A crisis that travels right straight to the heart of modern marriage and parenting. (Scorpions and Centaurs/flickr)

Dear Steve,

My husband and I have two children and live in Boston proper. He wants to move to the suburbs (for the schools and a yard) and I want to stay in the city (for the urban environment). Our kids attend one of the top-rated Boston public schools.

How can we decide what to do, where to go, and when?


City Girl Stuck


Dear City Girl,

Your questions travel straight to the heart of modern marriage and parenting. Especially in what I suppose I must call “the greater Boston metropolitan area” which I would prefer to call “the Northeastern Balkan States of Mutual Antipathy and Tiresome Complaint.” What I mean, of course, is that everyone in this area pretty much thinks the city they live in is the best place ever, and every other city is crap, even though (taking the long view) we’re all living the same basic retail environment.

But there is this basic crisis that a lot of couples face, of whether to stay closer to the urban core or head out to the convenience of the dreaded suburbs. And I’m sympathetic with your position.

I lived in East Somerville for a dozen years and when we discovered that my wife was pregnant (and what’s worse, pregnant by me), we suddenly had to decide where to live. Because my bachelor pad, with its tiny bathroom and chips of candy-like lead paint, was not going to cut it. My whole thing was that I was a “Somerville guy,” and I wasn’t moving any further out, except maybe to Medford, which was a bit further out, but which felt scrappy enough not to count as the suburbs. So we looked at a bunch of places, including what appeared to be a drug den in Medford (I’m basing this on the gold-plated Jacuzzi and the spent casings in the basement). I personally liked the drug den. My wife did not. The last place I wanted to settle was Arlington, which I viewed as some kind of Stepford Zone where cool people went to breed and die.

Your questions travel straight to the heart of modern marriage and parenting.

After three weeks of frantic searching, we were sent a listing for a little house in East Arlington and, at the tail end of a long day of looking at other places, our scumbag realtor reluctantly drove us by.

My wife, who was not enjoying being pregnant, who was, I think, in a kind of low-level panic at the thought of cohabitating with me and another child for the rest of her life, fell immediately and profoundly silent. She walked from one bright tiny room to the next with a queer expression on her face. And, when she was done with all the rooms, and the backyard, she turned to me and said, “This is our house.”

To reiterate: my wife was pregnant. And: the baby was mine.

So I said … well, I forget exactly what I said. It probably involved some weasely attempt to impugn the town of Arlington, and to make it clear that I was a Somerville Guy, and did we really want to end up in a place where the drone of lawnmowers was going to drive us crazy and we couldn’t even see the Boston skyline, as if I’d ever spent even a single moment of my life staring at the Boston skyline.

But here’s the thing, City Girl: My wife really wanted to live in this house. I could see it in her eyes and her body and in her soul. Yes, I could deny her this house. I could make her live somewhere more in keeping my own fraudulent hipster-boho sense of myself, but then she would be miserable. And that meant that we would both be miserable. (Because, see, as a fraudulent hipster-bohemian, it’s kind of my job to be miserable.) So I basically capitulated.

Your situation is more complicated. There are older children at issue. And so on. But the basic rule for me, when it comes to marriage, is pretty basic: Who wants it more? Or, to put it more negatively — as is my wont — who is going to be made more miserable? That’s what you’ve got to figure out.

But the basic rule for me, when it comes to marriage, is pretty basic: Who wants it more?

The best piece of advice I can give you in meantime is to think deep and hard about why “city life” is important to you, and to ask your husband to think deep and hard about why he wants to move to an outlying area. (“City life” versus “school and yard” feels pretty pat.) Maybe there are suburbs that have some of the attributes you’re looking for. Or maybe there are adjustments you can make in your current situation that will assuage hubby’s concerns.

My hunch, though, is that if you make a great big list of plusses and minuses, and survey your friends and allow your kids to chime in and run an algorithm, it’s still going to boil down to the same basic question. You and your husband have to decide which one of you is going to take one for the team. And you both have to make your peace with the decision. The common term is marriage.

But hey, what the hell do I know? I live in the suburbs.

Steve ♥

Okay folks, now it’s your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don’t have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

Tags: Advice, Family, Relationships

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  • EB

    Totally spot on. Except, hipster, Arlington is not the burbs. We just moved from Somerville to andover. THIS is the burbs. :-)

  • Bill

    Giggle – Arlington is as much the burbs as Somerville or Brookline, i.e. it isn’t.

    One line in the article completely missed the mark: “convenience of the dreaded suburbs”. Suburbs are anything but. No public transit, commuting to work, having to drive forever to get to anything more interesting than big box stores and chain restaurants. Dreaded, yes. Convenient? Every person I’ve talked to who wanted to move to city was because it’s more convenient.

