Once upon a time, the endings of the bedtime stories I read as a child were fairly easy to predict. The beautiful princess was snapped up by the handsome prince and the two of them married and lived happily ever after. That was the classic fairy tale formula and it was what I expected in order to feel satisfied when I closed the final page of a book.

I was the youngest in a family with six children and I always knew that when I grew up, I wanted to get married and have kids. Not only that, I was certain I wanted to have lots of kids. My reasoning was that I had fun growing up in a big family, so obviously having a big family of my own would be a blast. Ha! I quickly learned once I had my first child that it’s not as much fun when you’re the adult responsible for a small human life. They’re very cute and all but good God it’s on you to keep them alive every single day!

The question is – what made me believe that a husband and children were the things I needed in order to have my own happily ever after? Was it an innate maternal instinct that made me crave children? Was it the way I was raised? Or was I influenced (ahem… brainwashed) by society at large? After all, everywhere I looked, ‘normal’ was the traditional nuclear family with a mum, a dad and 2.4 kids. I guess it’s the standard nature vs nurture debate. Regardless of what it was that influenced my desires for my future, one thing I never even considered was the possibility of not settling down with a partner and children. Being alone or being child-free weren’t options I ever even contemplated. 

Nicola Moriarty on fairytales

Nicola Moriarty: Ignore the fairytales, find your own happiness

These days, the world is changing. Society is becoming more and more accepting of a new kind of normal. Of the fact that there are all different types of family units and there is no one ‘right’ way to create a family. And one of those big changes is the idea that maybe, you don’t need to create a new family at all. Maybe your happily ever after is you, on your own, walking your own path. Maybe travelling the world. Maybe having a kick-ass career. Or maybe just taking it easy, doing your 9 to 5 job and coming home to your own place and choosing to watch whatever the hell you want on television, eat whatever you want for dinner without having to compromise and basically living your own life.

I find myself wondering, if I was entering adulthood now, would I make a different decision about what I want out of life due to the way the world is now? Look, obviously I adore my partner and my two children and I wouldn’t give them up for the world. But sometimes I do wonder about what it would be like to have chosen a completely different path. To have absolute independence and autonomy. To answer to no one and to have total freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want. Women who make the choice to stay child-free are often labelled as selfish, sometimes as brave. But I like to think of them as strong, independent women who are forging the way for there to be a new option of normal for the next generation.

These days when I read an old-school fairy tale to my children, I find myself adding disclaimers onto the end. Look, it sounds like Cinderella is happy and all, but just so you know, you don’t have to have a prince in order to live happily ever after.

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