Resource Center

Don’t Fear the Suburbs

It’s a common rite of passage for young parents in many urban areas, but especially New York City: the move to the suburbs. Obviously, not everyone goes that route (or getting into middle school would be a whole lot easier) but for some, the question isn’t if, but when, how and where.

Where is obviously important. But while most people know to consider the basics, like the commute, the housing stock and the schools, Alison Bernstein of Suburban Jungle Realty advises her clients to take into account the more amorphous qualities of the many communities around the city.

“In my experience, moving out of the city is like going back to high school,” she told me. “You worry about how you’ll fit in, how you’re going to make friends, whether you’ll be isolated, especially if one-half of the couple plans to stay home with young children.”

But considering the true character of a community means knowing what you want out of a community: who you are and how you plan to raise your family. Children are affected by their peers and so are we; what looks like the norm going on around you influences the way you think about what constitutes “normal” family life.

“Think about whether you want a more laid-back community, or one that’s driven by finances,” Ms. Bernstein suggested. “Whether you expect your kids to spend summers at camp or around the country club pool. Think about what a ‘great school’ really means to you. Do you see small class sizes as socially limiting or nurturing?”

And while you’re thinking, consider what a luxury it is to have this choice. Even if the move out of the city isn’t a financially easy one (choices, and maybe even the choice to leave at all, are usually dictated by your money situation) in many parts of the country, the community is the community. Move to Atlanta or Kansas City, and there may be some options, but the smaller the place you move to, the more likely you are to find yourself adapting to circumstances rather than looking for a place where you will already feel at home.

It’s famously who and what we live near, rather than the size of our house or our yard, that makes us happy. In the long run, couples who sit down and make a conscious choice about how they want to live their lives stand a better chance of a successful move than those who fall for a house first, and ask questions later. It’s surely possible to over think it, but better that than not to think about the bigger picture at all.

A shorter version of this post appeared in print on July 19, 2012, on page D2 of the New York City edition with the headline Not All Suburbs Are Alike.