    • samuelpepys

      Somerville and Brookline are on the T, have multiple bus services, and real student/artist/writer/musician presence. Arlington, well, not. It has lawns, mostly tiny ones. Still, if I was longing for a vegetable garden (and chickens!) I’d move there.

      Unless of course I had a child, who’d grow up dependent on me and my car, pampered, isolated from the world’s diversity and the facts of economic/racial inequality, a narcissistic plug-in to the latest products from Apple….

      In short, I’m a child of the suburbs: left at 17, never looked back.

  • JJHayle

    You guys can compromise.! Find a city or town in close proximity to Boston but far enough away to deal with the annoying lawn mowing on Sunday mornings. I live in Milton and we’re not moving anywhere that’s more than a 30 minute commute.

  • AF

    We love raising our family here in Somerville. Our kids are getting a good education, and better, they are becoming independant and responsible at a younger age then our friends who bolted to the ‘burbs. Speaking of which- – now we’ve become more careful about who we invite over and get close with. We’ve gotten better at screening them for big yard envy, or certain ‘test score’ anxieties.

  • Kitty

    We just moved from Central Sq. to Lynnfield with our infant daughter and even though we miss the funky stores and restaurants, the T being two blocks away and being close to lots of friends, our new neighborhood is amazing. We didn’t get half the neighborly experience in Cambridge over the 4 yrs we lived there as we did in our new house in a week. Also, not being in a condo association in your 30s is the equivalent of not having to have a roommate in your 20s. LIFE CHANGER. And guess what, we go to the city almost every weekend. It’s 20 minutes down Rt. 1. Daycare is cheaper, also.

  • Guest

    My husband was born and raised in Dorchester. He moved to Southie in his 20s and stayed there til he was 35. I lived in Tewksbury, went to school in Fitchburg and also moved to Southie in my 20s. We had a one year old and was expecting our second. I wanted to move out of the city…he really didn’t. I said find us an affortable house, with a yard, parking and preferably single family in Southie and we can stay. Well that didn’t happen. My husband reluctantly agreed to look outside the city. When we found a home he couldn’t believe he was actually moving out of the city. I got city boy out? Even his mom who still lives in Dorchester was upset. She was in her late 70s and does not drive on the highway. She was crushed. The first time I went to pick her up to come to our house I called her leaving and when I arrived. It was 16 min door to door. We have been in Stoneham now for 7 years and we both truly love it! He calls this home. It really isn’t that bad. Good luck

  • SueMcG

    I’m single, so I can’t address the “who makes the decision” aspect of
    this issue, but I want to assure “City Girl” that the Boston
    metropolitan area offers a lot of “suburban” options that are far from
    the stereotype. She might want to look into some of the inner suburbs
    within or close to 128 that are served by commuter rail, giving quick
    and relatively painless access to the city’s cultural treasures. Many of these towns are very walkable and feature homes with a lot more character than the cookie-cutter sameness of the automobile-dependent
    developments found further out. Some of these older town have very
    nice downtowns with great restaurants and entertainment options. So take
    a good look around before you write off “the suburbs.” You may be
    surprised at what you find.

  • Laura

    The definition of suburbs, well, my definition anyway, is: “You can’t get anywhere useful without a car”. East Arlington (where I also live), most definitely does not meet that definition. You’ve got the 77 bus, the bike path, and you’re in walking distance to Alewife. Having grown up in a town where I couldn’t get ANYWHERE without begging my mom for a ride, this is heaven. Now that they’ve eased up on the liquor laws, you even have a tavern in walking distance! Not to mention a library, an art gallery, several bakeries, a bunch of good restaurants and a movie theater within a few blocks. Suburbs? Not by my definition…

  • JG

    We just moved from Somerville to the ‘burbs. I have been dreading the move for a long time, knowing it was coming. Leaving our awesome city neighborhood, my walking commute to work, the restaurants, and all of our friends would be really hard for me. But, as this advice has suggested, my husband wanted it more. He wanted a project, to work with his hands, to provide a place for our baby and us to live and grow. And we did it: we bought a 2-family in the ‘burbs. The thing that really got me on board was economics: our monthly living expenses were slashed in HALF. In 5 years, if everything goes as we hope it will, we are giving ourselves the option to come back to the city. If we really hate it, if we find ourselves back in Somerville every weekend and start making up excuses about why we “need” to eat brunch at neighborhood restaurant, we’ll move back. We’ll downsize. We’ll make it work. I think knowing that this is not a forever choice, that we can still keep the things we love most about where we live, we’ll be ok. And, who knows, maybe I’ll even like it?

