The XX Factor

Are Kids Better Off in the City, the ‘Burbs, or Beyond?

Photo by SAMANTHA EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

A young boy and his mother play in a water fountain in New York City.

Slate’s own Jessica Grose, opinionating in the New York Times, is taking Baby Steps toward the possibility of raising her still-hypothetical kids … somewhere. Her parents, she writes, left the city to have kids, but now: “If New York had been like this when we were having children,” her mom tells her, after retiring back to the Upper West Side, “we would never have left.” Jess is contrasting the “harried new moms dragging gargantuan strollers down the steps of an F train entrance” with her own childhood playing tag in the park while walking home from school in a Westchester town. She’s “secretly looking for houses for sale in Ardsley” and wincing over a memory of a pair of snotty Manhattan kids from her summer camp. But then there’s her lovely corner of Brooklyn, with excellent public schools, farmer’s markets and “so full of pregnant women and babies that I refer to it as fertility junction.”

Not surprisingly, Jess came to exactly the conclusion any of us would advise—that it’s not really where you raise your kids, but how. But as someone who had her first child in Manhattan before leaving, kicking and screaming, for a small New Hampshire town, I feel compelled to weigh in. You can raise great kids in the city, the suburbs, the country, or while following your own dream to travel the world by bicycle or moving to Peru to work with impoverished women to create a sustainable business. If you have a choice to make, what will really make the biggest difference in any family’s life is that you live as close as you can to the way you want to live. Kids do better when their parents are happy.

There are obviously pros and cons to raising kids in any locale. I loved having my first child in Manhattan; we walked everywhere, spent hours hanging out with friends, and kept up a lot of our pre-kid habits, since in New York, if you’re getting enough sleep to make it possible, you can always get a sitter and go out after the kids are in bed. Here in the country, walking is an activity, not a mode of transportation also useful for running errands and seeing neighbors. Going out after bedtime is both complicated and pointless. Here, that harried mom of the F Train is trying to stuff that same screaming baby you see in the stroller into a car seat, and her look of abject misery is identical. I know; I’ve worn it in both places. But I love it in the country now. Our move, while not made for the kids, means they can run wild in acres of woods and so can I. I spend winters snowboarding and skiing and the rest of the year biking and hiking and those have become things I love; living here means I can do those things as part of my daily life, not a special occasion, and that works for me.

But most of all, you should relish that it’s a choice. I moved again and again as a kid, never because my parents wanted to raise me in one place or another, but because my father needed to change jobs, and we went where the jobs were. Our family move, too, came from necessity, not desire. So while it’s absolutely true that it’s not about where you raise your kids, but how, there’s one more thing to add to the equation: kids will love where they live if they see their parents relishing the best of it instead of bemoaning the worst of it. So once you do make the choice (or have it made for you) what really matters is turning it into the best choice it can possibly be.