Raising kids in New York City
When people think about raising kids in New York City, they probably go on about small spaces and noisy streets. They forget about the things that our kids will learn. Like all the different cultures, languages, art forms, and people they will be exposed to.
Living in New York City is exciting, full of opportunities and non-stop entertaining. Lunamag.com spoke with one of the coolest mums about raising kids in the Big Apple. The perks and the challenges.
You can spot Amanda from far away, with her beautiful grey/white hair (a genetic thing). Born in Alaska 41 years ago, she lived in Portland for 10 years to study photography and then ended up in New York to work in art and architecture.
In 2010 she started a kids blog after the birth of her first child. It is called Coos & Ahhs. Back then it was hard to find thoughtfully designed baby things and Amanda wanted to preserve her personal style. No cartoon characters all over her small apartment for example.
Unfortunately her day job has become so demanding with too many hours spent on a computer during the day that in 2017 she stopped updating the blog.
Instead she started a new creative journey. Natural dyeing with botanical, minerals and kitchen waste that goes under the name a_db botanical.
I always need a creative outlet and I love to do something with my hands. That often brings me into nature to forage or gardening which I love.
Amanda and her children Henry, 8 (he wants to be a dj or a lifeguard when he is older), and Adela, 6 (who wants to be a fashion designer) recently moved to Maplewood. Together with her husband Alain, who is from Bogota, Colombia, and their cat called Boris they are living the ‘green suburb life’ now.
Luna: Amanda, did you ever imagine to live and raise a family in New York?
Amanda: Yes and no. I grew up in Alaska and even as a little girl I longed for city life. I dreamed of London and Paris. So I was always drawn to the city, but I am surprised that I am still here. As for raising a family in NYC- never! I didn’t even think I would have children much less in New York.
Do you feel it is a great place to live with children?
That is a difficult question for me to answer right now. After living in Brooklyn for 13 years and 7 of them with kids, I moved to the suburbs in 2016. I was so committed to raising my children in Brooklyn and we were just beginning to make things click with school, apartment and work when our landlord decided to sell the building we lived in. After so many years bouncing around from apartments we knew it was time to buy something and what we could get in Brooklyn compared to the suburbs – there was no question it was time to leave.
It was a tough pill to swallow.
New York City is such a unique place—both good and bad. I loved raising my kids in Brooklyn because they interact with so many different types of people from all over the world.
I have always wanted this for my family, since I didn’t have that growing up in Alaska. I do think it is a great place to live with children—but it takes a lot of money and luck in my opinion.
What do you love most about it?
I love all the food and culture, but it is great to just walk out your door and go to the park or see a concert or movie while the sun sets over the skyline. There is that magic of the city — the unexpected that makes it so alive.
And what is the biggest struggle?
Oh god, I could write a lot here. The smallest things can turn into huge struggles. Laundry, parking, groceries. It adds up and wears on you.
The two biggest challenges for us were school and housing. NYC public schools are zoned by what neighborhood you live in, and the difference between neighborhoods can be glaring and even within the neighborhoods some schools are great and others are not. So finding an affordable apartment, that is big enough for your family in a nice neighborhood and zoned for a good school — is really really hard and stressful. We eventually got the formula perfect, and then the owner sold the building!
I know that you used to live in Brooklyn for many years. Williamsburg the hipster hood. How was that?
Yes, I lived in the Southside of Williamsburg for five years. We lived in a 6 floor walk-up in the Hasidic area. I loved living there. That apartment is where we had our first child, and only moved out when I was 7 months pregnant with number two. I really could no longer carry a 2 year old up 6 flights of stairs with a giant belly! The struggle is real!
Williamsburg at that time was just blossoming into the family neighborhood it is today. There was a mix of the hipster culture and all the hipsters having kids. It was such a fun time. I met so many amazing moms that I am still friends with.
I don’t think hipsters can afford Williamsburg any longer — but it is still very cool.
Now you moved out of NYC and bought a house in the suburbs. Was there a specific moment that made you leave?
We tried very hard to stay in Brooklyn. I vowed I would never leave and especially never move to New Jersey! We attempted to buy the building that we were living in but it was millions of dollars. It was a bit of a crazy idea — but we were desperate! So it was either moving to a neighborhood further out in Brooklyn or going to Queens or Staten Island – and none of that appealed to me.
