Setting Down Roots

We are at a crossroads.

In a little less than two months the lease on our downtown Chicago apartment expires.  It is a spacious home for a city apartment – two bedrooms and 2 1/2 bathrooms on two floors – but our family of five has definitely outgrown it. Its time for us to move on, even though I love our neighborhood and the people we’ve come to know here.

So, now we have to decide where to live…and, ultimately, where to set down roots for our growing family.  Evie will start kindergarten in a year or two, so I’d like to settle down for her sake.

Its a big decision and I’m not so sure I’m ready to make it. I could easily see myself living in the country, city or suburbs.  Each lifestyle has its share of pros and cons…


I grew up in a very rural environment.  Directly across the street from my home was a fully functioning dairy farm, and my family raised chickens and geese and lambs.  For fun we rode horses and jumped out of the hayloft.  My dad planted vegetables in a huge garden. My sisters and I witnessed the birth of countless kittens, and a big German shepherd protected the whole lot of us.  It was a wonderful childhood spent largely outdoors, and now whenever I catch a whiff of alfalfa or cow manure I’m instantly transported back to a simpler time in my life.

However, life could be pretty remote.  No doubt my very patient mom spent far too many hours in the car shuttling us to various practices and playdates.  There was no such thing as a quick errand – the nearest grocery store was a 15 minute drive.  The bus ride home at the end of the school day was 45 minutes long.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure I could handle all that car time because I hate driving for so many reasons: the drag on the planet, the price of gas, the sedentary aspect of it, getting the kids buckled in (and out).

And, not really having any neighbors makes it harder to spend time with (and make!) friends.  I’d like to live in a place where its easy to enjoy a last-minute glass of wine with a fun couple from down the street.  I want potluck dinners and a book club with people who are in a similar stage of life as me.


Many people think raising kids in a city is crazy, but it is surprisingly easy and enjoyable.    Everything we could possibly need is a short walk from home: within a four block radius we have three grocery stores, a hardware store, several coffee shops, restaurants, a movie theater, beautiful Lake Michigan, busy Michigan Avenue.  Chris walks to work, and I walk Evie home from school. I rarely take the car anywhere; if our destination isn’t walkable, the kids and I easily jump on a bus.

I really love the diversity of city living.  My kids have friends from all parts of the world: Argentina, Italy, Japan, India.  We never know what sort of character we’ll pass on the sidewalk: a crazy dog lady, funny hipster, forlorn homeless man, hurried businesswoman, hardworking policeman.  All these unique people are subtly teaching my kids about life and the world.  And I am grateful for every one of them.

However, city living can lack the sense of community I desire.  Its a transient place – people come and go.  As soon as we make good friends, they move to a suburb or across the country or back to their home country.  I want to live in a place where our community is somewhat stable.  I want to make more friends!

Another problem with city living is that its nearly impossible to find good space for a larger family like ours.  I’d love a basement for all the kids’ stuff, and a backyard sure would be nice when they’re wiley and rowdy and need to release some energy.  Little luxuries like that just don’t exist in the heart of a big city.


My husband grew up in a suburban environment.  He rode his bike to his friends’ houses, walked across the street to the city pool and passed through his back yard to the elementary school. While my husband was in grad school for two years we lived in a suburb, and life was pretty easy and quaint.  It was nice to wake up to the smell of freshly cut grass and the chirping of social birds!

However, the suburbs don’t offer the space I grew up with or the diversity and amenities I am now used to.  Neighbors might be privy to more than I’m comfortable with, and I probably wouldn’t have the space to grow the garden of my dreams.  A decent amount of car time would no doubt be required, which really bums me out.  While the kids would have plenty of friends nearby, would that take away from the family time I treasure?

Its a daunting decision, and we’re running out of time.  Any advice for me???

