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Is Child-Free the Way to Be?

We're thrilled to present this smart LearnVest story here on Savvy!

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes . . . a jet-setting lifestyle, a novel and posh townhouse in London.

For Sonja Lewis, an expat in her 40s, there was never a carriage, stroller or burp cloth. Or childcare. Or school tuition. Instead, Sonja opted out of the idea that all women need children in order to be fulfilled and complete — and now wants to tell the tale.

In her new novel The Barreness, Lewis explores the fraught and emotional territory of going child-free. We called up this Georgia-born journalist and writer in her current home in London — where she happily lives with her husband—and asked her all the questions you’d be too polite to ask.

Why did you write this novel?

I guess you could say I got married late (about 37 or 38) and became obsessed with whether I would have children. And I eventually concluded that being a mother wasn’t the right thing for me.

The previous generation seemed to stereotype non-mothers as selfish, hardcore people, and I wanted to make it clear that women can be fulfilled without becoming mothers. Exploring the subject in the form of a novel gives me free range in how I approach it.

Why did you decide not to have children?

You have to consider the commitment; it’s a lifetime role. As much as I love children, when it really became a viable option for me, the financial commitment, the personal commitment, everything I had to take into consideration . . . It just didn’t make sense.

For more on a child-free lifestyle, read on.

Raising children, of course, is costly. Did that factor into your decision?

It wasn’t the deciding factor, but I did think about money. My husband and I are normal middle-class people. I think my child would have had a good life, but I would have wanted the very best, including paying for school. I read an article about how expensive it is to raise a child in the U.K., and the figures are just astounding. Plus, we already travel to the U.S. two or three times a year, and I would have wanted to go more often with a child. And that can get quite expensive.

Was this a solely personal decision, or did you involve your husband?

It was definitely a personal choice for me. We both agreed that I couldn’t wake up one day and blame him for this decision. It’s important to talk to your partner, though, and my husband was very supportive and wonderful. We did a lot of research and even considered adopting an older child, but I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t right for me.

What did you do with the money you would have otherwise spent on a child?

Travel, by far. Without kids, you can come and go as you please.  I also enjoy some level of creature comforts in London. I go to the salon once a week; this morning I got a massage. We also have a townhouse in London. If we had a child, we would have had to consider living in the suburbs.

There are other ways to support children, though, from being involved with my nieces and nephews to supporting a lot of children’s charities.

We’ve heard it said that motherhood is an accomplishment, even if a woman hasn’t made it in the professional sphere. Do you think not having children puts more pressure on you to be successful?

I suspect it does. Women who don’t have children are more scrutinized. People believe Oprah when she says she’s fulfilled. But for other women, it’s different. I personally feel quite fulfilled, having written a novel, having worked as a journalist, having done quite a bit of travel and now, having my communications consultancy here.

Do you ever regret not having children?

I do have a “what if” moment every now and again, but it’s fleeting. I don’t have any regrets. It is so important to own that decision. It’s not one I can go back on.

It’s very easy to walk into a school or an event and make friends with other mothers. Being a writer can be isolating, so I’ve had to be creative about how I make friends here in England. But I have greater flexibility than I would have had otherwise. Because I don’t have children, I have a very different relationship with my nieces and nephews and godchildren. If I have any extra money or time, I can spend it in my role as their auntie. I’m a very active auntie, and they see a different take on life from me.

For example, they don’t mind being Facebook friends with me, even though they do mind parents in their social media circle. I can talk about things others aren’t able to.

Do you think about not having children to take care of you as you get older?

I thought about this when I was making the decision. After talking to women with children, I concluded that there are no guarantees, anyway. Whether you have children or not, you need to be smart about retirement. I do have the benefit of a large family, with nieces and nephews and godchildren. They talk about how they would never leave me alone, but I don’t count on that.

Have you faced social backlash because of this decision? How have you dealt with it?

Backlash is a strong word. People ask if I have children. I say, “No,” and they say, “There’s still time.”

