Care and Feeding

My Family Needs to Make a Big Decision. Either Outcome Could Be Terrible.

I just want the best for my kids.

An adult and child stand outside a house with their arms around one another.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by ake1150sb/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am wondering about the upsides of a drastic potential move. My husband and I have three kids in sixth grade, third grade, and kindergarten. We live in a great walkable neighborhood in the metro area of an East Coast city. We have been here all the kids’ lives, and now we are bursting at the seams, and at a loss for affordable, bigger homes locally.

The challenges of finding housing here have pushed us to think radically. We currently live in a state with excellent public elementary education, but mediocre public higher education. We are in the sweet spot of salaries where our kids are unlikely to get much aid for private college, but covering the costs would be very painful for us, especially once we took on that bigger mortgage. We are terrified of saddling our kids with student debt, given what we have experienced ourselves.

My husband has proposed moving to another bustling East Coast metro area with tons of jobs, some close relatives, two excellent public universities and several decent ones, where we could get in-state tuition if finances don’t allow for private options. If we are willing to switch to a suburban lifestyle, we could also get an amazing elementary school district and a larger home at a lower cost.

It seems so reasonable and yet so radical. Do people make moves for these reasons? How should we make a decision?

I have lived in urban areas my entire life and am frankly terrified of living in car-bound suburbs. I am worried our oldest would fall into depression and hate us forever. I am worried we will have underestimated our ties to, and the benefits of, our current way of life. On the other hand, I am also worried that we might meet financial calamity when we have to pay for college, or that our kids won’t get a great start due to the mediocre state schools where we currently live. College and careers are so competitive now. Any wisdom would be so appreciated.

—Downward Mobility Millennial

Dear Downward Mobility,

Your reasons for wanting to move are completely reasonable and far from radical. If you were telling me that you wanted to relocate your family to another city solely because it has the best heavy metal nightclubs in America, I may question you a bit, but that’s not the case here. Remind yourself that you’re considering this option because you want to provide the best quality of life for your family.

Could this decision be met with strong resistance from your sixth grader? Absolutely, and if so, it won’t be the end of the world for either of you. As I mentioned in a previous column, I can’t even keep track of the number of families that have moved away from my neighborhood in Southern California to places out of state that are more affordable. My daughters still keep in touch with many of the kids who relocated, and even though they were upset at the time, they are all thriving in their new cities today. That’s because kids are more resilient and adaptable than we give them credit for, and I have a feeling that will be the case for all of your children.

I also think you need to take a deep breath and stop obsessing with all of the “what ifs” you’ve listed in your letter. Yes, planning ahead is important, but you shouldn’t worry to the point of exhaustion regarding the quality of colleges your young kids may potentially attend. Going to a great college doesn’t automatically equate to success, just like attending a “mediocre” state school doesn’t mean your kids will be living in your basement in their 30s. Not to mention, how do you know that your kids won’t want to go to college on the other side of the country when the time comes? The answer is, you don’t.

All I’m saying is you’re going to lose your mind if you put every option in the buffet of parental worry on your plate. The main thing here is finding a larger home for your family, right? Focus on that first, and everything else will fall into place.


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