I’m too sad to write a title

When you tell your friends, in disbelief, about this post, you will say, “She’s liveblogging her nervous breakdown.”

I am doing that. Because I don’t know what else to do.

The problem with blogging while you are having a nervous breakdown is you can never work again. The problem with not blogging while you are having a nervous breakdown is you have to hide things.

If I weren’t blogging, I would have such a long list of things to hide.

For example, even though my son got into Juilliard, he’s not there now. We can’t afford it. I can’t navigate trains because I can’t read numbers. And I can’t drive because I can’t predict the direction things come from. And taking a car to and from Juilliard is $500. I couldn’t pay that every week. And then there are cello teacher politics. I cannot write anything about that because all the cello teachers would hate me.

I have not said any of this. For one thing, every time I have tried to explain not being able to travel, people think I’m lying or not trying. People think I’m being a pain.

That might be true. I can’t tell anymore. It is a social skill to know if you’re being a pain. I know for sure people are really sick of me. And that I am ruining my kids’ lives by not being able to deal with the people my kids need.

The higher the stakes, the more trouble I cause.

So, right now, my son is leaving. My cello son. I have tried so so hard. But the cello world is all social skills.

I think about the hierarchy of life. I think about how could I be failing so massively right now? But it’s taken so long for me to completely fail, I haven’t totally noticed. I am the frog unaware that I’m boiling.

I think about when there were no kids, and it was just work, it was me and men. Work is mostly men. I worked almost exclusively with men for most of my adult life. The career world is very competitive — and most women aren’t. Women are collaborative. But it’s a different story in the mom world.

The social skills you need to navigate cello moms are at a level I have never experienced.  I can’t even begin to talk about how incompetently I navigate this. The cello moms who know me well would be incredulous to hear that I spend most of my waking hours trying to figure out how to make them like me — or at least, how to make them not hate me. They would probably tell you it looks like I’m not trying at all.

Looking back now, I think I was barely holding things together until we moved to Swarthmore. My biggest issue is abandonment. So, it doesn’t matter to me that the farmer was abusive. I can’t get my head around abuse, anyway. The only thing that matters to me is that he cut me out, overnight, with no warning.

I was so overwhelmed. I couldn’t work. Some days, I was nearly catatonic. Any energy I had I thought should go to the kids. So I did not make very much money. Sometimes I did. But mostly, I didn’t.

And as the kids required more and more of my time, I became even less and less able to earn money. I cashed out stock from one of my companies to catch up on bills.

I feel so alone. I don’t receive child support. No one helps me financially. Sometimes, if we don’t have money for food, Melissa sends money. There have been times when we have been stranded somewhere and I have had to ask her for $20 for the Uber to get home.

It’s not that I’m not able to earn money. It’s that the nonstop pressure of a cello kid and a kid with Asperger’s and me with Asperger’s and me being the only one making money and me being the only one taking care of the kids is all too much. And I think I started to shut down.

I tried to tell people I couldn’t keep going. But I guess people think I’m incompetent and irresponsible and largely a lost cause.

I used to tell myself, “My family doesn’t know how bad it is, but if they knew how bad it is, if I told them how bad it is, then they’d help. So, I’m OK. I have that.”

Then there was a time I called my brother from cello camp. I told him I was going to be arrested if I didn’t pay the hotel bill. The policeman was standing right in front of me. I asked my brother if he could pay the bill.

He told me not to ever ask him for money again.

I thought to myself, “I’m looking at six more years of taking care of the boys and no one will help.”

We don’t really have money. I don’t know how to describe it. People who are very close to me can see how expensive cello is. But on top of that, I don’t always know what is important and what is not important. I spend money where I don’t have to and then I don’t spend money where I should.

So everyone tells me I spend too much money and I make terrible money decisions. But it’s very hard to get good advice about money when it’s about parenting. Or maybe everyone is giving me good advice and I’m not hearing it. That could be.

I decided people are right and I moved the boys to be right next to the cello teacher. I sleep in the closet in a two-bedroom apartment with mice. No more travel expenses. There’s still not enough money.

Once, I said to my son, “You have to practice cello every single day, even on the days when it’s hard. That’s what makes you a great cellist.”

He replied, “Mom. Can’t you just accept that sometimes I’m having a hard time? When there’s nothing to eat but crackers, I don’t tell you to try harder to make money. I know you work your hardest.”

That’s when I realized the boys know everything. Or maybe I already knew. I guess it just hurt.

I am telling you this so I don’t have to hide from my shame. I’m telling you everything. Because right now I am trying to cope with the fact that my son has to leave.

I have failed him. He’s leaving tomorrow. He has to go somewhere where someone can help him become the cellist he wants to be.

The history of memoir is writing after it’s done. There is redemption. People only tell horrid stories in hindsight. I guess I don’t totally understand why people don’t talk about sad things that are happening as they are actually happening. I think it might be because it’s like cutting the lifeline you could use to pull yourself out. But do we have to hide to have a lifeline? I’m not sure. I will find out.

173 replies
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  1. Anna
    Anna says:

    I do not know you but you are not failing anyone. In time, things will work out. Believe me. Hang in there, you have done the right thing in reaching out xx

  2. Carol of Kensington
    Carol of Kensington says:

    Go on youtube and watch Jordan Peterson. He’s got advice for people with depression as well as short, super inspiring clips.

    He says it takes about three years from rock bottom and what you do is implement “micro changes”.

    Someone please set up a “GoFundMe” for Penelope. I would be very happy to contribute.