People want to believe you’re missing something. My choice is absolutely considered unconventional. What I try to stress is that it may be unconventional, but it’s not abnormal. It’s your life, and you have to own it.

Have you met women who regret having children or say they envy you?

I have, but I won’t name them! I’ve met women who have said, “I absolutely love my child, but I am just so jealous.” Not every woman feels that way, but I’ve met a good handful who’ve said that if they had to do it over again, they’d do it differently. They never thought it was a choice; it was so much a part of their socialization.

My mother is a wonderful, wonderful woman. She had seven children, loves us all and would do anything in the world for us. But she did not want seven children. I don’t remember a time when she didn’t make that point.

What should people make sure not to say to a childless woman?

“Why didn’t you have children?” That is a deeply personal question, even for a woman like me who didn’t have fertility issues. If someone tells you she doesn’t have children, don’t look at her like you feel sorry for her.

What legacy would you like to leave behind?

It’s so important to remember that women without children can leave a legacy, too.

Women who don’t have children are of equal value as women who do. I want girls to know that as they become women. That’s the legacy I would like to leave.

Exploring The Issues . . .

If you can’t have a baby, you could always adopt . . . but that costs money. How much?

Having children limits your ability to travel. Here’s how to travel well with a child. Read on.

Sometimes you’ve just gotta get out of the house, but make sure your child is in good hands. Here’s how.

Image Source: Thinkstock
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lucyvanpelt123 lucyvanpelt123 4 years
Good for you and thank you for posting this! This author has been able to put into words what I've always felt but never been able to explain. I can't tell you how many side-ways looks I've gotten for saying that I never wanted children and the 'what's wrong with her' thoughts. In the end, I had a baby because my hubby (who I love very much) has always wanted one. It is absolutely as hard and I thought it would be and I absolutely do not want any more. I still get those sideways looks for feeling this way but I don't care. I'm the one dealing with it. It is hard work and I feel like that's completely overlooked. It does so much to a woman, physically, mentally, emotionally. It is a lot to ask of a woman and I don't think women should be looked down on for choosing what's best for them. Thank you for this article. :)
testadura67 testadura67 4 years
I knew I didn't want to have children by the time I was 19. I reconsidered for a year when I was engaged because he wanted them so badly. When that relationship ended I had this moment of, "Oh god, what if we'd gone through with it and it had ended 3 years later and we'd had kids? I'd be MISERABLE." And that did it for me. I'm 27 now in a wonderful relationship with a good career and haven't thought twice about it since. I find it strange when women with 5 children they can barely control or afford look at me like I'm crazy or irresponsible for not having kids. Strange and a tad hypocritical.
HappyKate HappyKate 5 years
People are too baby obsessed. I don't think it should be that shocking that someone wouldn't want kids but that's the way it seems. At this point I never want children and I have a very fulfilling happy life. I say it's great for the folks that do want children but let's stop looking at the women who don't like we are ill or have some crazy mental problem.
anonymoushippopotamus anonymoushippopotamus 5 years
I am still undecided on the kids issue (although I'm only 22, because I'm in a serious relationship my family thinks I should be popping them out by now *eep!*). I'm a scientist which means i spend close to 70 hours a week at work (coming in and out at all hours of the night) and more than that when I'm home. As I become more established in my career I won't have to work as much, but it's still a very tasking, and incredibly fulfilling, profession where I'm not sure that I could give enough attention to a growing child. It's nice to hear the perspective of a woman who is able to handle the pressure put upon us to reproduce.
zoekitty zoekitty 5 years
You just made my day reading this post. I am 33 years old, married and am loving life. When people ask me if I have kids and when I say no i get one of two looks. 1. Oh im so sorry(like I can't have them) or 2. what's wrong with you(like I am a monster). They just don't get im HAPPY the way things are. It's one or the other. Thank you for writing this book and saying that we are OK for not having kids.
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