce: 'The 50/50 Solution'

Divorce is often framed in pop culture as a fight with winners and losers — kids often being central to the battle. And, it’s most often assumed that the mother will win, at least when it comes to kids.

Emma Johnson has been writing about life as a single mom after her divorce for more than a decade and she says the answer is “The 50/50 Solution.” In fact, that’s the name of her new book. Johnson is also the creator of Wealthy Single Mommy blog.

She joined The Show to discuss her book and the journey that led her to write it.

EMMA JOHNSON: I’ve worked as a journalist really my whole career, and 12 years, 13 years ago, my kids were very little and the internet was a very different place. And I just started a very personal blog about being a single mom, and I was interested in sharing different narrative and exploring a different narrative about what it meant to be a single mom.

I was a professional, I was thriving, my kids were thriving, and I started to write a different story about it for myself and share it. And I found there’s a big appetite out in the world for that idea.

And part of that movement started to be changing my own ideas about what my potential was, but also like what was going to make my whole family thrive and what the politics were around these things.

And also there’s this huge and growing body of social science on everything in our lives, right? Including around how to co-parent.

And so I found that my own ideas about what I thought single parenthood and co-parenting and divorced families would look like really changed.

So I went into it thinking it was going to be like my parents’ divorce. I was going to get the kids. The kids are going to stay with me. I’m the mom. I was the primary parent, and the dad would be the secondary parent, right? He’d be the weekend dad, and the kids have the security of a primary home. And I just assumed, without even questioning it, that that was the thing to do.

LAUREN GILGER: And that’s how you started, right? Like that was kind of the deal initially after your divorce.

JOHNSON: And that was my story until I was like, “Wow, I got what I wanted and now I want something else because this is a bum deal.” I was overwhelmed. And my kids had a great dad, and he was perfectly capable of caring for them half the time.

And meanwhile, I had literally millions of data points because I was interacting with all of these different families who were in similar situations — separated, divorced families.

So I eventually came to a very clear and now very passionate understanding that a 50/50 schedule is really what is best for kids. There is a whole body of research that finds that is actually what is best for kids.

And it’s not just the hours, it’s not just the approximate 50/50 time. This is never going to be 50/50 down to the minute, right? … The most important part is that psychologically, the kids know that both their parents are in it to win it.

And that gives them an enormous amount of security, because historically what has happened and continues to happen is dads are marginalized, and then they slip out of the kids’ lives. And that is the real danger to kids, when they don’t have active involvement with their dads.

GILGER: I mean, it’s sort of counterintuitive, right? Like, because we so often talk about divorce, write about divorce, think about divorce — like in pop culture and in the media — as like a battle, right? Like there are winners and losers?

JOHNSON: That’s over. We are ready for a different story. Just because somebody hurt your feelings, because you’re sad because you fell out of love, somebody cheated, somebody didn’t do their fair share of the housework — whatever reason the relationship ended, that is sad.

That is sad, but that doesn’t mean that one person is a victim. There’s never just one victim. That’s not how adults think about these things. And to what end?

GILGER: Is this a sort of a defense of fathers as well? Like as you say, even if feelings were hurt or someone did wrong in a marriage, that relationship should be defended. The relationship of fathers and their children.

JOHNSON: Absolutely. It is a human right. Kids are not the mothers’ to dole out. We have a biological equality. We have a legal equality that men and women are both equal parents to those children they’re born.

Though if they are not married, that is not reflected in most states. If you’re not married, the mothers have automatic custodies, and the fathers have to actually go and fight for their children even when there’s a DNA paternity test. So we’re not set up for equality for anybody here.

GILGER: You talked about Arizona here and how it’s sort of a state that has been ahead of the curve on this one.

JOHNSON: Yeah. And I want to give a shout out to your resident ASU child psychology professor, Dr. William Fabricius. He for decades now has been working on this issue as a social scientist and in his own quiet way, at work to educate the court systems and the general public about the value of fathers and families.

I mean, even 20 years ago, that was alarming and surprising when he would go in to talk to attorneys and judges and family therapists. They couldn’t believe that fathers were important.

So he just has quietly done this remarkable amount of research about the parts of fathers, about the value of equal parenting, shared parenting. And in the activist circles that I hang out in, I’ve raised this issue, Arizona is upheld as a leading example. So thank you for your work, Arizona.

GILGER: That’s interesting. And it sounds like from your book that this idea is really catching on, like the younger generation of people sort of inherently understand this, and we seem to be at the turning of a tide here.

JOHNSON: It is. It’s really beautiful and heartening to me. I’ve been working in this space for close to 15 years now, and the world is in such a different place today than it was back then.

And it is true. Younger people, I’ll tell them about my work, and some of them are like, “Why are you even writing a book?” That said, there’s tons of work to do, and it really varies by, even with a single state, county to county the culture can be very different for a variety of reasons.

Inside and outside of relationships, when parents are divorced or single or separated, people are just inherently getting it. Dads find meaning in parenting. Moms welcome the support. Everybody is living a lot more harmoniously when we quit fighting.

Share the task equally, and you’re sharing the joy. I mean, it’s a story of love and family community, right? Because when we’re not fighting, when we’re welcoming both parents into the kid’s lives, that kid benefits from all the grandparents and aunts, uncles and neighbors at both parents’ house and playmates at both parents’ house.

And more financial resources, right? If one parent isn’t slipping out, then the kid has two people to be making sure like bolstering that kid should there be hardship or paying for college or whatever.

So it’s it’s a positive story and it feels better, right? It’s so much easier not to fight. It’s so much easier just to care for the kid together.

KJZZ’s The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ’s programming is the audio record.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.