    Penelope, you are wonderful and inspiring yourself. Life is hard and heart breaking yet you are strong enough for all of the slings and arrows.

    I love you and thank you for all you have done for me. You are as beautiful as a tiny flower, as gorgeous as a sandy beach with lapping waves. Hang in there and take everything slowly, just make it through one day at a time.

    Also, more eggs less crackers. I once ran out of money and lived on hard boiled eggs for a month. Carbs exacerbate depression. Love you so much.

  3. sterntaler
    sterntaler says:

    Dear Penelope, I am a single mom and I am a freelance writer too. So I know how hard it is sometimes to take care of everything to put the kids first and to earn money.
    I am reading your blog since ages and you write always the truth about being a woman. Thats your strength. Keep on going. You have so many followers just do a “fund me” – I think this is might help you during this hard time. Things will get better. You are great.

  4. Cosentino Sarah
    Cosentino Sarah says:

    I don’t think you failed him at all, you gave him the possibility and the strength to leave. And he realizes that you are working hard, your hardest. I had to leave my country after 30 years to get where my parents prepared me to be. My father is still upset about that, but I think he understands. Life is also about a lot that you can’t control, but just cope with. I think you are a model in many ways, especially in being honest about how hard it is to cope with difficult times and taking heartbreaking decisions. Ganbatte!

  5. Garen Corbett
    Garen Corbett says:

    I have been reading your blog on and off for more than 15 years. If there was a gofundme for you, I would give. Along with the excellent suggestion about Julliard being able to help, set up an account. Post it. You have many gifts; allow others to help you in some small way.

  6. Leena
    Leena says:

    It’s okay to decide you can’t afford cello, that you need to pay for food and housing and other necessities first. Or what if you decide that you can’t afford the Julliard version of cello but you can afford a version with a local teacher? You son will stay be okay, even if it’s not the path you had planned for him. He might even be better, if it means he has a less stressed mom.

    • D F
      D F says:

      Could have written this comment myself…if Julliard is too much, you have other good options. There are many roads in life.

  7. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    I am not going to say to you the things you said to me last year, when I had a coaching session with you, back when I was feeling the same way you’re feeling now. To flick pass your current dilemma in the same way as you did mine would be utterly heartless. And I don’t have being on the autism spectrum as an excuse to wave away such cruelty. So instead, I’ll just impersonate you and say: Straighten your spine, woman, and get your shit together, fast. Your children depend on you.

    Except I will paraphrase a question that you asked me last year, the circuit-breaker: Why does your kid need to be a cellist?


      • DL
        DL says:

        Nope, I don’t think so. Rebecca’s message was not heartless, it was reality. It’s the same message Penelope gives others to get them back on their feet, up and going. Penelope has the means and skills to make a living, better than many of her readers. Her kids have parents who love them and are involved in their lives (Penelope, for sure). There are people everywhere who have none of this.

        Penelope doesn’t HAVE to pay extravagant amounts for her son to attend Juilliard. People become cellists without Juilliard, in fact, a stable childhood would do much more for success than that political, neurosis-filled temple-on-the-hill. (Ever read the article “The Juilliard Effect: Ten Years Later?”)

        There are many lessons in life, tough ones at that, and one is that you don’t always get what you want, the way you want it. A second is that you adapt and move on. We’ve all had to learn this. Penelope and her sons do as well.

        • Bostonian
          Bostonian says:

          Thanks for the article link, DL. I hadn’t read that one.

          The article leaves some things out: it conflates Juilliard’s Conservatory program with its Pre-College program. When one speaks of Juilliard graduates or alumni, one is normally referring to graduates of the Conservatory. A conservatory is a sort of college, and grants degrees like Bachelor of Music. It is only attended by high school graduates, and degree programs are generally full-time.

          The children who start attending at 7, or 11, or 14, are not attending the Conservatory. They are attending the Pre-College division, which does not grant any degrees and does not guarantee later acceptance to the Conservatory. Many other conservatories also have similar programs, usually called Prep. Juilliard’s Pre-College division, like other conservatory prep programs, is a Saturday-only affair (excepting kids who live close by and might schedule their private lessons during the week). The cost for a school year’s worth of several hours of lessons, orchestra, theory, etc. on Saturdays is in excess of 13K. Kids who go there usually also go to a regular school during the week, which can be very complicated for a kid who practices as much as PT’s son.

          I know a bit about the subject because my son attends a different conservatory prep program, though he is not a musical prodigy like PT’s son. My son also attends school during the week, where this year he is very happy. He does not practice more than an hour a day (though on many days he plays more than that, in one of his ensembles).

          A great option for kids who spend as much time practicing as PT’s son is a boarding school for the arts, such as Interlochen or Walnut Hill. These are full-time programs that check the boxes for a high school education while helping young artists keep their art at the center of their lives.

          • Olivier
            Olivier says:

            Penelope might also consider something radical: emigration. The cost of life in the US is out of this world and as someone who makes a living from blogging and phone coaching sessions she can live anywhere. Leipzig has several prestigious graduate schools of music and at least one such boarding school for the arts: the St. Thomas School; check it out!

    • Charlene Allcott
      Charlene Allcott says:

      I too had coaching from Penelope earlier in the year. I found her advice harsh but kind, if that’s possible. She wanted the best outcome for me but as she explained the dance of communication isn’t one she knows. I did read this and think, what would Penelope say? I imagine:

      1) Get married. You are trying to manage a life that requires two parents. It is difficult to find someone to marry but probably still easier than trying to do what you are doing.
      2) You are good at making money, you have proven it many times before. Make money and then hire someone to do the mom stuff (not the loving and supporting stuff but the practical mom stuff like driving and making nice with the other moms).

