A Portrait of Fear - Childfree Wealth

Oct 25 / Jay Zigmont, PhD, MBA, CFP®

37, Female, Single, New Jersey
Bachelor’s in Creative Writing

This portrait is one of 26 real life stories presented in the book, Portraits of Childfree Wealth. You can download a free copy here.

Cathryn is an artist and a musician. She has her own art business doing tissue paper collages to create images for children’s rooms and books. This business is just one of three she is getting off the ground. At the same time, she is looking for a “day job” to pay the bills.

Cathryn grew up expecting (and being expected) to have kids but chose the Childfree lifestyle after realizing it was an option:
“I realized that I just didn’t have the desire to have my own children. I didn’t know that there was a choice. I didn’t think about it much when I was growing up. I was a babysitter from the age of 10, and my brother, my little brother, was born when I was like 11 and a half. So, I was always taking care of kids. I was going to a Baptist church that was a little bit conservative. There was no discussion of if you want kids. It would just be, like, that is your role. In lots of sermons, they would talk about becoming a good mother or dad biblically. I always assumed that because I was good with kids, loved kids, and cared about them, I would also be a mother. I was more interested in adoption because I wanted to have lots of kids. I always felt deeply about the kids in the world that don’t get a good chance when they’re born into circumstances that they have nothing to do with. I’ve always had that conflicting thought in my mind. I really would weep if I read about kids in poverty.

When I started going to college, my mind was expanding with possibilities. Around that time, I was like 23 or 24, my younger sister got married, and she got pregnant pretty fast. I was very excited for her, but I remember suddenly feeling this huge sense of relief that it wasn’t me. When I was younger, I thought I would be the one to get married quickly and start having all the babies. I just remember feeling glad that I didn’t meet someone when I was her age. That would have been me. That relief surprised me because I hadn’t really thought about it. That is when I realized, wait, I maybe I don’t actually want to have kids.

