Is it selfish to keep raising your kids in a city?

By Patrice Poltzer-Citykin A1A Fan and fighter of the burb flight

Let me start off by saying I'm a born-and-raised 'burb girl who really loved her suburban upbringing.  The big backyards, basements, riding bikes sidewalks — LOVED IT...but I don't think I will be replicating the experience for my own kids.  What monster of a mother denies their child a giant swing set in the comfort of their own backyard. Me. That’s who. And this is where the inkling of panic starts to set in. Am I being selfish? 


It's like the kids hit a certain age in the city (Pre-K) and a mass exodus of chest-thumping born-again suburbanites come seeping out of my sacred city walls. Allow me to explain why I'm holding down the 900-square foot proverbial fort.

1. Diversity

From race and socioeconomic status to religious beliefs, a city has it all, and I want my kids exposed to everything. I was 18 years old before I got to know someone who practiced a different religion than me. My entire schooling up until I left for college consisted of me being in classrooms with almost all white kids. And my high school's parking lot resembled a high-end car dealership (the cars definitely didn't belong to the teachers). It wasn't until I got older, traveled, lived in other cities, questioned my upbringing, and befriended people who had different beliefs and views than me that I really gained perspective on what else life has to offer. It's a lot harder to hide behind a white picket fence in a city, and I want my kids to understand that there are people from all walks of life who look and think differently than they do.

Times Square Jones

Time's Square, I think I'd even miss you too..*

*OK, that's a lie

2. Spontaneity 

Someone asked me recently what the hardest part about having kids is. That one is easy for me. I miss spontaneous living.  Meaning, if it's 5:30 p.m. happy hour on a Wednesday and you decide to continue that party with your partner until the wee hours, you can (news flash: once you have kids, you probably won't even make it to happy hour at all). Everything is planned and scheduled, and if it's not, you're paying the babysitter a lot of money for your spontaneity.

But living in the city, our weekends with the kids often consist of stepping outside and seeing where the day takes us. We've found ourselves at random music festivals, strolling to the waterfront, pop-up museums, swinging by a friend's rooftop party, and seeing Questlove DJ a kid's concert for free (actually happened). Most of my friends in the suburbs have very planned weekends, because you need to drive everywhere and can't just step outside your house and be in the action. I love how our city weekends are about as rock 'n roll as you can get with two little kids. But do my kids see the value in this?

3. You Don't Need a Car

I love the fact that we don't need to own a car. I'd be lying if I told you that I sometimes don't question my sanity when I'm two strollers deep, four diaper bags high, and buried under ALL the crap. But from my 2 and 4-year-old's perspectives, most outings are an adventure, because we're either walking, scooting, strolling, busing or subwaying (sometimes all five in a single outing). Carseat assembly need not apply. You can live in the moment as it's a lot easier to "pop in" when you're on foot than pull over, park your car, unload kids, etc.


4. Materialism Is Less Noticeable

I'd be remiss to not mention I live in Brooklyn, NY, one of the most expensive places in the country to live. Coffee, ice cream, rent, groceries, daycare, etc. — it's all more expensive here. Yet the wealth that some people have here doesn't feel as "in your face" as suburb wealth does to me. You walk down the street, and you don't know if someone owns the entire building or just rents the basement. Since no one really drives anywhere, a car is not a status symbol. The fashion is varied and eclectic. Even the super wealthy still have to typically share an apartment wall with someone else. It's when I visit friends in the burbs that I often feel more self-conscious about what I don't “have”.

5. Culture and Food

New York City is definitely on the extreme, but in comparison to suburbs, most cities are a cultural mecca, especially when it comes to food. Just walking to school each day, my kids can't help but pass Venezuelan, Ethiopian and Bolivian restaurants. My 4-year-old loves arepas - a Venezuelan staple. He also knows that the country of Venezuela is having a hard time right now, and that his friend Leo's parents were born there. All of this conversation made possible just by walking past a storefront that sells a food item outside of his own culture.