      What would I say?
      1) WTF don’t you get child support. Get your arse to court. Is this a US thing? IT’S OUTRAGEOUS.
      2) Give yourself a break. It will work out. Self forgiveness is a very good lesson to teach your kids.

      Good luck. Thank you for the kindness you showed me. It will come back to you.

      • A
        A says:

        I wondered about the child support, too. The ex must be unemployed right now. I can’t imagine why else she wouldn’t receive any support.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          I have sole custody. He makes $40K. He said if he has to pay child support he wouldn’t be able to afford to fly to see the kids. So I decided him seeing the kids was more important to the kids than the money I would get from child support.

          As I write this I don’t even know if it sounds like I’m an idiot. I just don’t want to risk him telling the kids he won’t see them.


          • A
            A says:

            And I don’t think it sounds like you’re an idiot. It is important for them to see their dad. When you made the agreement, I’m sure you didn’t know you’d end up going through such a lean time as you are now.

          • Kristi
            Kristi says:

            He can’t fly to see them if there is no place for him to stay when he gets there. It is also his responsibility to make sure he can afford/has a life arrangement that makes it possible to see them. It’s not just your responsibility. Excuse, indeed.

          • Juli
            Juli says:

            Unfortunately, now him seeing the kids is resulting in you not having the funds to be living with one of the kids at all. There were presumably good reasons for you having sole custody, and so having your influence in your son’s life may be worth prioritizing above his visitation. I would think given the changed circumstances you’re in, it may be time to reevaluate the child support arrangement (if that’s even possible).

            Best of luck, and sending all the positive vibes your way for things to turn around soon.

          • Cassie Boorn
            Cassie Boorn says:

            60% of fathers in the US do not pay child support when a legal order is in place. It’s a waste of time.

            I’m one of the lucky few who does get child support and it’s $50 a week..

          • J
            J says:

            I’m not a parent but I totally agree with the other commenter here, that is not your sole responsibility to make sure their father sees his kids. It’s also his responsibility. why should only you bear the brunt of having kids? He choose to make them too. He needs to help.

            And right now as a priority I’d say having stability and food and shelter trumps him visiting as you can skype, email, call etc. Food and shelter are necessities. Plane visits are not.

            Be kind to yourself xx

          • Elizabeth
            Elizabeth says:

            What happened here? What’s happening now? To see his kids now is he having to fly to two different places (thought one son was with your brother and the other in Boston)? I could be wrong but I doubt he’s staying with your brother to see one son, and then flying to Boston to see another. So is he even seeing them at all? In this case, you did/do need child support. Support for your children.

    • Amy
      Amy says:

      This kind of comment worries me. Life is not tit for tat because you didn’t get what you wanted or needed from her. She tried to help you, but her style was too harsh for you. So be it, it doesn’t make it alright for you to put the boot in while she is down. This says more about you as a person than Penelope. When people are depressed unfortunately it’s these negative comments that hold too much weight in the receivers mind.

      • Meredith
        Meredith says:

        Agreed 100% Amy. And thanks DL for explaining Penelope to me and the rest of us as if you have the corner on “getting her”. You don’t get that Rebecca’s comment would have been fine if she hadn’t added in her obvious PA (passive aggressive) “gotcha”. Her so called advice was just really an opportunity to kick P when she is at her most vulnerable because she was obviously PISSED at P for being “cruel””And I don’t have being on the autism spectrum as an excuse to wave away such cruelty.” NONE of that was necessary to give P a mirror of her own advice. BTW Please don’t waste your breath “explaining” Rebecca or where P is at. We are all intelligent high functioning people here who know how to read the obvious and between the lines. Perhaps it is you who can’t see Rebecca’s comment for the “gotcha” it was. And frankly I dislike punitive people. So I stand by my mirror of Rebecca and hope that while P is coming out of her shadow back to her resilient self she won’t wear the negativity of people like Rebecca and Brenn but instead see the true lifelines being thrown to her by many people not willing to condemn, judge or help push her off the cliff. people who appreciate her warts and all!!!

    • Delirifacient
      Delirifacient says:

      What a very strange and dangerous thing to surmise that simply being on the autism spectrum could be construed as an excuse for cruelty. As specious as that declaration and your ensuing faulty syllogism is, I’m going to assume you invented it to justify whatever anger you still have. It also sounds like you have a lot of excuses for your own behavior. Above all, if you didn’t get what you wanted from the Penelope in the first place, why come back and dig at her now? That says a lot about you. I do hope that you’re currently finding the help and doing the work that you need to move on and thrive.

  8. Rebecca Stafford
    Rebecca Stafford says:

    Dear Penelope,

    I hope and expect you will get many kind and supportive messages, so I’m just adding mine to the mountain.

    Compassion cake:

    1. Mindful acceptance: You are in terrible pain right now. It sounds like the loneliness is the worst, which for a profoundly social species such as humans, it always is. I suspect you have lost hope that this will ever change. HopeLOSS is also one of the most de-spiriting emotions (well, loneliness and hopelessness have almost done me in several times, and I know I’m not exactly alone in this – something you learn in eight years volunteering for a crisis counseling phone line)

    2. Common humanity: Not only are you not alone in your loneliness (because we have an epidemic of the toxic stuff), but you are letting so many others know they are not alone in their loneliness.

