And they lived happily child free ever after...
April 12, 2016 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of stories (in books, movies, tv, etc) that show a happy ending in which a prominent female character goes off into the sunset happily childfree by choice. (Minor spoilers for some genre fiction within).

I guess I'm thinking mainly in the sci-fi/fantasy/nerdfiction genres. Bonus points if the character is happy in a opposite-sex relationship but explicitly chooses not to have kids because it's not for her. Minus points if the character is infertile (especially if the infertility is caused by something that's plot relevant... side-eyeing at you, Avengers), but if the character just rolls with the infertility like it's not some horrible life-defining thing, that could be cool. Ambiguity is ok, but the more it's made clear that the lady wants to live her life for herself at the end, the better.

I'm looking for counterexamples to stuff like:
  • The Hunger Games, where (at least in the books) Katniss Everdeen states multiple times that the does not want children, but then in the coda the author shows us how "healed" she is from her trauma by having her agree to start a family (because Peeta always gets what Peeta wants but thats a whole 'nother thing).
  • Harry Potter, where at the end everybody gets paired off and produces adorable children.
  • 50 Shades of Grey (I know, I know), which for all of the ways that it is terrible, made me the most mad with Ana's birth control screw-up and how that was handled (oh look! she can tame the wild beast through the power of family!).
  • Outlander, where Claire has basically come to terms with her infertility at the beginning of the book, but naturally gets knocked up by stupid sexy Jamie at the end of the first book.
  • Parks and Rec, which I can't even watch the last season of because Leslie and Ben were perfect but the internet tells me that triplets happen.
A good example of what I'm looking for might have been Leia in Star Wars, who ends the original trilogy in love, but with plenty more work to do. But if you've seen The Force Awakens, you know how that ends up.

Another maybe example is Bevery Crusher-Picard, in the series finale of Star Trek, The Next Generation. Future Bev married Jean-Luc, like we all wanted her to do, but they divorced, like we all knew was inevitable. And she didn't have any more kids. But you could argue that she doesn't count because Wesley.

And, I guess there's hope for Kira Nerys. But we did have to live through the very long pregnancy.

Anyone else?
posted by sparklemotion to Media & Arts (44 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if this quite fits your criteria, but the In Death series by J.D. Robb is a police procedural cum romance set in the near future. The main character, Eve Dallas, is not at all interested in having children -- the whole idea kinda squicks her out -- even though her husband is interested in having a family sometime or other but not soon. The author (pseud of Nora Roberts) has adamantly stated there will be no children in the books. I'm very pleased about this as it circumvents the romance trope of love-marriage-children, and it would change Eve's character, and not for the better.
posted by MovableBookLady at 10:59 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's not sci-fi/fantasy, it's straight up romance so I don't know if that's a dealbreaker for you, but you can try Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me. And some other Crusies too I think, but definitely Bet Me. The main couple's choice not to have children is not glossed over, it's very clearly addressed. I guess that's a spoiler? It's a pretty small one though.
posted by Ziggy500 at 11:01 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

Miss Phryne Fisher, who is busy living fabulously and loving her life and solving mysteries. She genuinely likes children -- she even takes on a ward and sees to her education -- but is childfree by choice.
posted by mochapickle at 11:04 AM on April 12, 2016 [16 favorites]

Claire Underwood's response when someone asks if she regrets never having children: "Do you regret having them?"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:14 AM on April 12, 2016 [22 favorites]

Oh nono. Phryne Fisher's sweet little ward(s) are the antithesis of the whole question. She's doing just fine with her freewheeling lifestyle but is inexplicably so much happier with a child in the house. Even though it is part of the personality and scenario that a husband and infant were out of the question, the writer still had to play the "happy family" card. Nothing against Jane (and Ruth if you're on books not movies) but I would not mark Miss Fisher as an example. Probably not a counter-example, but definitely not an example.
posted by aimedwander at 11:18 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Lois McMaster Bujold's Ethan of Athos (scifi) features a major supporting character who's a woman who knows from the start that raising children won't be for her.
posted by anotherthink at 11:23 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not exactly what you are looking for, but Moreta was mostly child ambivalent. She had a child or two (at least one, anyway) but the child was immediately fostered and she rarely saw it. The child was just what happens when you have enough heterosexual intercourse in your life, and most of her life wasn't impacted by it at all. This was in no way a bad thing for either her or her child. She was busy being one of the most powerful and influential Weyrwomen of the planet riding dragons, fighting Thread, healing and caring for Thread-injured dragons, running her Weyr, and basically saving the world. At one point she does stop to visit one of her kids, but it was more like seeing a young second cousin you see only every other year or so. "Mother" was not a title or aspect of her life. I reread this last summer (being a mom now and not a mom the previous times I read it) and as a mom, it was a little jarring to me how little of a relationship Moreta and her child(ren?) have.

