Clichés are often rooted in truth, and those about single mothers and poverty are no exception. According to a recent Spectrem Group study, recent female divorcees are twice as likely to live at or below the poverty line as their male counterparts.
But there also are plenty of people who refuse to be bound by those stereotypes and clichés: These five women learned to whistle a far different -- and richer -- tune after their marriages ended.
This 45 year-old mother of two teenagers lives in Chicago where she runs the public relations agency Alpaytac, which bills $2.5 million annually and employs 22 people -- including many single mothers. She divorced in 2000.
Life before divorce: After a successful advertising career in Europe, this native of Turkey married and moved to an affluent Chicago suburb where she raised her children in a large home with a pool. "When my marriage fell apart, it was the scariest thing in the world because I had no work experience in the U.S.," Gruaz says. "I was a suburban mom driving my kids around to playgroups and cooking meals and helping with homework."
Life after divorce: With just enough child support to pay her rent, Gruaz volunteered to work for free at a PR agency. In 2004, she launched her own firm, which has won multiple awards and now has offices in three cities. Gruaz earned an MBA from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management in 2008. Today, her personal income is three to four times that of what her now ex-husband earned when they were married.
Philosophy: "I lived a pristine American story, and it was hard to walk away. When I left I barely had enough money to buy food. But through my experiences I became a better, more mature person. And the ride has been enriching and I've had some incredible relationships along the way."
This 33-year-old mom to a 5-year-old son recently remarried, and now has two stepchildren, as well. Her family lives in Columbus, Ohio.
Life before divorce: Shearer married at 24 and divorced two years later, in 2006. At the end of her marriage, she earned $36,000 as a marketing assistant and supported her husband, who was unemployed.
Life after divorce: After her divorce, Shearer moved to her hometown of Athens, Ohio, to be near family where she landed a job at the local Visitors Bureau that paid $28,000 a year. She returned to Columbus for a copywriting job where she earned $80,000. Three years ago, she launched Cement Marketing, which today employs five people and grosses $600,000 annually. This year she will take home $150,000.
Philosophy: "When you're in the wrong relationship, you don't have the flexibility to take the risks you need to find success. Today, I have the flexibility I need to spend time with my child and the lifestyle I dreamed of. If you're happy with your life, the money will follow."
Dr. Sharon Stills
This 44 year-old mother of two twentysomething sons recently retired from a $1 million naturopathic medicine practice she ran for 20 years. Today she lives in Tucson, Ariz., where she is a natural medicine concierge.
Life before divorce: Stills married when she was 19. By age 23, she was divorced mother of a 3-year-old and 5-year-old, with no financial support from her ex. Her only work experience was as a secretary. For the next several years she home-schooled her children, earned a massage therapy license, and got undergraduate and naturopathic medical degrees.
Life after divorce: In 2001, Stills launched her practice on New York's Long Island with a $20,000 loan from her parents. She eventually took home $500,000 annually before retiring last year to launch her concierge practice and an online retreat business.
Philosophy: "You don't have to be limited by your circumstances, but you have to think outside the box," Stills says. "Had I lived in fear and not believed in myself, I would be a secretary and my kids and I would be victims our whole lives. Everything is an opportunity."
Since her divorce, Cyrus, a 40-year-old Denver resident, has remarried and is the mom to two school-aged children.
Life before divorce: Cyrus married at age 19 to a man she says rarely worked and was financially dependent on her. He spent more than $14,000 she had saved without her knowledge. When they divorced, she was 26 with a high school diploma and earning about $40,000 per year as a sales assistant for a mattress company. She had a mountain of debt.
Life after divorce: After the divorce, Cyrus started selling jewelry at home parties on the side, which brought in an extra $1,000 a month to help her start digging her way out of debt. Then she unexpectedly found herself responsible for caring for her two teenage brothers -- one of whom became ill with shingles and required extensive medical care. "All of the sudden I was a single mom and I had to rent a two-bedroom apartment and clothe and feed two teenage boys," she says today. She went on to a corporate job as a business analyst for 10 years, earning $55,000 a year before getting laid off. Today she has a direct-sales business with Gigi Hill handbags.
Philosophy: "Had I found myself as a single mom while I was married to my first husband, there was no way I could have paid off medical bills or taken care of my brothers," Cyrus says today. "Instead, I was able to start a new life, and when I met my new husband, I was debt free and confident in who I was."
Fitton is a 40-year-old mom of two school-aged kids and lives in Boston.
Life before divorce: When her marriage ended in 2007, Fitton was working as a freelance business presentation consultant. In the months leading up to the divorce, Fitton realized she would have to assume financial responsibility for her family -- her then-husband's income was not reliable and their mortgage was underwater. "I was scared that I would throw my kids into poverty and we would lose the house," she says.
Life after divorce: While living off credit cards, Fitton launched a business -- the social media marketing solutions firm OneForty (now part of HubSpot, where she continues to work). She eventually raised $2.5 million from investors, and today earns between $150,000 and $200,000 annually – more than twice her household income while married.
Philosophy: "The closer the fire comes, the more you have to hustle," Fitton says. "I was so afraid of being on my own financially that it pushed me to take a big risk that paid off. Plus, it helps that I have poor impulse control."
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Motley Fool contributor Emma Johnson is a single mom to two preschoolers. She blogs at WealthySingleMommy.com.