raising kids

We’re Torn Between Raising Our Kid in the City or the Suburbs

Colorful block of historic buildings along Tompkins Square Park on a bright sunny day in New York City

It’s not clear when our obsession with real estate started. It may have been after our son was born, when the greenish-gray walls in our 900 square foot apartment started closing in around us as the hardwood began disappearing underneath various baby-holding contraptions. Or it may have been before he was born, when dreams of a large yard for our boxer dog, our original child, felt necessary and well deserved for this cooped-up city creature. It is also possible that even before that, my husband and I each had a hole in our hearts that only incessant scrolling through images of condos, multi-unit buildings, and single family homes could fill.

But this spring, it has reached a level that I’m not even sure our iPhone plans have enough monthly data for. Feeding the kid breakfast? But we’re staring at bungalows! Reading a story to the toddler in his rocking chair? We’re sneaking peeks at new listings in between page turns. Honestly, even as I write this, I’m looking over my husband’s shoulder while he travels down the real estate click-hole in the dark.

It’s embarrassing, really. We both work hard to be attentive parents, but it’s been incredibly tough to focus, given the dilemma we’ve been awash with. It’ a huge one—one that might very well have a lasting effect on our son’s development, his education, his eventual financial stability, and his happiness. We’ve been trying to answer the question: When it’s time to send him to school, do we stay in the city we love, or do we move to the suburbs?

First of all, I want to acknowledge that the consideration of mobility for our child’s eventual education is a privileged consideration. Many people do not have the opportunity or means to leave their communities simply to find a better place for their child to be educated, so they rightfully depend on their local public school. Perhaps that’s why this decision has been so difficult and so distracting.

Where is the line between responsibility for your community and the desire to give your children the absolute best you can? Do we stay put, toughing out the next 18-20 years with an expanding family in our current cramped space in the community we adore, or do we find a new place in a comfortable and familiar suburb, hoping to give our child the best chance we can for success?

We are also predictably torn about city vs. suburbs because my husband was raised in the city, and I in the suburbs. In our disputes, I have mentioned repeatedly how grateful I am for how well my suburban public school education prepared me for college, and that I fully credit the schools I attended as a child and teenager with teaching me how to write and communicate in the world.

My husband, however, was sent to an elite (read: expensive) private school in the city, and although we are fortunate to be in decent financial standing, there is absolutely no way we’ll be sending our kiddos to the school he attended, unless given a deep discount or granted a nearly-full tuition scholarship.

When we first moved into our current apartment, its 900 sq. ft. felt perfectly adequate—luxurious, even. I fell in love with the vintage details: a gorgeous built-in hutch with stained glass windows, natural oak trim, intricate brass door plates. When I became pregnant, I used to take our dog on walks in the early spring, leaving the house just in time to watch the mass exodus from our neighborhood K-8 school, which flooded the sidewalks with cheerful children meandering home for the day.

As I started meeting parents from the neighborhood, I began collecting stories about their experiences with the school. Many were positive: the teachers are wonderful, the curriculum is truly preparatory for the best select-enrollment high schools in the city, our kids are thriving there. 

But then I began hearing different stories, too: the student-teacher ratio is too large, students have to eat their lunch in the hallways on the floor because there’s no cafeteria that fits everyone for lunchtime, the school is constantly hitting us up for extra money via never-ending fundraisers.  

Also, we thought the school’s high test scores were indicative of the advanced level of achievement students were reaching, but then realized there was no way to differentiate between the scores of the school’s gifted program (which one has to apply to get into) and the regular, neighborhood kid test scores. Would our son receive a good education there? Would his test scores eventually bolster the overall appeal to someone else? Would he miss out on experiences we had as kids?

There is no crystal ball, no predictive measure to determine what the best decision might end up being, especially because every child’s educational needs are different. I just want to make sure we end up in a place that is capable of handling any difficulties our son may come up against.

No matter the choice we make: to stay put, head out toward the suburban horizon, or make a move within our neighborhood (just so we can get an extra bedroom, for goodness’ sake!), no situation is perfect. We’ll do our best to fill in the gaps and get involved no matter what school he attends. In the meantime, I think it’s best we put our phones away to more presently enjoy the carefree moments of toddlerhood. After all, kindergarten is still three-plus years away, and in time, it may well become clearer what our decision should be.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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