If science-FACT is interesting to you, I recently finished the biography of Astronaut Sally Ride and it was fantastic. She never had kids (and didn't want them). She was married to a man for a while and incidentally was infertile due to all of the exercise she did, which didn't slow her down at all. She's kind of really my hero right now. This was a fun book to read because you really see all of the feminist progress that has been made since the 1950s in the USA.
posted by jillithd at 11:25 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

it's not sci-fi, but robin from how i met your mother MIGHT qualify. she doesn't really like kids and never really expressed interest in having them. she does find out that she's infertile and is upset, but mostly because she feels like she doesn't even have a choice now. she compares it to being a pole vaulter - like she never really intended to be a pole vaulter, but now that someone told her that she can never be a pole vaulter, she's sad because the choice was taken away from her. she ends up being successful in a myriad of ways and her infertility is never really discussed again. i thought they did a really lovely job with that.

there's also elaine from seinfeld, who if i remember, never really mentions wanting to have a baby at all.

cristina yang from grey's anatomy has been pregnant twice - the first time she miscarried but had scheduled to have an abortion anyway. the second time she did have an abortion, although that led to her divorce. but i mean, who says that's also not a happy ending?

laura roslin from battlestar galactica? it's been awhile since i watched it, so i don't know if she ever says "ugh no kids for me thx" but she was definitely child-free and successful.
posted by kerning at 11:30 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

If children's books count, my kids loved The Library. (I could have sworn the title was Elizabeth Brown.)
posted by she's not there at 11:41 AM on April 12, 2016

Sorry, I missed the part about genre.
posted by she's not there at 11:42 AM on April 12, 2016

In both of Bob Newhart's best-known series (The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart), Newhart's character and his wife have no children and are fine with it.

(There is one early episode of The Bob Newhart Show where Bob and Emily attempt to adopt a child; this was the original pilot partially re-written and with some scenes re-filmed, and is probably best dismissed as Early Installment Weirdness. To my knowledge it doesn't come up in the series again.)

Possible minus points on those two if you're looking for examples that focus primarily on the woman alone rather than the couple.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:43 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

In Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak series, the main character is childfree but in a happy relationship, at least at the current point in the series. She does have a ward for some of the books, but while she loves the ward she repeatedly states that she's not a mommy and is happy when the ward goes off to college. I don't know if this totally ruins it for you, but I love the books anyway.

I googled trying to find another book I had read and couldn't find it, but did find this list that may also help.
posted by notjustthefish at 11:48 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Robin from HIMYM is a terrible example!

After whatsherface (the mother!) dies she winds up raising Ted's kids with him.
posted by Oktober at 11:48 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Turtle Wexler from The Westing Game not only [spoiler alert] was the only one to solve the book's mystery but inherited the Westing fortune and paper company. She changes her name to TR, graduates college early, reinvests her fortune and makes millions of dollars in the stock market, and marries one of her cool dude neighbors. The book makes a specific point in noting that they choose not to have kids. Occasionally she visits her niece to give her chess lessons.
posted by phunniemee at 11:48 AM on April 12, 2016 [20 favorites]

Joan in Elementary seems perfectly content to not have children. I haven't watched every single episode; maybe there's one in the middle where she expresses sadness about it, but in every one I've seen children just don't come up.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:53 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Just to clarify - I specified "genre" because that's what generally turns my crank and that's why I know, but I'm open to whatever, really.

And I think it goes without saying that it's impossible to answer this questions without spoilers, so feel free to spoil away (in a perfect world, this particular aspect of the character would be so minor as to not affect any plot that I might care about).

Laura Roslin could have counted if only she lived (but then again, who does.. yes, I did just make a EJO joke there).
posted by sparklemotion at 11:54 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

From other genres: Julie Klausner's character in Difficult People; Elaine Benes in Seinfeld (disturbing, though, that these childfree characters are portrayed as selfish and morally bankrupt).
posted by witchen at 12:01 PM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Claire Fisher in Six Feet Under has a very successful life without children, as her obituary makes clear. She also gets an abortion at one point, and is very matter-of-fact and decisive about the choice.

