After years of living hard and fast in an urban jungle, many of us are ready to escape once we start a family. We might want to experience what it’s like to live outside of a two-bedroom apartment that is way too expensive. And we often find ourselves wondering, "Will we like our family more when there’s more space to breathe?"
We also hope to embrace that ideal slice of American suburban life — see the trees, have a nice backyard where our kids can play and be part of a community. (Unless you’re a city person down to your core — then that all sounds awful, especially the part about trees.)
I moved outside the city about seven years ago and never looked back. Luckily, I didn’t have to agonize about where I would move because I met a guy who was already living about 12 miles outside New York City in a quaint river town. I remember riding on the train to our date and feeling like I had arrived in a ghost town. But it wasn’t long before I fell in love with the quiet area and fell in love with the guy too! We married and eventually bought a place of our own, which our 3-year-old seems pretty content with, as far as toddlers can be content.
For many though, finding the perfect community outside the city can be stressful and confusing. I met a family at our library this past weekend checking out our hood. The wife knew nothing about the area and seemed clueless about where to move — she just knew she wanted out of the city and fast.
Another mom friend I know was in the same boat and used this service called Suburban Jungle, which helps you choose the best suburb to live in. I called the founder Alison Bernstein and asked her to share some points to think about when planning your city escape:
How Do You Want to Raise Your Family?
The first thing you want to contemplate is this: How do you want to raise your family compared to how you were raised? How do you want your life to be different or the same as how you grew up? Is it on the soccer field or in museums on weekends? If you grew up in a big town, did you love or hate that? Get down and deep about how you envision raising your family. This will be a huge indicator about your next move.
Don’t Just Focus on Taxes and Commute
Right now, people think about taxes and commute as their main concerns when finding a suburban home and community, but that shouldn’t dictate your next move. A lot of people will check off any town without a train, and you will lose out on opportunities. Remember, it’s the quality of the commute too. What is the train like? Will you have friends to commute with? People also tend to focus on taxes and real estate values, and while that’s an important piece, it shouldn’t be the only piece. Think about quality of life! It should never be about finding the deal but the right situation for your family.
Let Go of Great Schools
A great school that is ranked high on a list might be an awful place and too much of a pressure cooker for your kids. Do some investigating that goes beyond the test scores. Some people might like a small and nurturing school, while others want a school with more options. If you are big into the arts and the town is really focused on lacrosse, there might be a real disconnect. You can have the greatest schools, but the kids might be super stressed and feel like they need to overachieve. Can your kids handle that? They key is knowing that the list is subjective, and everyone defines a "good school" differently.
Identify the Childcare Culture
Towns have very different personalities based on childcare. Understanding the type of help you need is key, as well as where your caretaker lives and how they’ll get around. Live-in nannies, au pairs, part-time sitters and day cares are all options, but most towns have certain trends that people tend to use the most.
Don’t Just Look at Homes
Don’t visit a town and only look at the homes. Also spend some time taking local mommy and me classes. Drive around and see what people are like on the soccer field. Go to the grocery store. Spend time in the community. Go on a school tour if they have one. Look inside the classrooms and see what the schools look like. Your home will only be a small picture of your new life.
Renting vs. Buying
The rental market is inefficient, and at times it is difficult to find a good rental. Also, in a town with multiple schools, you may find a rental that goes to one elementary school and a home to buy in another school system, even though they are in same town. Moving your family and having to make new friends yet again in a new school system can be tough. So why put yourself through that?
There is life outside a big city, and for some it’s a better one filled with nature, community and more living space so you can spread out and actually enjoy your family’s company again. Though the journey might be daunting, with a little soul searching you will land in the perfect suburban area, surrounded by the most beautiful trees ever. Those city folk just don’t know what they are missing.
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