    3. Kindness: I know you are doing your absolute best Penelope. If you knew how to do things better, and/or had the capacity to have done things better, you would have done so in less than a heart beat. You are really struggling and this is so hard right now.

    I hope the compassion of strangers is of some comfort, and hope you will come to have compassion for your own suffering. I know my own life becomes easier the less punitive and the more kind I am to myself.

    Very best wishes to you and yours

  9. Victoria Hopkins
    Victoria Hopkins says:

    Penelope – start a go fund me . Your loyal readers will contribute and it may take some of the pressure off you.

  10. mls
    mls says:

    Someone should share this post with the Juilliard staff, they might be able to give Penelope’s son a scholarship.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      They offered him a big scholarship. That wasn’t the problem. There is so much more to financing the cello playing than just lessons. I want to make sure it doesn’t look like I’m blaming Juilliard.


      • Sinead
        Sinead says:

        Set up a patreon page for your son. There are definitely 1,000 cello enthusiasts who would pay ten dollars a month to receive private videos into their inbox of your son playing each month. Or he could market it at much more junior cello players, and for ten dollars a month, they can receive a private cello playing tip video into their inbox.

        • Jennifer Sutherland
          Jennifer Sutherland says:

          I love this – a Patreon for your son as well. On the one webcast for INFJ/INTJs where you invited him to play – I rewatched that piece several times. I’ve never heard a young musician play with such haunting feeling. I’m thrilled to finally support you via Patreon as well – your writing, your classes, your coaching have given so much to me in the last 20 years…this is the new world of being an artist – where your community can support you directly. We’re here. Asking for the help – it’s the hardest part, and you are doing it. Bravo.

  11. Meredith
    Meredith says:

    Penelope where is your son going? I think he’s the same age as mine. And as far as getting no help your husband by law must pay child support. Unless you don’t want to share the boys. Melissa please be willing to start and run the gofund me I am willing to promote and donate as is everyone on Penelope’s blog. This is temporary, a blip, you wil reinvent yourself and situation as you have so many times before and have helped all of us here do. We are living parallel lives I’m sure many feel that way. Hopelessness for women steals their ability to function. You have hope you’ve just forgotten how to access it. Keep writing the answers will come as they always do. We will keep reminding you there is hope while you find your way with this.

  12. Mu
    Mu says:

    Penelope, you are a wonderful mother, you’ve given everything to your children.
    You haven’t failed anything at all.
    It is great your son is able to pursue is passion as a cellist elsewhere.

    I think you are being too hard on yourself.
    Finding innovating ways to make money and helping your kids navigate through some unusual paths of fulfilment is a lot for just one person.
    It would probably help if you found a way to make money that was steady. And then you can concentrate further on your kids.

    No one at all could sustain the challenges you put upon yourself. You can step back and still be successful because you’re smart, very smart.
    Take care!

  13. Karla
    Karla says:

    I am a single mom of a 3 year old. It is impossible to rise kids on your own without any support and with that level of demand on yourself.

    Maybe cello is important in your life, but from the outside looks stupid that you are having such a hard time because of that. I understand your struggle, but I think you need to remember that cello is OK, but life without cello is OK too.

    If your son wants cello and he needs to be away because of that, then it’s OK. I think you need to trust more your kid. He is smart, he will figure out. He knows you love him and he feels loved. What else is important?

    Cut yourself some slack. You could just make your lives easier by leaving cello and sending your kids to school. You are doing it the hard way, OK. But you could do it easier and the world would still spin around.

    It’s disgusting how we, mothers, are pressed to our limits to meet expectations that nobody asked us to meet. I have experienced this. But every time I tell myself my kid just needs to feel loved and the rest will come easily to him. I truly think it is the way it works: high self Steem, strong attachment, a bit of guidance and they are done.

  14. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Im so sorry your son is leaving.

    For what its worth kids who prioritise their talent often have to leave home early regardless of whats happening at home. This might be less about your breakdown than you think. How often will you be able to see him?

    It seems like you dont need cash its help with managing it & other aspects of yiur life. Can you hire an assistant? A smart one.

    Sending love x

  15. Sinead
    Sinead says:

    There’s the relationship your son has with the cello, and the relationship he has with you. The former is moving on to another stage. The latter is still there, and will only benefit from the former. Written clinically, but sending it with love. You’re doing great, you’ve done great, remember that.

  16. Katrin
    Katrin says:

    You have not failed him. You have empowered him to make choices at a young age about what he wants and needs. You have made it possible for him to fall in love with music. You have put his needs above your own. You are doing your best. That’s all you can do, every day, is to do your best as a parent. What you tell yourself is important: you have not failed him!

  17. Katrin
    Katrin says:

    As I suspect you know, P, a GoFundMe campaign isn’t the solution. You need a financial advisor. You need guidelines and rules to follow about spending money. Sounds to me like getting the money isn’t a problem, but how you spend it is. I am wishing you only the best. You’re a fighter.

    • DL
      DL says:

      Katrin, your advise is the best yet. Penelope is brilliant at making money (thus this post). We can GoFundMe all the money in the world, but what she really needs is help managing it. And she needs to listen to that help.