I'd also add Peggy Olson in Mad Men. She gets pregnant quite young and gives up the baby, and instead focuses her life on other pursuits. While there are one or two instances in the show where she expresses some sadness/regret, she always gives a clear impression that she thinks she made the right choice.
posted by veery at 12:03 PM on April 12, 2016 [11 favorites]

Mark and Kareem from the Vorkosigan books by Bujold. They are not central protagonists, but they are significant characters. The rest of their families have kids, but they don't and it's never assumed that they will. Also, Leo and Silver from Falling Free, also by Bujold (set in the same universe). It's never stated, but I'm 95% certain they were phenotypically infertile.
posted by Hactar at 12:15 PM on April 12, 2016

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin. Both the movie and the book are fantastic. Turn of the century romance set in Australia where the heroine must choose between a family or a career. She happily chooses career. Best part is it was written semi autobiographicaly.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:20 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Perhaps My Life in France will give you an uplifting tale about a woman who lived quite happily and successfully child-free (though infertility may have been an issue).

Or read bios about any of these lovely women.
posted by brookeb at 12:29 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I dunno if this is what you have in mind, but I have a big soft spot for three happily unmarried/unchilded heroines of crime fiction, namely Ms. Marple, Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski, and Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone. I'd also point out that Tris, heroine of the Divergent series, ends her story heroically but without children.

I agree with MoveableBookLady that to date JD Robb's Eve Dallas is romantically entangled but doesn't seem to ever be going to have kids -- but those books are also preoccupied with rape and child abuse to a disturbing degree. The latest In Death was much, much too oriented around those subjects. I.e., Dallas is damaged and fragile and the subject matter of the books is very often about extreme victimization of women and children.
posted by bearwife at 12:35 PM on April 12, 2016

In Margaret Atwood's MaddAdam Trilogy (Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Flood, MadAddam) there's a character named Toby. She is infertile and it is a minor plot point, but it's far more ambiguous for her, especially given the circumstances of her life and all the really strange twists the world took that she is where she is. I do THINK in principle she fits this bill, even with the ambiguity. She definitely lives her life on her own terms and processes regrets through things in the past that can't be changed and what do I do to live through today? I don't know that I'd even call her thoughts "regrets" as much as random speculation of a world interrupted.

The crux with my recommendation is you do need to read the books in order for the best effect, and the first book does not involve Toby. But I can also tell you that each book took me only days to read, they were that compelling.
posted by zizzle at 12:35 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Did Captain Janeway from Star Trek Voyager ever have a spouse or kids? I don't remember seeing any but I barely watched that show. Counsellor Troi didn't have kids either did she? In fact I think most of the female characters in the Star Trek universe didn't end up having kids as far as I can tell.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:58 PM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

If the endings of Harry Potter, Outlander, and Hunger Games irked, know that there are a zillion alternate endings, including child free ones, available in fanfiction. One Harry Potter fic I can enthusiastically endorse is Loten's Post Tenebras, Lux, in which Snape survives the final battle, rattles around in a trailer park for a decade, and eventually hooks up with Hermione Granger. A bit racy, and 100% childfree in both philosophy and execution. Well-written.
posted by apparently at 1:08 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Elizabeth Gilbert (the author of Eat, Pray, Love) has talked a lot about deciding not to have children (in her second memoir Committed among other places). I haven't read it but I understand the protagonist of her novel Signature of All Things chooses botany over kids.
posted by Owl of Athena at 1:14 PM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh and I don't know if British mysteries are up your alley, but one of the two protagonists of Rosemary & Thyme is child-free and has an illustrious first career as a biologist, and a happy second career as a crime-solving gardener (also, she is single and basically catnip to all the men she comes across). There is one episode that revolves around whether she regrets not having children, and ultimately she decides she doesn't.
posted by Owl of Athena at 1:21 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

A number of Terry Pratchett's heroines never have children-- Granny Weatherwax, Angua, Agnes, Susan, Polly... There are only a couple of children born in the series at all.
posted by The otter lady at 1:49 PM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

Diary of a Teenage Girl?