BUT my friends seem to be leaving in droves

Solid list right? So why then for the love of God are so many of my friends leaving? Friends who swore never to leave the city. Friends who swore they would NEVER get the 'bu.***

 I asked them. 

Rachel, mom of four (yes, parents who raise four kids in the city are NOT the unicorns I once believed) is considering hanging up her city key after decades of living in NYC. Their oldest is 14 but it’s been the persistent cries of the second child, 12, who is starting to wear on her mom conscious. “He hates living in the city. Always has and he is not growing out of it.”  But what about the other three I ask? “It’s hard to be really happy when you have one of your children constantly unhappy. When he visits friends in the suburbs he becomes a different kid and sobs the entire ride back to the city.”

Amy has two kids, the oldest only five. “Dylan talks about moving to a house in the suburbs all the time. I don’t know where it’s coming from but it’s starting to make me a nervous. Like, do I have to entertain this? Wait, he’s five? He doesn’t get to make those decisions! But does he?”

My friend Lisa who is the coolest city mom I know and is rocking a city life with her squad of three (soon-to-be-four) told me her 8-year-old wants out. “We’re looking at the suburbs and I can’t believe it. But my oldest just wants to run around in a big yard, have his own room and play sports on grass.”**

OH GOD. Am I barreling full-speed toward the suburb exit and I’m just selfishly prolonging the inevitable? Child psychologist Robyn Brown assured me I am not a monster. Robyn said the key to making any decision about raising your family is choosing the place that allows you to be the most present, calm and attuned parent possible. “Make the decision that allows you to be the best version of yourself - your children will thank you.”  Ali Berger, a Brooklyn ---> Maplewood, NJ recent transplant mom friend of two little kids said this, 

Do I miss living in Brooklyn? Of course. The energy, the vibe, being able to go out for dinner with friends easily and be home early. But I always envisioned a traditional, safe and wholesome upbringing for them. One where they can ride bikes through town, play in their yard and sign up for sports and activities without wait lists and crazy competition.
— Ali Berger, Citykin-->Suburbanite

Ali also craved driving to a grocery store and started to feel claustrophobic in her apartment. "I didn’t want my energy to rub off on my kids. We all needed more space for our sanity.”

In the same way I value the convenience of stepping outside my house with my kids and there being a thousand things to do, Ali values driving to a grocery store and being able to park in front of it -a virtual impossibility in NYC. 

“There is not one right answer to this debate," Robyn says.  "The challenge here is to try to predict where your family as a whole will be the happiest and predicting the future is no easy task. But try to find comfort in knowing that the superficial details of your kids’ lives may not be as important as you think."

Remember that family happiness tends to flow from the parents. Children are incredibly adaptive and benefit from challenge, so they will have the opportunity to thrive regardless of whether they’re riding bikes down broad suburban streets or riding subway cars across the vast urban landscape - as long as they have the support of a loving family.
— Robyn Brown, child psychologist

She also stresses that it’s essential to think about your individual ability as a parent to cope with challenges that may arise from either scenario. The thought of needing a car to go to a store makes me physically twitch so Robyn would say that my city living is an extension of self-care, ensuring I am able to be the best parent possible.  Something that moms (especially) aren’t necessarily programmed to do. But what about my friends who have kids telling them they want to leave? And the parents aren’t ready yet? That's a tough one.  I can only assume if (and I hope not) I were to be in that situation, my child’s unhappiness would be preventing me from being the best parent version of myself. In which case, this city girl might have to take a more critical look at where she’s raising her family. But until that happens, you can find me roaming the city streets with my family, scooter, stroller, baby carrier in tow and looking for the next Quest Love street concert. 

**Lisa did end up moving out of the city but she said she was having a tough time adjusting to burb life...but her kids were not. 
***As in the Subaru, the minivan disguised as a non-minivan and official parent car.