Raising Kids in the City Versus Suburbs: 7 Factors to Consider

By Stacey Pfeffer

I thought I’d be a city dweller forever. It took some serious pleading from my husband plus the addition of a second baby with limited space in our two-bedroom apartment to even get me to consider a move to the suburbs. Heck, I hadn’t driven a car in more than 15 years so how was I going to become a mini-van mom chauffeuring my kids to and from activities? I just couldn’t picture a life for my family in the leafy suburbs.

But here we are almost seven years later and I am an avid proponent of suburban living. In fact, I like it so much that I actually edit two lifestyle magazines for my town and a neighboring community. If you are wondering whether to make a move to the suburbs with kids in tow, there are several factors that are important to consider when choosing a community. Below are just a sampling:

What are the schools like? This is probably the number one question on parent’s minds. I recall all the stress of merely getting my first child into a nursery school program in the city. Post Labor Day my husband had four schools to call for applications and I had four as well. Constantly hitting speed-dial that Tuesday, we wanted to get those applications before they ran out. I thought to myself, what about when he goes to elementary school? Our apartment was zoned for a good one but sometimes overcrowding shut out even zoned families. Many of the suburbs have excellent public schools and several will even allow you to tour them, so take advantage of that.

Do you want a community that is walkable? I found it very easy to navigate the city with one infant. All I had to do was strap on my Baby Bjorn and walk, take a crosstown bus or even get on the subway. But adding a second baby to the mix meant a big double stroller and some stores I couldn’t even navigate. It is important to consider if you like a “walkable town”. Some suburbs have sidewalks and others only have limited sidewalks in the downtown retail area. I specifically chose my house because I could walk or jog “downtown” and for me psychologically I didn’t feel so isolated from civilization. I could even walk to the MetroNorth if I chose to and take a ride into the city. But trust me, after a few days of getting your ‘wee ones in their car seats, you’ll be an expert at suburban driving. Just give yourself extra time on your first suburban outings.

Does the town offer bussing to your kid’s school? Not all towns offer this. But don’t despair if you have your heart set on one of those towns. There are benefits to picking up and dropping off your kids and seeing the same faces every day. Anecdotally, people in these towns say they love the strong sense of community that this fosters.

What type of amenities/shops does the town offer? “I desperately miss having a supermarket, restaurants, theater around the corner and being able to “run out” for something and be back in ten minutes,” noted Shira Robinson Sinclair, a mom living in Northern Westchester. Ask my husband and he will say Chinese or Vietnamese food delivery in record time is one of the top things he misses most about city living. While the suburbs may lack ethnic restaurants mere blocks away, you’d be surprised how with just a little research there are often options relatively close to satiate your foodie cravings and remember there’s always date night in the city if you have a hankering for Moroccan or Malaysian food. Plus, the suburbs are a hotbed of farmer’s markets offering farm-to-table options and a chance to mingle with your neighbors.

Is the town diverse enough for my family to feel comfortable? “I grew up in the city and as a mixed-race person it gave me the opportunity to live in a diverse environment both racially and economically,” said Meghan Danielson Jin, a mom now happily living in in Chappaqua. Lauren Kornreich Shawn, who moved from Brooklyn to the suburbs noted that “in terms of diversity I’d argue that many areas of Brooklyn and Manhattan are segregated by how expensive they are, so kids aren’t getting as diverse as an experience as you’d expect.” If diversity is important to you, make sure that you check out the neighborhood on weekends. Visit the soccer games, check out the local parks and see if your family feels like they can fit in.

What type of cultural offerings are there? Sharon Marcus a diehard New Yorker with two daughters in the city says, “the best part of raising my kids in the city is the exposure to so much culture. My children have the luxury of having the best when it comes to the arts at their fingertips and we definitely take full advantage of it.” As a mom who loves modern dance and theater, I will admit that at times I bemoan being so far away from the cultural institutions of the city. But if your family places a premium on culture, somehow you will make it happen. Just this month I’m going to the Jazz Museum in Harlem and Kids Night on Broadway. It definitely requires more planning than previously but you might be surprised at what local cultural offerings there are nearby.

How sheltered do I want my kids to be versus fostering a sense of independence? This one is a biggie for many parents. Jin who grew up in the city loved the independence of getting around the city on her own but on the flipside, she notes that “city life makes a kid grow up too fast. In the end, despite the city’s conveniences and culture, it’s not what I wanted for my kids. I love that my kids know their neighbors, can play in a yard and just be kids.” Another mom noted that she feels that her kids have developed a sense of independence in the suburbs thanks to the relative safety of her town where her kids feel safe meeting friends in the community’s downtown.

In the end, no matter where you decide to live with your family, don’t overlook your own happiness. “Whichever situation works better for the parents and allows them to feel good is usually better for the kids too,” said Hallie Deaktor Kapner. “A commute and parent’s health and happiness is a huge, huge factor too. Unhappy parents can’t be good for kids,” summed up surburban transplant Jen Korneich Geller.

Stacey Pfeffer is a writer and editor based in Northern Westchester.

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