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17 Comments for this entry

  1. Rachel Sepe says:

    Move to the village 🙂 best of all worlds and a great neighborhood school- really is Mayberry

  2. My family has lived in the village of Barrington since 1980 and I’d say we may possibly have the best of all worlds. If you lived in the village you would be close to your extended family and you would also have neighbors. We have public and a private school. We have a little ice cream shop, a little movie theater, and everyone has a dog. The train can take you to Chicago and more bike paths are on their way. We have a farmer’s market on Thursdays and an art fair once a year. You’ll never find a community that is perfect, but this may be close. And, most of all, we would love to have you!

  3. Bonnie says:

    Sounds like the City is where you should be. 🙂 Best wishes!

  4. Mandie says:

    I have lived in small town Ohio, Bourbonnais, IL, moderate town Connecticut and now Boston. I too, can not imagine not living in the city where I can walk or take public transportation to where I need to go. I can’t imagine not having the museums, aquarium or zoo to go to during a couple of free hours. We plan on moving back to IL when my husband is finished with school and I have this mental debate as well. Some friends of ours live in Lisle and love it. They can bike/walk to the train, library, town center, etc. The also have a yard and a good size garden. I know they moved there for the good schools as well.
    It is such a difficult decision, I have anxiety now just thinking about what we’re going to do in four years, so I can only imagine how you feel now! Good luck!

  5. Teresa says:

    Hi! WoW! A very challenging time for you. How about the country! Your children have had the city experience and maybe it would be nice to now have the open space. I agree with the more negative aspects of rural – especially the driving. But the freedom to run and explore nature, maybe have some animals and grow a garden would more then compensate. Hopefully you could find a few acres not too far from amenities. Good Luck!

  6. Courtney says:

    What about Tower Lakes? It was such a great place to grow up and felt a little more rural than downtown Barrington 🙂 Also, there are some cool neighborhoods on the Southside (Beverly comes to mind) that have gorgeous houses, strong community, and are close to the city. But, what a huge decision. We’re struggling with a similar decision and I change my mind every day.

  7. Colleen says:

    Are there any neighborhoods that have more of a ‘neighborhood’ feel while still being in the city? We went through this same dilemma about 2 years ago. We lived in a 2 bedroom apartment in the city (DC) until our son was a year old and then briefly rented a house in the ‘burbs to see if we liked it. We really missed being able to walk everywhere (including to work) and a lot of the families in the neighborhood had children much older than our son so in a way, we felt a bit isolated. We ended up buying a row home back in DC in a neighborhood that has a real sense of community but is about a 10 minute walk from a main street with a grocery store, gym, shops and restaurants and an abundance of parks. And, it’s only a 10 min drive with light traffic to my husband’s office. The one big drawback is we do not have much of a backyard and our son LOVES to play sports. But, the elementary school up the street has a huge field and that has become our backyard. I know at some point we may have to hit the ‘burbs but this seems to be a good transitional neighborhood for now. I like to say it’s the best of both worlds! Good luck with whatever you decide!!

  8. katie says:

    It sounds like you a city neighborhood that’s more established and family-oriented would be great for you. There are so many great neighborhoods on the northside, many where families settle and stay – we live in a quiet corner of Lakeview that’s very family oriented – the block south of us has 37 kids, our building alone has 10 and the school is great so people stay. Our neighborhood is walkable to everything necessary (Trader Joe’s, hardware store, clothing shops, restaurants, antique stores). And, it’s a quick trip on the Brownline to head downtown. Northcenter, Roscoe Village, Lincoln Square, Buena Park and Lincoln Park all have neighborhoods within them that would meet the city needs you’ve described. Good luck with your decision!

  9. Amanda says:

    What a tough decision! We moved from Chicago to Ann Arbor, MI last year and it was such a difficult decision (and transition)! I loved living in Chicago – which is truly an exceptional city – but we chose to buy a house that is in a family-oriented neighborhood, close to the university, that gives us the walkability we desired and bus access close by. There were other homes/neighborhoods further from the city center that would have cost us less and given us more room, but we really wanted that feeling of still living in a city, albeit a smaller one 🙂 Good luck with your decision!

