City Kids vs. Suburban Kids

Not Thinking About It

This vs. That.  Left vs. Right.  Gay vs. Straight.  Butter vs. Margarine.  Breeders vs. Ballers.  It would seem that we human beings are hard-wired to compare everything.  And in the comparing, we become competitive and not just collectors of information.  It ends up being My Way vs. Everyone Else’s Way or simply put, “LA LA LA LA LA I can’t HEAR you LA LA LA LA my way my way my way”.  I’ve found that this is particularly true in the parenting conversations.  I’d guess that through my empirical research (of thinking in my head) that the reason parents get so hot when defending their parenting style choices is that if they were wrong, holy cow.  That sucks to actually parent in the wrong way.  So, it’s best to defend one’s choices to the death.  Clearly.

I’ve heard more than one time, from more than one person, that they could never raise their child in New York City.  This is usually followed by a somewhat disingenuous caveat “But you of course seem to be doing fine with it…”

I get it.  Totally.  No space, unpredictable wacked out people on the subways, the filth, the crime.  I apologize daily in my heart to my son for not having a bigger home (though he never ever has seemed to want more space), and I wonder how awesome it would feel for him to hop on a bicycle in front of his home and cruise around in a cul-de-sac like his cousins in Utah do.  He is filled with wonder by all things suburban:  Malls, shopping centers, and drive-thru’s.  These are pure magic to my city kid.

But I don’t doubt for a single minute that Roan benefits so much from growing up in this city.  He has a wicked sense of navigation on the subway.  My 6-year-old can get you uptown, across town, and even out-of-town pretty much on his own.  I like that.  He’s confident walking through subway stations and operating subway turnstiles.  Roan knows to give up a seat to someone elderly (like me), he knows to avoid eye contact with strangers who are acting strangely.  He also can walk miles and miles in a day, because we do not own a car and that’s the deal.  A really cool perk of living here?  About 80% of the things he sees on TV shows (Sesame Street, Cyber Chase, etc.) are things he can actually visit if they piqué his interest.  Everything is just a subway ride away.

My city kid has started using city kid lingo.  He says, “I’ll wet you” when threatening to throw a water balloon.  We didn’t say that in Colorado.  He tells me to get “on-line” not “in line” which still sounds funny in my Colorado ears.  He calls the corner store a “Bodega” and not a corner store, and has started fluidly turning the phrase, “How ya doin? How’s everything?” like an old school neighborhood guy.  Roan thinks all things are delivered and really they are.  From dinner to laundry to groceries, everything comes to our front door.

And I was raised in exactly the opposite way, by an opposite set of parents in an opposite land.  I think back on summer nights spent running around like a banshee with parents nowhere in sight, and having to get in a car for every single outing.  I was happy.  Roan is happy.  And I think that in this battle of raising a kid in the city vs. raising a kid in the suburbs, the answer is:  kids are kids and have a capacity to be happy in pretty much any circumstance as long as they know they’re loved.  And parents are parents, regardless of population or geography.  Parents have the capacity to make a child thrive even in the most difficult of circumstances, be that suburban or urban.

But still, you demand a winner in this versus match?  Ok, city kids win.  But that’s just because I’m raising my kid in a city.  And also?  Where else could Roan and Rowan dance while Rowan’s mother, Brooke Shields, and I lament about the cost of the gymnastics class our kids are going to?  (I know it’s obvious, but I’ve been dying to fit in a way to get that story into Pistols.  Desperate and sad, I know.  But true!).  And as I said, it’s best to defend one’s choices to the death.  Clearly.

What about you?  Where are you, and how’s it going?  Would you move to the other side if you could?

27 thoughts on “City Kids vs. Suburban Kids

  1. “kids are kids and have a capacity to be happy in pretty much any circumstance as long as they know they’re loved” said it all. And that’s coming from someone raising kids in a National Park in west Texas ;) . I love how you had to get the Brooke Shields sentence in – I would be dying a slow death inside until I could figure out a way to get that in!

