A Childfree Portrait of Too Many Choices

Nov 1 / Jay Zigmont, PhD, MBA, CFP®

28, Non-binary, Married, Oklahoma 
Associate’s Degree in Business
Changing Careers

This portrait is one of 26 real life stories presented in the book, Portraits of Childfree Wealth. You can download a free copy here.
Autumn is 28 and has been married for almost a decade. Autumn is an actress, audiobook recorder, and writer. She hopes one day to publish her own book. As she says:
“I have two fur kids and live in the most boring state in the country: Oklahoma.”
Right now, with the support of her husband, she is searching to find herself and the right career but may have too many choices available.

Why did Autumn decide to be Childfree?:
“I’m the oldest of four to a single mother. She struggled a lot when I was younger. I remember digging through the couch for change so she could get gas. Then, one night when my brother was a newborn (we were 13 years apart), I saw her struggle, which opened my eyes to the reality of parenthood. I learned early on that kids are never in my future ever. No matter whether it’s adopting or naturally or any of that shit. They’re expensive. They’re loud. They will keep coming back home. Even whenever you kick them out, they move back because they need to due to the economy, which is fantastic.

I have an awful relationship with my family. I am the black sheep. I am the one who is the complete opposite of everything they are. So I’ve gotten to experience what it’s like to be disowned. I’ve gotten to experience what it’s like to be an unwanted child, as it were. So that opened my eyes to like, just because you’re blood doesn’t mean shit.

Babies are really, really annoying, and I am scared to death of pregnancy. I have seen what it does, the human body. And I’m just like, no, no, thank you. That is terrifying. And they don’t even tell you all that could happen with pregnancy because they know that nine times out of ten, we won’t have them because it’s insane.

The state of the world is also a really good reason not to have kids: climate change and the whole nine yards. I don’t understand how people are still popping out kids in the 2020s. It’s just bizarre.”
What does Autumn see as the biggest benefit of being Childfree?:
“Being able to change my mind about what I want to do with my life, how I want to live it. I’m still figuring my own life out. I’m 28, and I still feel young. I don’t know what I want in life, and that’s okay because I don’t have people depending on me. Like, I can quit a job that I don’t like. I can quit a career that I hate. I’m not reliant on that money for someone else whom you can’t get rid of.

I only recently decided to be an author, and I’ve always wanted to be an actress. I’ve always wanted to be like a travel blogger, but you can’t do all those things if you have kids. My career choices are so much better if I’m Childfree.”
Does Autumn have any regrets about her choice to be Childfree?:
“Hell no, no. None. Zero nada.”
Autumn is at a crossroads in her life. She is trying to figure out what is next. Fortunately, her husband makes enough to make ends meet while she finds her passion. I call this approach “The Gardener and the Rose.” Each person takes a turn being the Rose and growing, while the other provides support (Gardening). Right now, it is Autumn’s turn to be the Rose:
“I want a career, not just a job; you know what I mean? I’m still trying to pay for school, despite the fact that we have debt. We have debt coming out of our eyeballs.

I used to work from home as a customer service representative, and then I would also schedule people for COVID vaccinations. Then they stopped doing that and sent us to another company. That company decided to let some of us go, and I was one of the few that were let go. And ever since then, I’ve pursued other companies, but I’m just really burnt out on that. I’m burnt out on customer service. I’m burnt out on just normal jobs. You know what I mean?”
In each interview, I use a series of questions by George Kinder. The three questions ask about what you would do if you were financially secure, or if you only had five or 10 years to live, or 24 hours to live. The intent is to help people reflect on what matters to them in life. After those questions, I ask: Is there anything you need to be doing differently now?:
“Yeah. Thanks for another existential crisis. I need to work more on my books. I need to work on a career. I need to reconnect with my fam, if that’s even possible. Probably not hang out with my friends who are across the pond. And I might be social more. I kinda noticed like COVID-19 kind of screwed over my socialness. I’m pretty sure it made me agoraphobic, not going to lie.

I think many of us may have a bit of agoraphobia after COVID-19."
So what is holding Autumn back from achieving her dreams?:
“Money, namely money and location. I’m currently in a location where, as I describe it, where dreams die. I’m in the Midwest, and there’s not a whole lot of theatre community here, or really most of the arts aren’t here. We’re mainly like agriculture, nothing I give a fuck about.

We’re trying to move, but mostly we ended up moving from town to town to city within Oklahoma because it’s cheap. The very thought of moving to Oregon right now, or California, or anywhere where there are opportunities available, is tough. Have you seen the bread prices? And the prices of anything now? On what we make now, we could never afford it.”
After diving in a bit more, it became apparent that the location may be even more important than the right career for Autumn. Is her husband on the same page?:
“Oh yeah, he knows. I drive him crazy. I have what we call a continual existential crisis. I get really depressed. I’ve gotten really depressed every year of this pandemic, to say the least. I go through periods of stir craziness. I go through times of existential dread. I go through times of wanting to just, you know, burn my life down and start over again. Like I go through that a lot. He’s used to it by now, but I do drive him crazy because I had ambition, but with ambition and drive, it’s the life circumstances that tend to kick you in the ass.