The movie ends when the girl is still a teenager ( so she hasn't really decided not to have kids) , but it does have a self empowering ending
posted by winterportage at 2:05 PM on April 12, 2016

Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small series has main character Kel end the series romantically unattached, and without any children. The series covers her from childhood through young adulthood. Circle of Magic also has the characters without children, but I think they're also young adults.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has childfree Buffy, and Castle has Beckett without child, but male lead Castle has a teen from a previous relationship.
posted by PearlRose at 2:12 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

As far as Parks and Rec is concerned, the child free perspective is represented by both Donna and Jen Barkley.

yea, but they really blew it with April. April! who hates kids all the damn way through! and then all she needed was to be told it would be ok. infuriating.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:31 PM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also re: Parks and Rec, while I did find myself on Jen Barkley's side, she also seemed to be a mean caricature of childfree people, which was pretty annoying. Thanks for asking this because it's a big issue to me too, after sitting through the entire In Plain Sight series and being furious. If you just skip the entire final season it's pretty good, though. Jessica Jones was also good though children aren't mentioned at all (but she definitely does not have them and never mentions wanting them that I recall!).
posted by masquesoporfavor at 4:50 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

From the SF corner of my bookshelf:
Anhza from C. S. Friedman's In Conquest Born ends the book childfree with no plans whatsoever for kids, and is arguably romantically attached.

Cyteen's Ari Emory, who definitely has various romantic entanglements through the book, but no direct offspring and no stated desire for any.

Ky Vatta from Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War series ends it happily romantically entangled but with no kids. She's the closest analogue I could think of to Leia.
posted by tautological at 4:54 PM on April 12, 2016

The Mary Russell books by Laurie King are great. She marries Holmes a few books in; it's subtle but clear she does not want children. There's quite a few books and she is very happy working on her Ph.D., travelling, and detective work.
posted by jrobin276 at 5:18 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Link here!
posted by jrobin276 at 5:29 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

In Katharine Kerr's Deverry series, the heroine dumps the prince so she can go study magic, and has a long and successful career thereafter. (Parenthood in the Deverry books tends to be rocky. There's one prominent character who has fairly horrific postpartum depression, for example.)

I'm kind of confused by people recommending books from the Vorkosigan series, as parenthood in different forms is a central theme. Elizabeth Moon's a better bet, I think. Paksenarrion's cheerfully asexual, so maybe that doesn't count, but the Heris Serrano books feature the theme of Why Aunthood Is Better Than Parenthood quite heavily.
posted by yarntheory at 6:58 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm going to throw out there... Phoebe on Friends (happy to be the aunty, though she was a surrogate).

Also, Maggie O'Connell and Marilyn Whirlwind on Northern Exposure. Even Joel's ex-fiance Elaine in a subplot marries an older guy who dies before they have kids - kids never come up, and she has no regrets for having married him (if I remember correctly). Maggie in particular doesn't want kids and it comes up not infrequently - esp in the episode where Shelley has a baby shower.
posted by jrobin276 at 8:41 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Naomi Novik's Uprooted, from 2015, is just what you're looking for I think. It's too good a story for me to spoil the ending here, but I can tell you that no one gets hitched or has a baby.
posted by The Minotaur at 10:59 AM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Ancillary books by Ann Leckie. The main character is a woman and I don't think she considers the idea of having children even once. She's also a completely fantastic stone cold badass whom I love to tiny pieces.

(She also ends up in a happy relationship that involves a person with a penis, although it's Complicated.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:42 AM on April 14, 2016

The Legend of Korra might work.
posted by sneebler at 5:02 PM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was just reading a YA fantasy series called Graceling. The main mood of it is about extraordinary people in this swords-kings-fantasy-realm, people with mind-reading type powers, and how creeped out everybody around them is, having to actually live with that. But there are 3 books, each with a young female protagonist, and while two of their stories end with serious relationships at the end of the book and one of those does eventually get married, none of them have kids, one chooses to take self-sterilization herbs, and the other has a permanent relationship that involves no marriage and no kids. A couple of pregnancies during the stories, but really no overtones of the family unit and babies as the emotional one true path to happiness.
posted by aimedwander at 11:57 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh I just remembered, the Starhawk and Sunwolf series by Barbara Hamby is fantastic. The two mercenaries become romantically involved but never have kids.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:01 AM on April 30, 2016

I'm back to this thread with another recommendation: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. The issue of not wanting children is explicitly addressed, the two main characters are committed to not having children (though a secondary character does want children and this is a big part of that character's plotline).
posted by Ziggy500 at 6:34 AM on April 30, 2016

Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series is awesome.
posted by aniola at 9:56 AM on November 9, 2016

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