  2. I grew up in a bedroom community and didn’t go to school in my town, so I had no friends on my street. I wouldn’t wish that on any kid.

  3. I was a city kid, and my son is part city, part suburb. It has it’s downfalls both ways. In the city though, when he was small we lived in an apartment and he didn’t have the yard, the space, the open sky drenched with stars at night. Now he has all that, but at the same time, we’re a 20 min. car ride away from his pals, as he has eschewed the pot-smoking, bored and trouble-seeking kids at his school in favor of the always laughing, smart and witty ones we have in our church. I’m happy with that choice, but still, he’s always on the outside because he’s the farthest away.

    It isn’t fair to compare city to suburb these days. I grew up in the 70s. Everyone was at home, and there were tons of kids everywhere. These days, even in the ‘burbs, that isn’t always the case. Parents work, kids are shuffled off to daycare, the view becomes myopic on those cul-de-sacs, as nice and as safe as they are. They don’t inspire growth because everyone looks the same. Acts the same, lives the same. We need that varied, odd, often scary exposure to the fact that life isn’t just a sea of white faces, with minivans. Kids need to grow up navigating a world that often throws them curveballs. And deep in the heart of a city, whether it’s New York or Cincinnati, that can happen far better than the beige existence of suburban living.

  4. Things in my life have worked out the same way. Opposites appear in each successive generation. I was raised in big cities. 250,000 was the smallest. Left Minneapolis/St. Paul (easily 2 million plus) to live in small towns and raise my kids there (4,500 to 40,000+ now.)

    BUT, you guessed it! Both our children (now 30 and 32) live in BIG cities and love it. (St. Louis & Washington, DC) I just shake my head…

    BUT THEN… my son talks of moving back to central Missouri some day to give his future kids the small town life…

    And daughter actually makes her home in a small town west of St. Louis. So who knows anymore…

    I think happy people bloom wherever planted…

  5. Well, take it from someone who has done both. You have nailed it. Kids simply do not care where they are as long as they are with their parents. I agree, city wins. I’m ready to go back.

  6. My 10 year old has grown up living in the country outside a small city all his life, but he has visited his cousin, Sophia, in NYC numerous times. His answer to the “what do you want to be when you grow up” question always includes some variation of “I will move to New York.” Once I asked why he thought he would go there even though it was far from home. “Because you don’t have to have a car and there is always something interesting to see.” I can’t argue with that logic, and I hope my frequent visits won’t crimp his style!

  7. First- I’m a new reader- found your site through your brother’s- LOVE your blog!

    I have thought of this topic often & completely agree with you- the kids can be happy either way & both situations have good & bad points. I live in a much smaller city, in a “neighborhood” that’s really just some houses in the middle of a university campus. So my kids don’t have all the yard space & bike riding advantages of the ‘burbs, but do have all the great perks available at the school like the gym and track (and a Chick-Fil-A in the student center!).

    Really I think the city life is mainly a lot more work for YOU! You seem to enjoy being really active though & doing a lot of activities- but I imagine you would like to be able to say “go outside & play” occasionally. I think I would enjoy most of NYC life but I am definitely lazier than you.

    Although- all things considered- I think the dishwasherette would end up being the deciding factor for me…I’m not sure I could do it. But maybe all that great delivery service would make up for it?

  8. It’s funny you mention Sesame Street, because when we watch it, I imagine your family right there…through one of those windows. Always seemed like a cool way to grow up. Akin to living in Paris or Rio or another exotic locale. Being something of a “city-raised” kid myself, the experiences my kids will lack make me sad sometimes. Though, the upside of our current suburban life is the kids get to run around the yards and woods in the dark “playing swords” as they say. It’s all about blooming where you’re planted…and getting out to see other parts of the world now and again, no matter where you live.

    P.S. The only run-ins we have around here are seeing the grocery store lady at the haircut place. Sadly, no Brooke.