I remember it. I looked it up online. This was back in like 2007 or 2008. There wasn’t a lot on there. I remember typing in ‘women who don’t want to have kids’ because I thought, am I like the only one? Am I defective or something? I remember reading about other women who made a choice not to have kids. Some people shared that they don’t desire to have kids, and that’s okay. I was suddenly like, okay, that sounds like me. I don’t want to have my own kids. I just care about everybody else’s kids. I’ll do things to help kids in the world. I will help the children in the world who have very little. Even now today, I still sponsor children who are in poverty. My artwork is geared towards the children’s market, but I still, to this day, have that sense of relief that I can choose not to have them.”
I asked Cathryn if she would adopt a kid now:
“I thought about it. I was like, well, maybe when I’m 40, and I have my finances together, and I’ll want to adopt. But then the longer I’ve been in this Childfree state of being, I’ve realized that I don’t want to do that either.”
Does Cathryn have any regrets about being Childfree?:
“No, so far, and I probably never will. I can’t even think of a regret that I could have. I don’t think it ever crossed my mind even to regret it because I’m very happy.”
I asked Cathryn how her life would be different if she were financially secure. What would she change?:
“I would not change my mind about being Childfree, that’s for sure. I would continue building my businesses that have to do with the arts. I wouldn’t have to have a day job. That would be like my dream to just be able to choose what I do with my day.”
Cathryn is currently juggling starting three businesses with looking for a day job. Right now, she lives with her family and is trying to get her feet on the ground. Her passion is in arts, music, and writing, but she also has to pay the bills. She recently moved to get out of a bad situation and to get some family support. Now she is trying to figure out what her future looks like and how to trust her judgment (which is helped by her decision to be Childfree):
“It’s funny because, in light of talking about my Childfree decision at the beginning, I’m now seeing I can trust my own intuition and decision- making. If I’m really unhappy at the thought of doing life a certain way that everyone else expects me to, I’m usually very practical and whimsical, but I don’t need the work. I’m not lazy, but I always have this thing in the back of my mind that says I should want to have, like, the typical career. I think that my business ideas are just like pie in the sky or something. But this makes me realize that maybe I need to trust myself more. I’m so happy with my decision not to have kids. It’s allowed me so many opportunities over the years—even little things like pouring into my niece and nephew’s lives and helping my sister. If I had my own family, that wouldn’t be happening. So if I can look at that and say, like, I’ve trusted myself in that decision. I stuck with it all this time, and I made huge decisions. Maybe if I gave that same amount of trust to my other decisions, like with career business goals or relationship goals, I’ll be just as happy.”
Cathryn is at a point that is similar to many. She has chosen not to follow the LifeScript™ by being Childfree, but making another choice to be different is hard. Having faith in her choice to run three businesses rather than get a “day job” is hard. The same goes with relationship choices. Trusting your own decisions is hard:
“I don’t care what other people think about me being Childfree. I have zero interest in kids. If someone has an opinion about it, it’s never going to change my mind. For some reason, with other things like relationships, even starting one to begin with, or the whole financial career path thing, it’s like a bomb goes off in my head full of what I should do or what I’m expected to do.”
Cathryn did not give anyone else a vote in her decision to be Childfree. So why does she allow others to weigh in on her other decisions?:
“That’s a good question. I think it’s hard with the financial one because I live with my sister and brother-in-law. They took me in after a really bad repetitive use injury from my job. So, there was very little, like, to do for a long time. I couldn’t do the job I was doing anymore. So I moved from St. Louis to live with them in Houston and had to do retail for a couple of years. I just couldn’t type anymore. I could barely write. All that to say they don’t like, give me any pressure. It’s not like they were like, you must pay rent now, and you must get on your feet. I just feel like I’m 37, and I’ve lived with them for like five years now. They have kids who are seven, 12, and 14. I’ve practically lived with my niece and nephews almost their whole lives. I feel like I should be able to get myself together financially so that I don’t have to live with them or rely on them financially. I want my own place. I want in the long-term to be happy in the jobs that I’m doing. I don’t know. There’s some inward stress about, like, being a burden on them, even though they actively support me and encourage me all the time.”
I asked Cathryn if it was a fear of failure or a fear of success that was holding her back:
“That is actually something I’ve been wondering lately. I’ve been reading some books that have been making me question myself. I already know what it feels like to fail miserably multiple times. Not necessarily always because of my fault, but because of just circumstances blowing up in my face, like with the injury. I don’t know what it looks like to imagine myself thriving and where my businesses are thriving. Where I’m living my life in the arts, and I can, like, have my own space and also, like, still have my nieces and nephews and sister and brother-in-law over and, like, be able to help them. I don’t know what that looks like. It is kind of scary. I want it, but I’m afraid of being disappointed in that. I guess there’s the failure part. I’m afraid of it blowing up in my face too. I don’t know if I could handle the disappointment. I’m also, like, really nervous. Like I’ve never seen myself in that state of being able to be financially, like, on my own feet.”
Cathryn’s situation is relatively common. We’ve all had hard times. We’ve all had things that did not go as planned. Once we get ourselves stable, it can be very challenging to take another chance. The challenge is that, as Childfree individuals, we do have the flexibility to take chances. Fear of the unknown, fear of success, fear of failure all start to build on themselves. Cathryn is currently just looking for any day job as long as it is stable and pays the bills. She has support and is safe now, but taking a leap towards her artistic passions is hard. Rather than following a passion, she has split her time between three ideas and a day job. Why?:
“Part of it is like this fear that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. Part of me is terrified of going back to the poverty level I lived in before. There is also that voice in the back of my head that sometimes comes up… I was amazing in school. I was in gifted level and honors classes my entire life. It feels like as soon as I got out of school, I didn’t know how to do life. I just didn’t fit in a lot of, like, the expectations or the ways of doing things that seem to come so easy to friends and family members. So, there’s this fear that I can’t do life or that something is missing or that, for some reason, I just don’t have the capabilities of succeeding as everybody else does. So, part of me is afraid of, like, if I don’t try all the avenues they’re telling me, or that I need to do a career this way. These are people who are telling me to do it this way. I am telling myself that I need to be an entrepreneur, but I’m afraid. What if I’m wrong and that person’s right? Or what if that person’s right about me and that other person is wrong? So let me try to do all of them, and five might fail, but one might work.”
As an entrepreneur myself, I hear Cathryn. There are always doubts, and it is tough to put yourself and your ideas out there. Some people, such as Cathryn, face that fear by doing a lot of “stuff.” The challenge is, to be successful in business, you need to run one idea until it runs out, and then you can try something else. Deliberate focus gets you to your goal, but that does mean putting your eggs in one basket. Having a safety net is good, but you are stuck if the net prevents you from moving forward. It is okay to fail. It is okay to fall. The difference between moving forward and not is just how fast you pick yourself up and try again.

I know Cathryn has the passion, skills, and abilities to do whatever she wants. I hope she can use her success and faith in her decision to be Childfree to push her to accomplish everything else she wants. So, Cathryn, you do you. Live your best life.

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.