      • D F
        D F says:

        Starting a Go fund me page is a bad lesson for the kids too. You know how to make money, just last week you said you could help kids start business’s to put on their resumes….I thought that was a great idea. (and wealthy parents would pay $$$)

  18. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Penelope: your writing is fantasting. Every day, people come to your page to read what you write. Thats why I dont understand why you dont have a donate link in your page YET.
    When we are sad, we tend to be overwhelm, but you are a logic person and that is a very good thing, because if you do the right thing next, every day, you can accomplish your goals.

  19. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal
    Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal says:

    Penelope – you need to get your shit together now. Focus on priorities. First thing is money. Get back to earning it. Your kids will be OK if they can eat. Do you have a personal assistant? Contact me and I will help however I can. Not for money obviously. Just because I am worried about you now.

  20. alan
    alan says:

    I provide counseling support for teens and adults on the spectrum

    I don’t think you failed your cello son…he will find his way, with your support…he’s fortunate to have a mom like you who cares so continuously for his current and future healthiness.

    It’s amazing to me that you manage all you do with so little social support from others…I do not know anyone on the spectrum who pushes into new territory like you do who does it in a sustainable way, unless they have adequate support, mental and emotional and financial, from others.

    But I notice that the farther out there we go, the greater is the accompanying stress…I guess you will need to pull back a little and take some time to regroup…the GoFundMe idea seems like a promising temporary option…

    keep writing!

  21. Don
    Don says:


    The world is not binary, you are not binary.

    There are times when our emotions (and often our fatigue) convince us otherwise. That doesn’t make it true.

    You are worn down, as anyone would be.

    Please create a GoFundMe.

    Just to let us help give you a bit of space, just a little breathing room so you can figure things out.

  22. Yvette
    Yvette says:

    Wow. I thought I was the only one in life, just hanging on. It’s hard to read your sorrows, for us feeling types. Now I understand my own sorrows better, and my own tragedies seem at least familiar and I’m more accepting of the unfairness of it all. Raising kids alone is impossible. Emotionally, physically, financially, and spiritually. It just is. Every single mom I know is overstressed. Call the dad. (Or maybe you did.) If it was just you, you’d be fine, but caring for the kids has put you over the edge. I’m so sorry. In my case, I got the youngest kid to live at the college. I fought for financial aid and student loans paid for the housing. So, then all I had to do was refocus on my own expenses. The empty nest syndrome is next. Once we identify ourselves as only parents, then we forget how to live our own lives … what’s left of them. I ended up with Food Stamps and happy to get them. We eat. I cut other costs, and work when I’m too tired, but not working didn’t help either, so slowly my own life reappears. There is life after raising kids, but it’s an extremely slow transistion. Change, is everywhere these days. Namaste.

  23. Thomas W Hoens
    Thomas W Hoens says:

    First things first, I Love You Penelope. An earlier responder mentioned a donate link, another mentioned Jordan Peterson. Combined it leads me to (https://www.patreon.com/jordanbpeterson). This is Dr Peterson’s Patreon page. relatively easy to set up and could help in your situation, in any event it is geared to be more long lasting than a GoFundMe.

  24. colt13
    colt13 says:

    I am a screwup. I have homeless at points in my life because I really aren’t good at anything that makes money. You, on the other hand, are a successful buisnesswoman. And that takes courage and talent, whether you believe it or not. So you will make it.

    As for the kid, I don’t have a perfect answer. I know kids resent not getting the chance to fail/figure out what they can do. So Juliard needs to be a priority, so he doesn’t wonder.

    You are stronger than you think.

  25. Jess
    Jess says:

    If he got a large scholarship what else could be the issue? unless it’s simply that you really just don’t want him leaving you? Why no child support? Do they not have a father? Make him pay his share.

  26. E
    E says:

    I’ve been reading you forever, since your column in Yahoo! Your writing has changed my life. I don’t think I could have ever successfully navigated the corporate world in my 20s without you. You’ve changed my beliefs on education and being a parent, and taught me how to cut through the bullshit to prioritize what’s important. I don’t know you any more than the words you share, but I would also love to contribute to a GoFundMe. My life is what it is because of you, and if there’s some way I can pay you back for that, it would make me incredibly happy. Thank you for sharing these pieces with us. They make such a huge difference. You are one of the most incredible people.

  27. Etienne
    Etienne says:

    Although it will be hard to be away from your son, he is pursuing his purpose by leaving. That is a good thing and you should be proud. I believe part of the reason you may be sad is because for a long time your purpose has been raising your son, and now it is nearing the time to let him go and trust that your years of guidance and instruction were meaningful. It was going to happen eventually, whether now or in 3 more years. The sadness is really the fear of an impending void – what will be your purpose once your child is gone?

  28. Jacalyn
    Jacalyn says:

    I am so sorry for what you’re going through – all good parents want the very best for our kids, and it’s painful when we can’t provide what we think that is.
    I don’t know if you resonate with the researcher and writer Brene Brown but you might want to listen to some of her recent (free) podcasts. She speaks about just the thing you identify here, how we tend to speak of our pain only after we have come through it, and that the truest act of bravery and strength is being vulnerable enough to share the muck while we are in it.
    Am I correct in understanding that your son is leaving Juilliard, not leaving you so that he can continue there? (Some commenters seemed confused on that).
    And do you have support of any kind here in nyc?

  29. Beth
    Beth says:

    As a homeschooling Mom of a violist (finishing her Master’s), I feel your anguish in your son needing to leave so young. I always wonder at parents when their gymnastics kids leave home at an early age…I don’t know if I could do that. No advice, but just wanted to send a virtual hug.