  9. Danielle – A National Park in West Texas? Really? Must be awesome. And yeh – I had to get the BS I mean Brooke Shields name drop in. Otherwise I wouldn’t be a real New Yorker. Glad we’re on the same page there…

    falnfenix – It does all come down to friends, huh? City or suburb – kids gotta have friends.

    Kate – geez, it must be hard to watch your kid be on the outside, even if it’s because he’s making really smart choices. And I love this sentence you wrote, “We need that varied, odd, often scary exposure to the fact that life isn’t just a sea of white faces, with minivans.” Couldn’t agree more.

    MJ Krech – I think in then end, it’s probably all about exploring what you didn’t grow up with. City kids move the suburbs, and the suburban kids move to the cities (like me!) Probably has less to do with what’s better, and more about what’s new?

    Naomi – Well my friend – soon as you guys are ready to get to this side of the country, this city girl and her family would welcome you with open arms! C’mon….whaddya say?

    Hi Jackie! – Oh, you make me miss Sophia! Listen – soon as your son moves here call me when you’re visiting, and I’ll buy you a coffee. I’ll be expecting a call in 8 years or so…

    Ginny – ok, for reals, the phrase “go outside and play” is like a lost lover. I miss it so very much, may never get over it. *Sniff* And the dishwasherette? Like a bad boyfriend. It’ll do for now, but I’m not giving a lifetime commitment. Welcome to Pistols!

    Jilrubia – I love seeing people out of context – it always confuses me though…grocery store lady at the haircut place would probably put me into a seizure. I think you’re right about in the end, getting out into the world. That is the stuff that matters.

  10. I’m the in betweener. I chose mostly the non-urbanish metropolitan areas where we had a lot of stuff to do and see, but still had the yards or open communal areas for the kids to play. Los Angeles, South Florida, New Orleans, Las Vegas.

    But I have a special place in my heart for New York. I moved there as soon as I graduated from college and would live there again in a heartbeat. I would definitely raise kids there before somewhere like the place I grew up, which was very peaceful and had a lot of happy families but was 45 minutes from anything interesting and twice that long from a decent city with all that it has to offer. Plus, we were lucky to have somewhere to go on weekends as teens, but now there’s nothing at all. I moved from there literally the day after I graduated from high school, and stayed away from places like that my entire adult life.

    I moved my kids all over the country, from New Jersey to South Florida to New Orleans to Los Angeles to Las Vegas. They’re comfortable pretty much anywhere and they always have been. They’ve had friends from all walks of life, financial circumstances, racial and religious backgrounds. It molded them into open minded kids and adults, which I was really pleased about. And you can get that from being in a city, too.

    To tell you the truth, though, I’m a little surprised that Brooke Shields has to be concerned about the cost of anything. She had a very long successful career in a high paying industry. Someone didn’t do right by her there.

    In any case, seeing all of your and Roan’s activities on your blog, I don’t see how anyone could think that growing up in the city could possibly be worse than anywhere else. Different, certainly, but being able to walk out your door to
    a seemingly endless choice of things to do…man, you just can’t beat that.

  11. Saomi wants to move to the country so bad…..preferably Nebraska! Eeewwwwwww…….Land of walmart and big fields is her dream.

  12. Could be worse. We live in between.. Teeny city = poverty of big city (so the schools are bad) + boredom (and Walmarts) of suburbs. I dream of one day living in one or the other. Either get me to the cows (or mountains) where there’s not a soul in sight or surround me with people.

