Raising kids in the city might not be for everyone, but it's right for me and my family. It's also apparently the right choice for an increasing number of families, as more and more parents are ditching the suburbs in favor of staying put in cities like Denver, Seattle, and Minneapolis.
My husband and I chose to stay in New York City and have never regretted it. After we got married and were thinking about having a baby, we did look at homes in the suburbs. See, I grew up in Ohio—in a suburb, not on a farm, as my husband first thought when he met me—and houses with backyards and swingsets were deeply associated with my childhood. So, clearly that's what my kid should experience, too. Or so I thought.
But, as we looked at the tiny houses we could barely afford outside the city, we just couldn't see ourselves living there. My husband grew up in Queens, New York, and I had moved to Manhattan at age 22, so 10 years of urban life had turned me into a city girl. The suburbs seemed so quiet, and far, and filled with sameness. It started to feel like suburban houses were little prisons that would confine us to a way of life that just wasn't ours. We would end up removed from our friends, shackled to a mortgage, and cut off from the spontaneous way of life we had come to know and love.
After our daughter was born, I was even more certain we had made the right choice. Had I been in a new house off in the suburbs, I would have lost my mind. I would have felt lost at sea, but with a screaming, colicky baby. But, still living in Queens, there were people everywhere. I could walk outside my building's front door with the stroller and see the world right in front of me. Sure, we couldn't be as spontaneous as we used to, but with so much still at our fingertips, it was easy to still be us, just now with a child. We took her with us to restaurants, museums, everywhere—and, interestingly, the hustle and bustle around her distracted her from her colic and she didn't scream when we were out. As she gotten older, we've been able to take advantage of even more of the city on spur-of-the-moment "Mommy Dates" to the top of the Empire State Building or the Museum of Modern Art.
Plus, we still had a family centered community despite being in an urban area. When my daughter turned two, we sent her to the preschool at the church next door, and I could watch her play in its yard from my window as I worked from home—which I could afford to do without a huge mortgage payment. When she started kindergarten, the public school was just down the block. We see her schoolmates and friends out and about constantly because everyone walks everywhere. Local families even banded together to get our playground and park expanded. The neighbor kids downstairs in our multi-unit apartment building pop up some weekend mornings in their pajamas and invite my daughter to watch cartoons with them. My daughter literally skips everywhere she goes, singing to herself. She's happy, and so are we.
While some might say we should sacrifice our needs for our children, I can't agree. A miserable parent makes for a miserable child, and choosing city life over suburbia is not actually depriving my daughter of anything she needs. In fact, I think it's enriched her life. She is surrounded by people of different races, religions, and socioeconomic levels. She's learning the world is not just her, or people like her. Do we sometimes pine for a swingset in a backyard? Sure. But there's one at the playground just a few blocks away. That's where all her friends are. And the empañada place on the way home is delicious.
Image courtesy of Ellen Sturm Niz.