  30. Brenn
    Brenn says:

    I took a very long break from reading this insanity. It does not surprise me at all that this has happened. You make terrible choices that you pass off as being in your children’s best interest. Nothing could be farther from reality. You need to provide a STABLE home first – before all else. I can’t believe social services haven’t taken them already. You are completely incompetent.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Brenn, I don’t think that’s true, and I think it’s very mean. Wishing social services would take someone’s kids is very spiteful. PT may not make the best choices all the time, but do you really think a foster home would be better for her children than hers? That’s horrid.

      Poverty sucks, but kids can get over it. When I was the age of her son, I was also being raised by a single mother, who was sometimes poor. One winter we lived in upstate New York, in a house with no central heat. A glass of water would freeze by my bedside, and rats would curl up on my sleeping bag to keep warm. But my mother loved me and took the best care of me, and it would have caused me irreparable harm to be taken away from her. A few years later we were out of that bad patch.

      • Brenn
        Brenn says:

        1. I did not say I wished that.
        2. Her hardships are of her own doing. Then she expects others to pay for them.

    • BW
      BW says:

      It is mean. But not inaccurate. Anyone who followed Penelope long enough knows she has never functioned well on her own. This outcome was predictable once the Farmer was no longer providing stability and a roof over their head.

      “The only thing that matters to me is that he cut me out, overnight, with no warning.” As I recall, that is rewriting history. She moved out, hoping he would follow. Not that it matters now. Bottom line, she needs live-in help with managing her day to day life.

      • Brenn
        Brenn says:

        I have been following a long time. Yes, she changes the story to suit her. She did leave him. She also kept using his credit card and then called it abusive when he stopped her access.
        It’s not mean. It’s words of truth. Everyone else is patting her on the back for all her insane choices. She takes no responsibility for her behavior. She never learns. Her family knows this.
        None of this is a secret. She tells you all of it.

        • Vanessa
          Vanessa says:

          Brenn and BW are correct, I remember these things as well from her past blogposts.

          She does change stories to suit herself and create a smoother narrative (after all, that’s part of her advice for writing resumes and applying for jobs). Even pre-farmer.

          Some of it is conscious and some unconscious — and in that, it’s like most of us do. (But most people don’t write public blogs about their lives.)

          It is not “mean” to dispassionately point out reality and things that were claimed in published pieces in the past.

          The reasons for having the boys’ father pay no child support whatsoever for 2 minor children are flimsy, in my opinion, especially since Penelope probably earns less than he does, at least at times. Maybe she had to promise that in order to get full custody, or something.
          If it’s important to her for the boys to have him fly to where they live and see them for a couple of days once in a while, and if they are safe being in his care, why can’t the boys go live with him for a spell while P. gets some breathing room and makes a new plan?

          I too bristle at individuals asking for money for their personal lives from strangers online on gofundme etc., unless they are in dire need (which Penelope did NOT herself ask for, as far as I know).
          However, I can see the use for Patreon and similar for people who provide valuable advice and help online.
          I don’t like how P. has mentioned several things that she’s posted only for her Patreon patrons (like Melissa’s wedding speech), and any other visitors to the blog will have to pay to look at them, but I realize that monetizing a blog and creating an area for “members only” is a valid method for earning some money from a site.
          It’s the asking people to pay to get glimpses into her private life which she used to share freely, rather than to pay for a service like receiving a personal answer to a career question or being able to download a long advisory essay about a major career issue, etc.
          As the commenter above from the UK who left a very good post said, Penelope would probably tell someone else that she should get married to a 50-something divorced dad who has a kid or two of his own that he’s trying to raise (or to an older man with substantial means), and suggest that she spend more time and effort in trying to find a partner/husband. [Yes, I totally know how hard it is for an aspergerish, strong-willed female to find a suitable husband.]

          I’ve written this in past years on this site, and I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t know why so many people seem to so readily accept the idea that P. knows how to make a lot of money easily and quickly. I think that sometimes she’s been in the right place at the right time with the right offering and attitude, and that has worked well for her, but other times she’s probably lost jobs and opportunities and lots of money with the very same set of qualities/skills/characteristics/instincts/preferences. Times have changed, “the internet” has changed, the media landscape has changed, the generations have ticked over (she’s in her 50s now), the workplace has changed a bit, etc.

          I also wondered, not that anyone seems to mention it, how her extremely personal and sustained criticism a few years ago of a powerful, rich, well-connected woman who has a lot of influence in “Silicon Valley” has played out in terms of P’s career opportunities. Maybe invisibly or quietly there’s some stuff going on that is making her path forward much trickier than it would otherwise have been expected to be.

          From recent posts, it sounds like Melissa has been a really good friend over the years (singlehandedly “doing the job of 4” close supporters). Sounds like P’s sister-in-law is pretty great, too (speeding to their town and being so supportive).

          I forget where the boys’ dad lives now and where P used to live when they were married (I know NYC for a while, but I think they had moved there from somewhere else…), so maybe she’s got some experience of and roots in Boston (beyond the therapist friend), but generally, when I lived in Boston for a couple of years I found it incredibly hard and unfriendly, just way harder than any other place I’ve lived, even foreign countries. Not to mention expensive, crowded, and ultra-snobby. I realize P is from a wealthy Jewish background in Chicago, and did very well herself for a while in media/publishing, but simply being from the midwest is enough to be forever positioned a few rungs lower than east coasters, to some Bostonians. Noise and construction — um, the “big dig” or whatever it is has been going for 40 years, construction is constant. And driving… if P. has recently been having some trouble driving, to happen anywhere else in the US it would probably be mainly an issue of her own making, but driving in Boston is like driving alongside MANIACS who follow no rules or expectations, and it can freak out anyone who isn’t used to it. Having to drive in Boston just in order to live my life took a very nice girl and made her a harsher person, phew!