  13. I grew up in the country. I practically cried when I realized it was turning into a suburb with a city. I was sad for my kids. Then my husband joined the Army and we have to make home where ever we go! I lived my whole life on at least on acre. Ya know how great it is to have a backyard barbeque with an acre between you & your neighbor? (Or for THEM to have a party with an acre between you? Lol…) To have acres & acres of trees behind my house and in front of my house…and groves of oranges nearby. Farmland a few minutes away to spend mornings “u-pick”ing. It’s awesome. And I do miss it. Now we’re in a duplex type townhome. There are 20 houses on my street and they all look alike…but there are sidewalks…and garages…and I think my kids like walking out the front door and yelling to their friends. I like walking down to the community mailbox with the kids to see if we have any care packages from exotic lands…or grandma. Even in the midst of our suburban life…we can leave post and head north into farm country…full of Amish folks & their general stores. Or go south…into the busy streets, city housing projects, historical districts…and the mall. I actually drive past the Walmart…I haven’t stepped inside of one in years. I think they’re gross.

  14. i would move to the other side in a heartbeat. in fact, i was on the other side, the seattle side, before my husband and i decided to move 40 miles south to buy a home. now nyc has my heart, but not my husband’s, though he’s willing to compromise with LA, where he’s originally from. i was raised in farming country in oregon, and although i enjoyed my childhood, i couldn’t wait to get out of small town usa and get cultured. now here i am somewhere in between small town and big city and i have to say the middle is not for me. i’d prefer one extreme or the other, but am a city kid at heart. i want my son to have as cultured a childhood as possible, and believe both childhood experiences can be rewarding. so california here we come~ in 3-5 years…

  15. Pingback: Pistols and Popcorn » And How Dirty Are You?

  16. Rebecca – I love the idea of experiencing so many different environments. LA, FLA, LV, and New Orleans – such a good variety – so maybe that’s the trick? Don’t choose one, go for it all.

    Loretta – they should just get married, Saomi + Roan. As long as she’s willing to go to the Sonic Burger Drive Thru after Walmart, they’ll have the happiest of strip-mall lives.

    Jessie – I actually feel the same way. Go Hard Country or Go Hard City. It’s the limbo that feels like…well….limbo.

    Maegan – I’m feeling you on the Walmart Grossness factor. I always feel the life being sucked out of me as soon as I walk into one. Same with Home Depot.

    Barbara – my husband also would love to live in LA. The climate does beg to be reckoned with. I mean, you just can’t argue with the weather. But NYC – it owns my heart as well. There’s something special about this place. Makes me feel alive.

  17. Jodi – that was precisely my point. :) it doesn’t matter where a kid grows up, as long as they’re surrounded by cool people and love, they’ll be happy.

  18. Wow, have you hit it with this one. For a country kid raising kids in the city I think this is the million dollar question. I am constantly on the lookout for grown-up New Yorkers who are normal. Who can reassure me that the city childhood, though different from my childhood, can be wonderful. I get so sad when I see kids trick-or-treating at the Duane Reade…and then I remember, just because it wasn’t my experience, doesn’t mean it’s not a valid experience. And there is something to be said for trick or treating in an apartment building where you don’t have to layer twenty winter coats under your kitty cat costume.

    But I think a lot too, about what the city kid feels about nature in her bones. If nature = park. Then nature is something that we surround. Something boxed in by concrete and curbs. And I’m just not sure what that means…if anything. That my understanding of nature, on some kind of deeper level, is just really different than my daughter’s may be.

    Ah I’m getting too oogly boogly. Anyway, thanks for this post. I’m with you.

  19. Since I’m pretty sure I’m not havin a baby any time soon/ever – I still am pretty sure I’d like you to adopt me!

    I miss you and love your stories. can I tag along for a “break the law” day sometime? I like to play hookie! xoxooxo

  20. I technically live in a city, but it’s not The City. Denver, as you probably know and as my East Coast husband reminds me, isn’t a full on city with things like, oh, a subway. I think we’ve got the best of both worlds – like a yard, but we can still walk to the grocery store and library and coffee and stuff.

  21. Thanks for writing this. We’re about to move into the city with our daughter, and I have been feeling a little guilty about depriving her of the suburban childhood I had. But you’re right, there are many awesome things about being a kid in the city. I read Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing to her recently, and they lived in a small apt. in NYC. It sounded kind of awesome, actually.