  10. When I was younger, I was sure I would live in a city when I grew up. I loved the diversity, the excitement, the convenience, the buzz. But life led me to the suburbs (although we’re in a 2nd-ring suburb, so it’s almost more rural). And I have to say, I love it! From where I write now, I look out on beautiful woods and a lake. We have a big yard and a huge vegetable garden, but we’re still 5 minutes from grocery stores/Target/all the conveniences you need with little kids, two cute small towns, and the interstate that leads us to downtown in less than half an hour. I feel happy with this mix of both worlds – feel like country living’s joys with the benefits of having neighbors nearby and all the gifts of the city close enough to enjoy as well. Good luck with your discernment – it’s a big one!

  11. Renee says:

    A small town is a great compromise. I have 4 children and feel safe raising them here. They are within walking distance to all of their schools and functions. They can rides bikes to friends homes and if we need to go to the city we can go 20 minutes west or 40 minutes east.

  12. Mary says:

    We chose to move our family from the suburbs to the country when our kids were young and impressionable. I grew up in the suburbs, but longed for the country myself. When I was a young girl, I would spend parts of my summers at my grandparents farm in western Illinois and then in northern Wisconsin for 2 weeks of Girl Scout Camp. I loved the quiet and peace of the country. I always wanted horses too and when I moved to the country, finally, with my husband and five children, we invested in equine pursuits and other farm animals as well. It was a slice of heaven! I did have fond memories though, of growing up in suburbia, where the neighbors were close and there were always kids around to play with and ride bikes. Plus, we could walk to school and town. I think my regrets in moving our family to the country is that they don’t have those memories, but I have to admit, they probably don’t miss what they didn’t have. I can pretty much say with 100% certainty that each of my children didn’t love their home 99% of the time! Today, I can see the positive aspects to living in the city, but those weren’t necessarily a reality when I raised my children, especially in Chicago! On the negative side, though, exhaust and over stimulation in a restless environment, such as a large city, may impede optimal health, independence and creativity. That said, I believe children are like plants and they need fresh air and sunshine to grow up well and healthy. If you are unsure of the demands that a rural environment might pose, a village/suburb is a good choice.

  13. Mary says:

    Meant to say, “loved their home…”!

  14. Mana says:

    I have arranged to bring in the Cavalry to guard the gates of the City so that you, Chris, Evie, Mack and Vivian can’t move away ! :((
    Papa and I have loved living just up the shore from you. We treasure the precious moments we have been able to share with you.
    However we know that it may be best for you all to move on to greener pastures. If that is the case you can be sure we will find you !
    P.S. I did like the Katie’s ideas that are posted above best of all.

  15. Emily says:

    We went through the exact same struggle two years ago. We loved raising kids in the city for all the conveniences and experiences you mention but we longed for more space and a simpler life. We spent countless hours looking at larger apartments, suburban homes, etc. We eventually settled on a home in country subdivision in a smaller town. All the benefits of having neighbors with none of the negatives. And we still have a horse farm across the street.

  16. Virginia says:

    We have a similar dilemma going on. From your writing it sound like Chris spends a lot of time working. So I wouldn’t think he would want to add hours in commuting time. This is a big deal for me. So I guess I agree with a those who mentioned a more family focused area in the city. Have you thought about Andersonville? Sauganash or Edgebrook? or what about Evanston? Good Luck either way. I know how stressful this can be.

  17. Your pros and cons sounds a lot like ours when it comes to this question, except I’m pretty sure we’ve ruled out suburbs (although parts of St. Louis City really have more of a suburban feel), other than what people here call the “inner ring” suburbs.

    For now, we’re going with renting in the city for another year, after doing some house hunting and not seeing anything we wanted to buy. I really like reading about your adventures in a big, dense city with good access to public transit. If we didn’t have family in the area, I’d be tempted to move to Chicago!

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