I love him to death, but if I were to die, I have no, like, you know, monetary value to him. Most artists don’t become valued until they’re dead, which is really, really, really sad.

Ever since he picked up this job and he told me to pursue my own dreams, I’ve kind of, like, been well, what about your own dreams? Like, do you have ambition outside of just, you know, driving? You know, like I remember whenever you wanted to go to Julliard. I remember when you wanted to play an instrument in an orchestra. Those things can still happen, and we’ve done it before. Just not now. We are still a work in progress.”
The challenge of being the Rose (in the Gardener and the Rose) is that it can be hard to focus on yourself and be selfish (as you should be). Autumn seems to be bouncing between wanting to live her best life, guilt, and a never-ending cycle of reflection. I asked her if guilt was holding her back from really going for what she wanted? Her answer:
“Definitely. Yes.”
At the core of the Gardener and the Rose is an agreement that a couple will take turns in each role. So no one is stuck as either the Gardener or the Rose for life. It might help Autumn if she set this type of agreement with her husband. My wife and I have that arrangement. We recently moved 1,200 miles so that she could have her dream job (she is the Rose now). We’ve agreed that when I hit 59, I’m the Rose (and we will be boating the world, which is what I want to do as the Rose).

What does Childfree Wealth mean to Autumn?:
“No worries. Like honestly, you see parents worrying about everything, right? I have to worry about where my income is going with us. The wealth is in the freedom. I don’t have to take my kids to ballet practice. In fact, I don’t even have to take them [her two dogs] to the dog park all that often because they often forget if they’ve gone to the dog park that week. And I can decide whether we want to go or not. Is the weather too cold? If so, we ain’t going, we’re going to snuggle on the couch, and they’re fine with that. And in fact, they like watching ‘Downton Abbey’ with me, which is fantastic. They don’t bark. They don’t do anything but watch and snuggle.

We can have an abundant life. Like most parents rely on their kids to live out their dreams, but they were never fulfilled. But with us, we can live our dreams. If anything, you know, sometimes we hold ourselves back, but that’s just us, you know, not our kids.”
I was a bit surprised by Autumn’s answer, as she had spent much of the interview explaining the worries she had for her life, career, location, and more. How does she square having no worries with the worries she listed?:
“Right? How do I explain this? Sometimes my brain just doesn’t articulate. Well, we have money worries. We have worries about our future. We have worries about climate change and war. And if we’re going to be able to fulfill our dreams before the world collapses. My worries are different from a parent’s worry. I feel like a parent’s worry, it’s 10,000 times heavier than mine because they have to worry about literally everything about their kids, all day, every day, they don’t get a break. They don’t get to breathe for a second.

Me, I can turn off my brain and say, fuck it. I’m not worrying about the money today. Fuck it. I’m not worrying about my book today. Fuck it. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not even going to clean the house, and I can do that because I don’t have little ones.”
I hear Autumn. I get what she is saying. However, I would challenge her that no one’s worries are more or less important than anyone else’s. We all choose what is important to us and what we want to worry about. The challenge with being Childfree is that we may have too many options and get stuck in analysis paralysis. We can get stuck in our heads and not make progress.

Does Autumn have a set of goals for her life?
“Yes, I have an entire list, but the main one is to make an impact. I don’t care what it is. Obviously, it’s not going to be a child. That’s not my legacy, but I want to make a mark on the world. Whether it be a book or a piece of work, or something within the community. I want to travel. I want to make all the friends I can ‘cause life is certainly lonely without them. I want to fill the need for found family, which is a big one. I don’t think a lot of people get it, especially if they’ve never been disowned. They don’t understand the need for ’found family.’ Also, the whole not worrying about money thing is it’s up there, of course, but it doesn’t matter how I get there. You know, like whether it be a book, which is like a one in a million chance, or with a steady job either, or it doesn’t matter.”
Autumn is not the first person to say they want to make a mark. Each person has a different measure of what that means, but I do not doubt that Autumn will make one. The big question is just how. She may be struggling with having too many choices, but I am sure she will achieve whatever she sets her mind to once she picks. What advice does she have for others?:
“For those doubting or constantly like on the fence? This Childfree life is the best life I’ve ever chosen. And I have no regrets. Just trust me on this.”
About the Author - Jay Zigmont, PhD, CFP® is the Founder of Childfree Wealth, a life and financial planning firm dedicated to helping Childfree and Permanently Childless people. Dr Jay is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, Childfree Wealth Specialist, and author of the book “Portraits of Childfree Wealth.” His Ph.D. is in Adult Learning from the University of Connecticut.