  22. We left Brooklyn for the CT suburbs last year, and I still miss the city every damn day. My kids (who were 3 and 1 when we left) don’t miss it at all. They don’t remember it, really, which pains me. Right now, I think the suburbs is a better option for them given who they are and who were are as parents. They have things here–space, affordable classes activities, manageable schools–that they wouldn’t have had in the city.

    I worry about the homogeneity here as I think any reasonable person would do, but I think it’s a mistake to assume that suburban life is unvaried and curveball-free and requires shopping at Wal-Mart. They no longer require you to turn over your brain when you leave the city limits.

  23. Wendy – Ooogly Boogly or not, your points are valid! I can relate to your nature concerns. My dad took us camping and fishing out in these amazing canyons all the time. Not quite the same as Central Park. So I guess it’s on me to get them camping with their grandfather, huh? I think I just came up with a plan for the summer….

    Jodi M – Girl. You are invited to my life every single day no matter what. I miss you!

    Oz – Denver WAS the big city to me when I grew up in Grand Junction, Colorado. So I still think of it as such. Sounds like you’ve found a really good middle ground.

    Rachel – I think no matter what, we are destined to feel guilt about some aspect of our children’s childhoods. There ARE awesome things about growing up in the city (just ask my son) and there ARE awesome things about growing up in the ‘burbs (just ask me.) Just enjoy where you are. I think that’s the lesson here.

    After Words – I think you have made an excellent point – people in the suburbs aren’t necessarily one-size-fits-all. There are lots of folks who have moved in from the big time, and you just have to find them. I’m so happy to hear your kids are loving CT. Really – what’s not to love there?

  24. I just wanted to comment on this article after reading it because from what I saw in the comments, its pretty much parents talking about experiences and such. I thought there should be a perspective from a “kid”. I’m a girl growing up in the suburbs, and honestly I would probably prefer the city. I know it seems like I’m being ungrateful for what I have, but hear me out. We have a fairly large house, and live in a very nice neighborhood. I go to a seemingly (papers-wise anyways) good school. But in a lot of ways, it’s worse than growing up in the city. The people I go to school with are so fake. Popularity and cliques are major parts of my school, and people are constantly trying to prove themselves. Who has the biggest house. The most expensive presents. The most money. And everyone is so uptight, always being pressured by parents that won’t accept a kid that is anything less than a super genius. Often times kids don’t feel like their parents care about them, because they’re always too preoccupied to pay attention to their kid, maybe once in a while tell them they love them. At my school, in just the last two weeks there have been two drug related arrests and somewhere between fifteen and twenty drug related suspensions. A lot of times, kids take drugs just solely to rebeland piss their parents off. I’ve met so many kids that are depressed, that have committed suicide. I know that a lot of you parents out there grew up in the suburbs, and back when you guys grew up, that was okay. But things have changed quite a bit since then. Just try to remember that when you’re deciding where to raise your kid. I won’t say I’m speaking for everybody, but honestly, I wouldn’t mind living in a small little apartment downtown. Because in this big house, you can feel start lonely real fast. So I hope that some of you maybe took the time to read out my comment. And I hope that the fact this post isn’t full of misspellings or text slang gives me at least a bit of credibility.

  25. Having moved from Queens to Long Island (where I grew up) last year and in the midst of getting ready to sell our house and move back to Queens I’ve been googling around for ‘wisdom’ regarding city v. suburb -> what’s better for raising kids. Your statement about kids just needing to feel loved really hit home and helped me a great deal. Thank you for that. However, what prompted me to write was the comment placed by ‘Keaton’. I really appreciate your comment, Keaton and thank you for posting it here. I too grew up in the suburbs and while I have a vague recollection of not really loving it, you have put into words some of the observations I made back in the day – the details of which have faded and clouded over as I’ve gotten older. I don’t think I’m any worse for the ware for having grown up in the suburbs but having tried it for a year with my own kids, I know it’s not an environment / experience I want them to call their own.

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