Perils of Divorced Pauline

The Names Have Been Changed, But the Story Is True


April 05
World-class gnarly divorce survivor. Custody Battle blogger with a sense of humor. Mom. Wife. Cat-Lover. Visit me at or on Twitter @divorcedpauline.


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MARCH 21, 2012 11:50AM

Raising My Daughter Not to Make the Same Dumb Mistake I Made

Rate: 37 Flag

My daughter Franny, who turns ten this month, has just started working as a Mother's Helper one afternoon a week after school. She works for a SAHM who needs a couple hours of sanity. She folds laundry and sweeps. She plays with two-year-old Juniper, pushing her on the swing, dressing doll babies, having tea parties.

"I helped Juniper go to the bathroom," Franny told me proudly. "I wiped her butt. Don't worry, I washed my hands afterward."

She must have noticed I was staring at her incredulously. But I wasn't staring because of the butt-wiping admission. I was agog at the realization that my baby is now old enough to wipe someone else's baby's butt.

Franny makes $5 an hour. She works two hours a week, so by the end of one month, she's earned forty bucks. Not bad for a girl who's just turning ten.

Franny is a responsible, capable kid. She wakes herself up every  morning for school, putting on the outfit she laid on her chair the night before. She does her homework, usually without reminders, and asks me to sign off on her assignment book. She feeds the cats, and if they need medicine, she dispenses it. If you send her a letter, she will send you a reply right back, on a handmade card with flowers and hearts and multiple exclamation marks.

So I knew, as she was approaching the double digits, that she could handle a Mother's Helper job. I asked around the neighborhood until I found someone willing to take a shot on a not-quite-ten-year-old. 

I want Franny to learn the importance of being financially independent now, while she's still a kid. I've used the occasion of her new job to talk to her about how women need to learn to make their own money so they won't have to rely on anyone else. I tell her that she will feel good about herself this way. 

What I'm saying, between the lines, is: don't make the same dumb mistake I did. 

Don't expect Prince Charming to swoop you up in his gleaming Lexus and whoosh you off to a life that unrolls like a red carpet before you, a life where you get to stay at home and care for your children in your beautiful house in a grand neighborhood, picking up some freelance work and catching some mid-morning yoga classes in your leisure time. Maybe that life will work out. Maybe it won't. And if it doesn't, where will you be?

I don't know why my mother didn't instill self-reliance in me. She was a child of the Depression and worked full-time her entire adult life as a music teacher. When she wasn't working, she cleaned the house, made the meals, and paid the bills. My dad was out of work for a few years, and had it not been for my mom, we would have been sleeping in our station wagon.

Mom didn't ask me to do much of anything. Again, I don't know why. Maybe it was because I was adopted and she didn't feel entitled to make a mother's demands. Maybe it was because she was exhausted, and a bit of a control freak, and it was easier to do everything herself instead of insist that others pitch in. Maybe it was because I was an anxious child, so she didn't think I was capable of taking care of myself. 

Whatever the reason, I grew up to believe I needed someone else to take care of me. So I married a man whom I expected to soar to great heights in his chosen career. A man whom I expected to provide emotional and financial security, the way my brother-in-law did for my sister, the way many of my friends' husbands did for them. 

But that rosy-hued fantasy didn't work out so well. 

Had I been used to taking care of myself, I would have landed on my feet much faster than I did post-divorce. I would have experienced less stress that I undoubtedly passed on to my children as I went back to graduate school and started over in a new career.

I don't want Franny to depend on a man to take care of her. I especially don't want her to depend on her dad. Prince's money comes with strings, and if she gets used to the dole-outs, she will find herself cinched so tightly that she won't be able to breathe. She will be told where to live, who to marry, where to vacation, how to decorate her house. She will be denied the opportunity to grow up and feel a sense of accomplishment for what she can do on her own. 

Franny can already do a lot on her own, besides babysitting. She is flying cross-country by herself this summer to visit my sister. When I asked her if she wanted me to come with her, she gave me a resounding "NO!"

I am profoundly grateful to watch her emerging self-agency, but sad to experience the gradual pulling-away that she needs to do in order to grow up.

Twice in the past month she has declined the bedtime story-reading and snuggle, our nightly ritual since she was an infant sitting on my lap in the rocking chair, then in her bed when she got old enough to sleep in one.

So it came as a luscious surprise last weekend, when Atticus was out of town on a business trip, and she put her hands on my waist, gazed up at me with big mooey eyes and a grin and asked: "Mom, can I sleep in your bed tonight?"

We crawled under the white duvet, just us girls. We settled our backs into the pillows, and watched Harry Potter on TV until Franny decided she'd had enough, then turned off the light and fell instantly asleep.

I stayed awake for awhile, listening to her soft breathing, gently stroking her long auburn hair. I didn't want to go to sleep, because I knew this might be the last time we ever slept in the same bed together. So I drank in the moment as long as I could, a blanket of serenity wrapping around me as I imagined my girl growing up and away from me, into a woman who won't make the same dumb mistake her mother did.