One afternoon I was having lunch with a friend, who is an amazing graphic designer and overall cool person, and I was complaining about my housing problem when he says, “Why not look in Maplewood?”. And I thought – hmm okay.
The first time we went to look at houses in Maplewood, New Jersey, we saw beautiful 100 year old homes with giant yards and trees everywhere. It was like another world!
On the drive back to Brooklyn that afternoon my husband and I turn to each other and say “I don’t think so!” (laughs) We were brainwashed by the City!
Of course, we eventually warmed up to the idea, and found an adorable house that is perfect for us. Maplewood is a very special suburb. There is a huge exodus from Brooklyn to Maplewood since you can actually buy a home here. The schools are fantastic, you are 30 minutes from midtown Manhattan by train and it is extremely diverse for a suburban town.
Now I cannot believe I live in a house that we own and I can still work in New York City!
I don’t live my life with regrets. And I don’t feel like we totally left the city. I commute everyday to Manhattan for my job and we still have tons of friends in Brooklyn, so we end up there a lot. It is 45 minutes by car.
The annoying part is if I want to go out after work or have a late work event it takes forever to get home by train, and I end up getting a very expensive uber.
Tell us a little more about this area you found – Maplewood.
Maplewood is a town just outside of NYC. 30 minutes direct on NJ transit from Penn Station. The area is very suburban with 100+ year old homes and lush gardens. It is a very popular area for ex-Brooklyn types.
Almost everyone previously lived in either Brooklyn, Manhattan or Jersey City. The village has a great main street with lovely coffee shops, bakeries, a bookstore, shops (similar to ones you’d find in Williamsburg or Park Slope). It is extremely diverse and most people I’ve met are in the creative industries. The area is surrounded by a mountain reservation where we like to hike. All the towns in NJ have their own town pool and Maplewood’s is fantastic! We spend almost everyday there in the summer.
How about the kids? What do they think about their new place and neighborhood?
Luckily kids are flexible. They missed Brooklyn at first. I was surprised that they really missed sharing a room. In the new house they have their own rooms. Now they love it. Our next door neighbor has kids the same age so they just go play on their own. I feel like City living with kids you are always corralling them. Having to watch them and chaperone all activities. It’s good for kids to play on their own without adults tracking their every move – free range children!
Can you share with us how your family works?
I work full-time in Manhattan for the architect Daniel Libeskind. My husband works part-time at night so he can take the kids to and from school during the day. Then he works till mid-night 4 days a week. We need him to be around during the day for the kids. So when I get home from work he goes to work. We are tag-team parents, but it has always been like this. My job requires me to travel a bit so my husband needs to a have flexible work schedule. He cooks all the meals and does most of the housekeeping. When I come home from work around 7, he is out the door for work. He has dinner ready and I just do the kids nighttime routine.
The kids both go to public school, which is a 5 minute bike ride from our home.
What do you usually do during the week ends?
Just within the last couple of months my husband has had weekends off. It is amazing to finally get to spend time together as a family! We spend a lot of time at home, in the garden, on weekends. There is a huge mountain reservation near us that is great to explore. They have a whole section where people have built fairy houses in the woods. In the summer, our town pool opens and we spend all our time there!
Childcare/ Schools – how tricky is it to find a good school and a spot at daycare? Does it break the bank?
There are so many good schools in NYC. If you have money and can afford to buy or rent in a neighborhood with great schools it is not hard. Some people get super lucky too and find that rare affordable apartment. New Yorkers just make it work. We had our kids in an excellent school with dual language French and Spanish programs — but finding it was a full-time job. And that included tearful phone calls to principals and hours of begging for a spot. Not to mention a kindergarten year at a terrible school for my son!
Your top tips to raising kids in a big city?
I wouldn’t say I am an expert or anything but I think my top tips would be:
– Don’t forget to let your kids be bored. Of course you need to supervise your children much more in the city, so there is a tendency to over program their lives. But I think it’s good to have un-programmed time when you are a child.
– Get a library card! Public libraries are such a great resource in the city and free!
If not NY where would you love to live?
I would love to live in the country in France, England or Italy and be independently wealthy- haha!
Would you like to discover a different corner of the world and how it is to raise kids? Have a look at our gripping Life as a single mum in Tokyo interview.