A Portrait of Starting Over - Childfree Wealth

Nov 19 / Jay Zigmont, PhD, MBA, CFP®

38, Female, Pansexual, New York
Master’s in History
Digital Editor

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

Betty is starting over and finding her true self. She started her life working in museums and is now a digital editor. She has been married and divorced twice and is now enjoying her life with her three cats. She is polyamorous. Betty is Childfree, and like many of us, that has allowed her the flexibility to start over and live her life on her terms.

I start my interviews with the “hardest” question, “Introduce yourself as you would at a party or social gathering.” While many interviewees struggle as they have forgotten what a social gathering was over the COVID-19 period, Betty’s struggle is because she is in a time of transition:
“It is a hard question. Honestly, I don’t know. I’m the kind of person that in the past would have defined myself more by my career, but I changed careers last year, and it’s been a hard transition. So, I’m not sure how I would introduce myself now.

I’m a historian. I have two degrees in history. I spent 12 years working for nonprofit history, art, and STEM-focused museums. So that was kind of my identity for the longest time. I’m trying to get away from that a little bit. I switched careers to become a digital editor for an SEO marketing company. The work is fine. I don’t find it difficult or challenging really in any way.

I’m trying to learn how to separate myself and my identity from my work. So in that regard, I would probably describe myself as a knowledge seeker. I listen to podcasts. I watch a lot of documentaries. I read a lot of nonfiction. I’m always seeking new information beyond that. I’m Childfree. I’ve been married and divorced twice. I have three cats. I live alone most of the time. I’m polyamorous, and I have a partner that is local and lives here part-time. He’s over here a couple of days a week, but doesn’t contribute financially to my life here really in any way, other than occasionally buy me dinner or something.”
Betty’s story is not “odd.” Being Childfree allows us to stretch, learn, and reinvent ourselves. We aren’t stuck to one area or job. Betty has moved 35 times in her life and three times in less than a year. Her hope now is to buy a house, work remotely for the rest of her life and settle down. She followed her passion and worked in some fantastic museums across the country. COVID-19 hit museums hard and pushed Betty towards making a change. Now it is on to the next phase of her life. All of the moving and flexibility would not have been possible if she had a kid and Betty decided to be Childfree at a young age:
“I was probably eight years old when I learned that my mother had her ‘tubes tied’ after she had my younger brother. When I found out that she could never have any more kids, I was like, oh, I want one of those. And that desire never really went away. Growing up and seeing what people go through with kids and being a kid in a less than ideal situation reinforced it. My parents got divorced, and I was never abused or neglected or anything, but we moved around all the time. And here I am as an adult repeating the same thing. We never had enough money. You know, we were never poor. We were never hungry. It was just always renting, always moving.

My parents were military. And one of the reasons why they got divorced was because they took on too much, too soon, too fast. They were 22 when they got married. I also got married the first time at 22, which was a massive mistake. Thankfully, I didn’t have kids as they did. They split up because they had serious financial issues.