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      You clearly don’t know the threshold for social services to take children. Are Penelope’s kids locked or chained in a closet without access to water and electricity?

      Start there.

      It is appalling cicumstances they consider for intervention. I think people expect a lot from Penelope and her kids because she says she has a high income. Then she is judged with how people think she should use that income if they were in her shoes. Then it becomes about the kids.

      Arguments for real social intervention start with the kids actual circumstances, not judgement on the parent.

  31. Amber
    Amber says:

    I’m a long time reader and I’m thinking about you and your son. Have you thought of setting up a Go Fund Me for him to pay the rest of his school expenses for the year and giving us, your readers, a chance to help? I know that doesn’t solve all of the problems of getting him to the city and back (I live in Bucks County near you and I think we all have trouble navigating these stupid trains to NYC lol), but I’m sure there are many of us on your email list who can and would contribute. Might be a last-ditch idea before he leaves for good.

    Sending you love and if you start something, I’d be honored to donate!

  32. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    Let me chime in with the many others here who affirm that you have not failed your son. He just needs different guidance going forward. You got him to the point where he can have that guidance. So congratulate yourself!

    That said, I was surprised to hear he’s leaving today. Today? I thought him leaving home would happen, but not today. Where is he going today?

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Yes, I am confused about this.

      Is he leaving Julliard, or leaving home, or both?

      If he is leaving home to go to Juilliard due to the transportation problems that makes sense to me.

      Afterthought and silver lining of this situation- If he is gone, working on cello fulltime, isn’t there more time to make money for more programs and support?

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        No he got into Juilliard but he is no longer there. I didn’t read that she got him back in. I only read that he’s leaving. But where is he going?

        I very much care about her and her family.


    You haven’t failed him. You have supported him to within an inch of your life, and he knows that, and the next step is going to be great for both of you. For both of your sakes, I hope you can move through the sadness and experience this transition with a sense of joy and anticipation for all the good that is to come. Sending a huge hug of support.

  34. Bob Carocari
    Bob Carocari says:

    No advice or platitudes, just the thought that you couldn’t have tried any harder than you did,and that you and your writing have been hugly valuable to me and many others for a long time.You are a good,worthy person,and this hard time won’t last forever.

  35. Susan Mitchell
    Susan Mitchell says:

    Penelope, you are so very brave, real, and honest. I do not believe you are a failure. I hear how much you love your son(s) and yet you are giving him wings to fly and pursue his dreams.

    You have much support here from your readers. As a temporary solution please add a donate now button or create a GoFundMe account. Your readers will donate. Then get a financial adviser.

    Be kind to yourself and show yourself some love. I’m proud of you for writing this. Hugs.

    P.S. I will be looking for thr announcement of the GoFundMe or Donate now button. PayPal works too!

  36. N Paradise
    N Paradise says:

    I’m very sorry to hear of your hardship you are facing! I can relate to your difficulties with social skills. I hate there is so little help out there. I think one of the things that draws me in about your posts is you write things raw the way you see them. I may not agree with everything you write, but this is not necessary to enjoy your writings. I pray for you and your kids. I hope some opportunity or something comes along soon to help.

  37. Marcia
    Marcia says:

    Why don’t you do what Maria Popova does on BrainPickings.org and allow people to make a donation on your blog? My two favorite blogs are hers and yours. I donate to hers because I can. I would donate to yours in a heartbeat if I could.

  38. harris497
    harris497 says:


    You have been through worse and you have gotten past it in style. This will be no different… just hold on!
    I know you mentioned your relationship with your brother being strained, but what about your mother. Grandparents are mouthy, but they care about their grandchildren and usually seek to help them when they need it – regardless of previous family drama and disagreements.
    In addition, you have the ability to create products that sell because of their intrinsic value. Create more or regurgitate a few using a new web persona. Your coaching, your expertise on and lessons on personality types, etc. are the stuff consultants get paid to bring to people AND companies. You are not without resources!
    Also, get on public assistance now! I know it is not something you relish, but it will help.
    Your sons’ father needs to be brought into the equation. You are the best judge of how that should happen.
    Talk to Melissa often! Do not isolate yourself. This blog does not count. You need personal interaction.
    You have been kind to others albeit in your own way, it is time for you to be the recipient of some kindness.

  39. Holly
    Holly says:

    Wow. I actually couldn’t figure out if this was a real post at first. Somehow I stumbled on this blog a long time ago and I must have subscribed. I get all the notifications in my email but since this blog seems to be mostly about career advice I don’t ever click on it to read what is being posted. I’m not even sure how I stumbled on it in the first place. But this I read. This may be the first time I’ve ever clicked the link to go read a blog post since I inadvertently subscribed years ago. I read this because I am also a single Mom raising kids alone who have expectations of what they need whether I can afford to do it or not. I am also a mom that would literally sleep in a closet with mice to give my kids the room. In fact I currently sleep in the living room. My bed is the recliner which quite frankly is nothing to complain about in comparison but I’m just saying that I gave up my bedroom so all my children could have their own rooms. God forbid anyone share! I have also cashed out part of my retirement so I could buy my kids things they wanted (not needed) bc I don’t know any other way to be. I also feel alone almost all of the time and I also stopped blogging a long time ago bc I wasn’t going to lie to people about how hard life has been but I also didn’t want to tell them the reality bc what good does that do? Well I think you’re brave. I really do. I personally appreciate this post because I relate to it more than anything else. I don’t know how to help either. I just want to say that I appreciate you writing this and I know things will get better. I’m not sure how yet but they will. Thank you for sharing

  40. Irena
    Irena says:

    It is clear from reading this post that you are in deep pain. It is pointless to focus on the poor judgment you have exercised–you, yourself are aware of it and admit to it.