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You go girl! love the picture too.r
Sounds like you're doing a fine job. I'm afraid our kids are facing an era so evolving so differently from ours we'd have trouble trying to imagine the challenges. Raising them to be grounded and self-reliant is our best gift to them.
Mistakes are inevitable, but you're doing a great job at using your insights and experiences to help her avoid the more obvious ones. Enjoy this sweet time in your lives. As the mother of a 22-year-old daughter, one of the hardest things at this point is watching her make mistakes I didn't even THINK of!
Sounds like you are raising her to be independent. Freedom from dependency is something you learned late in life, but sounds like you learned it just fine after all.
Ρauline,What an excellent work you are doing with your child..Thank you for sharing,I will keeρ this.Best regards..Rated..
This is just beautiful, DP. Moved me to tears (and I don't even have children). What a kid. What a mom.
Lovely. Both of you!
Thank you, everyone, for your kind comments. I was a little embarrassed to publicly admit I was a dope, but I feel much better now!
She sounds like a terrific kid. (And you're not so bad yourself.) :-)

This is so well done, and your daughter is very fortunate to have you for a mother.
Everyone should be so lucky to have a Mom that teaches self-reliance.
One of the best things I hope I instilled in my own daughter is self-reliance. Excellent post, Pauline. ~r
I remember when my oldest daughter had her first babysitting job. It was at night and she was 11, and I didn't think she was anywhere near old enough. But it was right next door, about 10 feet away, and I could see right into their windows from our living room. So I just turned off my lights and watched them all evening. They grow up way too fast.
This is beautiful! I had a big smiles! But ya know, guilt is tough so cut yourself some slack. Look at your accomplishments, you are raising a smart and independent girl and she didn't learn this on her own.
This is beautiful, Pauline. Franny will be fine, thanks to your careful teaching.
It is so important to teach independence. They need to learn to make their own decisions and to have financial insight, as well as how to work. Working is a good thing. It can be rewarding and build self esteem too. Sounds like you have it figured out.
Wonderful, Pauline! Just a wonderful, sweet post.
Sweet and charming, thanks for this.
Nice post; sweet and sincere.
Pauline, you are doing such a great job!/r
Even today, too many women depend on their high-salaried men for a comfy lifestyle. Too many men depend on the ego boost of being the provider.
Conversely, I hope your daughter, also, doesn't find a lowlife bum who uses her a the wageearner and mom too much without doing his share. That's a scenario of high-achieving women sometimes and I can think of several PhD's and MD's whose husbands are stay-at-home Dads,depressed and not doing much, or up to no good. Balance is nice.
Love the toes! I know exactly what you're talking about. I watch my daughter and I guess maybe she has decided to 'do as I say not as I did'. Enjoy those moments.
I doubt you have to worry. Franny has a great example in you and girls today are different. From what I've seen, most women don't want to be "taken care of" and most men can't afford to do that anyway!
Wonderful advice to a girl who seems to already be on the road you did not take. You can be proud.
Lovely (minus the butt wiping!). Thank you.
She sounds like a lovely kid.

My divorced mom used to take me grocery shopping at that age and taught me to look for low(er) prices. She drilled into my head the need to save and invest money. To not rely on others. So when my &^$@@* first husband walked out the door (literally) after two years of marriage, I at least had a pre-nup to protect my ass(ets.) I plummeted finally from an MDs wife's life, but was fine financially.

Girls must be taught to protect themselves. Good for you!
I love this! Yay, Franny and Pauline. :)
This is a lovely post! I remember how shocked I was when my own daughter reach high school and said, "I want to make sure that I have a career, Mom, because I don't want to ever be poor if the guy I marry dumps me." I hated how cynical she sounded. At the same time, she had seen me divorce, struggle as a single mom, and remarry, and I'm proud that she's thinking a lot farther ahead than I ever did at her age. Sounds like you've done a wonderful job with your daughter. Kudos!
I feel like my daughter will make her share of mistakes. I just hope they are not the same ones I made and that they are easy to fix! Great piece!
I can't wait until I can watch Harry Potter with my daughter. Great post!
This is soooo GOOD!!! There's comedy, tragedy, but underneath it all resilience. We want our kids to make mistakes- those are inevitable- just not the same ones we have made. I always tell my daughter, make different mistakes! Thanks for this beautiful post.
How sweet.

I love this post because it says so much about motherhood: the sacrifices, the love, the hope, the effort, the wonder - it's all here.
Self-reliance is such an important lesson to learn. I feel strongly about it coz growing up in middle-class India, the very idea of children working to earn pocket money was looked at as the parents' failure to support them. (Things have changed for the better now, I'm happy to report.)

We finished our education, got jobs and didn't know what the hell to do with ourselves, how to save, how to spend, what to spend on. I'm 28 now and I have no savings coz the thought just never entered my head. Your kid will thank you in a big way come her quarter-life crisis.