Everything that I saw about having kids just seemed like a big trap. There are enough traps in life, and the older I’ve gotten and the more of a feminist I’ve become, the more I’ve seen that it is a trap for women specifically. There are a lot of Childfree men out there. They’ll be like, oh, she was trying to baby trap me. She’s going to get my wallet. She might get your money, but she’s not gonna get your whole life. If you’re a woman and you become a mother, that all of a sudden has to be your whole life.”
Betty shared that she is queer and polyamorous. So, I asked her, is it okay if her partners have kids?:
“Yes, actually my only partner right now for the last two years, since the pandemic, has a child, and actually, he’s kind of like co-parent to my cats, which is weird.”
I followed up on this to dive deeper. With single Childfree people, there is often a discussion on if they can date moms or dads. Most say no. Does it matter to Betty at all if her partners have kids?:
“No. I don’t have any intention of cohabitating with anybody on any kind of full-time or traditional basis anymore. It doesn’t matter to me at all. I push back against people who say, oh, you’re dating somebody with kids, you’re not Childfree. That’s bullshit. I didn’t give birth. I’m sterilized. Childfree, thank you. I don’t contribute financially to anyone else’s offspring. So, I’m not even supporting kids.”
Betty is right that there is some gatekeeping in the Childfree community. For this book, I defined Childfree as “Don’t have kids, not planning on having kids” (which would qualify Betty), but the definition of Childfree is fluid. Betty isn’t planning on getting married again, which is part of the picture. I asked her if she would ever get married again:
“I don’t think so. Honestly, I don’t know. I think about how different my life would have to be. Then I think about the LAT movement (Living Apart Together)? I could see some sort of, probably not even like, legal marriage, like maybe like a commitment ceremony, and we still live separately. So, I may get married again, and maybe in a very nontraditional sense.”
Does Betty have any regrets about her choice to be Childfree?:
“No, I don’t regret not birthing or adopting children of my own. The older I get, the more I like kids. It’s cool to meet people with kids because kids are funny. Honestly, babies and toddlers are boring to me, but once a kid can have a conversation with you, they’re just fun. And they’re funny. I even like teenagers. Teenagers are sort of unwittingly funny some of the time, which is just great. I’ve dated people that have had teenagers, and hanging out with their kids was fun.”
For now, Betty is trying to find herself and her future. In each interview, I ask a series of hypothetical questions about what you would do if you had financial independence or if you had five or 10 years to live or only 24 hours left. After those questions, I asked Betty to reflect on what she should be doing differently now. She reflected that she should be making more money to live a happier life. So I followed up and asked her how making more money would make her happier?:
“I would be able to give myself a secure place to live. That would be great. That would take a load off my mind to be able to have savings. To replace my 13-year-old car when it no longer makes sense to keep fixing it. Thankfully it is a Volkswagen, and it is very hardy. I’d be able to travel more, to be able to, to meet more people, and kind of get out of my shell. It depends. It is the main thing that I’ve been thinking about lately.”
The hard part is to achieve a balance between working more, making more, and being happy. If you are working more at a place that drains your joy, there isn’t enough money out there to make you happy. So how is Betty planning on achieving the balance between making more and happiness?:
“I’ve been trying to start this part-time thing and sort of mentally preparing myself to kind of buckle down and work two jobs until I find something better. Right now, my full-time job is okay enough that it’s not worth me quitting for just some other random job that pays the same. If I found a job that paid 50% more, I would quit. Since I’ve changed fields, I’m trying to get as much on my resume reflecting the new career field. With museum work, I was at the peak. I was at executive director level, and I took an executive director job as my last gig. And even in the midst of that, I had seven other museums wanting me to be their executive director. The museum I ended up going with was in New York, and it ended up being a bad fit for a number of reasons. I’m happy that it was at least in the same state.”
Does Betty miss the museum work?:
“I miss some of the work. I don’t miss the executive director stuff. That was shit. I miss being a curator, but the problem is it didn’t pay enough. The public history field and museum field are so competitive. There are way more qualified people and overqualified people than there are ever going to be jobs. And I fought the rat race for 12 years, and I moved 5,000 miles for school and then for jobs in the field back and forth across the Eastern half of the United States, a couple of times. That sucked.”
So then, what is Betty going to do?:
“I’m working as an editor, and there are all different kinds of editors. What I’m doing right now is more on the side of copy editing, which is fine. I’d love to be a developmental or content editor for educational materials. I’ve tried to get on a couple of times with different companies that make curriculum materials for schools, so far, no dice. At this point, I’m open to opportunities.”
What Betty wants right now is stability. She has moved so much that she wants to set down roots and buy a house. She currently rents, and the place is drafty (she needs to cover the windows with plastic to keep out the cold), the stove is older than she is, and the landlord is largely absent. The challenge is that the current housing market is a bit crazy. My advice is to rent until she figures out her career, but she plans on working remotely (from home) for the rest of her life.

Starting over isn’t new to Betty, as she shared:
“I keep starting over in a new life every couple of years.”
The challenge is that at some point, that gets old. Betty is doing what she needs to do to find her best life. She sees social media posts online with people “flexing” and talking about their perfect Childfree life. That isn’t her life, but she is still happy with her Childfree life:
“Some of us are just trying to get by and thank God we don’t have children to worry about on top of everything else… I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, and I try not to have too many regrets, but in terms of things that make me go yes, past you, you did a fantastic job not having kids. Congratulations on not having kids.”
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.