    However, the key now is you getting help. You have mental health issues. This is not a judgment or a criticism. Merely a fact of life.

    You are talented, smart and skilled and if you can write this post, you know full well it is a cry for help that goes beyond the monetary.

    If someone were to just hand you money you need for the next year, and you did not get help to deal with your serious issues in judgment, etc. (again, that you have admitted) it would be the same thing all over again.

    To need help is nothing to be ashamed of. In this world, no matter who you are, you can face challenges that you cannot deal with alone. To admit you need help? This is a very very good thing and admirable. Nothing can change until you admit it.

    Reading this was both sad and confusing. That you had the ability to hide all this and somewhat function?

    There are individuals and organizations (including local churches, and I’m NOT religious but I know they offer certain kinds of help, and mental health facilities) that you can go to.

    Unless, and until you do, you will not get the help you need, which it is clear you do. I pray you don’t misread this as some judgment on you. It’s not. It’s a statement of fact.

    Things have reached this point because you would not deal with the reality of your situation. I’m not commenting further. It should be clear to anyone reading this what the other issues are.

    Now, you seem to be saying; Yes, it is as bad as it is.

    Now, you must seek help. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t despair. Don’t beat yourself help. JUST GET PROFESSIONAL HELP. Please. You sound like someone who might do herself harm.

    And if real life friends of Penelope are reading this? Where are you? Step up and get this woman the help she so obviously needs so she can return to being the person she was and still can be.

  41. James Maher
    James Maher says:

    Penelope you haven’t failed them – you’ve given up more than so many parents would be willing to give to help them achieve their goals.

    You’ve gotten them this far and you’re still there for them. At some point they’re going to start finding their own way and they’re going to think about how hard you worked, even sleeping in a closet for them, with fondness and appreciation. They clearly already know what you’ve been fighting through for them.

    I know you’ve got a bit of a hard path left to get through, but at some point, and hopefully pretty soon, they’re going to start helping to pick you back up.

    We’re all here for you in any ways that we can be.

  42. sarah Mckinney
    sarah Mckinney says:

    Those of us who have followed you for years, know that your life is a struggle at times, but you still lift us up and inspire and help us. What you do is meaningful and we will still be here. I know i will be.

  43. Tina
    Tina says:

    People don’t talk about sad/hard things when they are happening because it is too sad and too hard for most. Especially when things are the worst/darkest. Because when you talk about it, it becomes real.

    Usually people can start talking about it when they see some hope. I cannot imagine how heartbreaking it must be to have your son leave. But maybe this is your spark of hope that you can spend some energy to focus on yourself and get back on track.

    Take care.

  44. Caro
    Caro says:

    I know someone from a remote are who moved in with people in a city 5 hours away when he was 10 to pursue figure skating. It’s a common thing. You have done more than most parents outdoors and should be proud of yourself and your kid. Of course you’ll miss him but dreams come with a price.

  45. Debo
    Debo says:

    PT, I will be here tomorrow too. Your day sucks right now. Being a single mother sucks the most, except being a single mother in a relationship with an abusive partner. And it sucks the most because we are told over and over, and then we repeatedly tell ourselves, how alone we are because we suck. Life sucks right now, not you Darling. You are amazing! Reading through this comment feed I hope you feel a little less alone. Stay with us darling…let us help you now like you have helped us. 💓

  46. Denise
    Denise says:

    So, first, thank you. As a long-time reader I always appreciate coming along on your journey. We’re bearing witness to your life and your family’s travails. Here’s the thing, as much as it’s a goal for your son, a prodigy, to be a world-class cellist, maybe that goal waits. Maybe he picks it up again as an adult. Maybe he goes to public school, his mother gets back in the workforce and goes to her office and makes her way again building another kickass company. We know you can and you will. The music world will wait for him and accept him–then. He will rebuild his skills–then. You need the money NOW. You need your career NOW. Your family is NOW. Julliard was amazing for a time. You all gave it your BEST. You really did. So what it didn’t work. He progressed. You learned from this. But his life isn’t over. No one has died. If he leaves, you sever the family. A music career will be there, later. The family is now. You can’t get it back. And, your ex, his father, can get a second job. $40,000 is not enough income there. He can get some gig work to fund his visits to see them and make something to send to feed his sons. All of this is sent with the utmost of care and compassion for you three. This is STILL your time. These are your years. They will be over so soon. xox

  47. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    Start a Patreon account. A lot of writers/artists/teachers have them. You give so much free advice and coaching through your blogs, people would be happy to toss in $1, $2, $5 bucks a month.

    • Shalini
      Shalini says:

      This is a very good idea. So many people read your posts simply because you are one of the very few people who are able to admit to a flawed life. And of course you are always so insightful.

      You do have many well wishing readers. Just hang in there!!

      • AD
        AD says:

        Not a paywall but a ‘feel free to donate any amount you wish if you like my content’ button – I would donate and so would many who have likewise been reading for years and have a real care for Penelope.

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