    • Jen

      I agree about cost. There is no way we could have afforded to stay in the city with kids – if you are really well off, I completely see the benefits. If you are middle class/lower middle class, it isn’t really an option for most people. We had a price range – we looked in and out of the city – the places in the city were tiny and in terrible condition, we found a small move-in ready place in the suburbs. Yes, cars will be an expense but they would have been anyway since we neither of us works on the T.

  • massappeal

    Nice and entertaining column. Wonderful comments above. Here’s my .02 for City Girl Stuck:

    1 – Don’t move to the suburbs “for the schools”. With children already attending “one of the top-rated Boston public schools”, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better academic education for them than the one already available to them. Added plus for staying in the city: your kids are likely to get a better social education in Boston than in a more (racially/economically) segregated town.

    2 – You can buy a house with a yard in Boston. There are literally tens of thousands of them. Added bonus: public parks and recreation facilities far better than most towns.

    3 – You didn’t mention safety, but the urban teen mortality rate is lower than the suburban teen mortality rate. (Different preferences for the deadly weapon with which to assault: handguns in the city, cars in the suburbs.)

    4 – You also didn’t mention money, but it’s worth noting that residential property taxes in Boston tend to be lower than in the surrounding suburbs (because Boston has that great property tax subsidy known as “downtown”).

    Having said all that, arguably the most important thing for your kids is that you and your spouse work this out and present a “united front” to your children on this decision (and many others). Good luck!

  • cgleason

    Good points all around.

    Moving out of our Cambridge apartment, we knew that we’d be buying somewhere – rents had become so unreasonable and, frankly, we were tired of being in the same market as undergrads. I didn’t have any strong attachment to the city, and my fiancé had strict public transit rules. We compromised on Watertown (we looked in Medford & Arlington, as well) – the 70 is at the end of the street, and we’re a mile from Watertown Sq, which has buses to Harvard & Boston.

    Moving into our (4br! 1.5 bath! renovated kitchen!) house was like coming home – we know our neighbors and our mail carrier, and we still have a rich social life. Added to that, our 1/10 acre is a perfect little bit of land, and the the neighborhood is fun and diverse, and not in the least bit stuffy. There are options out there that can work for everyone…

  • eat_swim_read

    It’s a tedious cliché to sneer at the suburbs and exurbs. Artists who need space, like metal artists, move out. There are arts, literary types and plenty of music you can patronize (and get to know the artists) in out-lying areas. Open your eyes, you’ll see.

  • fun bobby

    you stopped being hip when you got married. let it go

  • Jill

    My husband and I debate this regularly. What no one has mentioned, though, is cost! When we started looking for some more space, a yard and parking in the “near” suburbs, we found we were priced out. (Have you seen what 3-bed, 1 bath mini houses in E Arlington are going for? !?) Even going father out didn’t help much if we still wanted commuter rail access. So for now, the cost/benefit analysis still favors staying in the city in our small but really convenient place in southie.

  • suburbanite

    For what it’s worth Money Magazine just voted Sharon, Massachusetts #1 in their list of Best Places to Live in America 2013 (small town edition).

  • Eric Herot

    Something mentioned rarely here but, in my opinion, pretty important: People often move to the suburbs because they have this fantasy that having a yard will make their children more well-adjusted, but they’re ignoring a few really important benefits toward children in the city. In a city, you can easily expect to live within walking distance of playgrounds, other kids’ houses, and local hangouts. This means your kids will be able to entertain themselves past age 11 without depending on their parents to ferry them around by car. And then when they turn 16, they won’t “need” an (expensive, deadly) vehicle to go hang out with their friends or go to the movies. If your idea of good parenting is to only let them experience your neighborhood at the end of a leash, and you view the side-streets of Roslindale, Somerville or Jamaica Plain as being inherently not a safe place for children, then it’s easy to see how you would convince yourself that the suburbs are really the solution, but I would strongly encourage you to take a closer look at where the real risks lay.

  • Antonio

    In all fairness, I have found that the suburbs adjacent to Boston are now reflecting some of the diversity of the city. I see this from the local businesses to the demographics. I love the convenience of my own home with the proximity of the city. I also love my neighbors and the different cultures they represent. If anything, we should be grateful to have such a high degree of choice.

  • PaulD

    I wish I was so cool.

    Since you all hate the burbs so much, stay in the city, especially for your bike riding hobby. Stop coming out to the burbs and screwing up traffic by riding 3 or 4 abreast (yes, if you drive though Concord or Carlisle, a large % of those cyclists are from Boston, Somerville, etc). Also, try paying for your own public transportation instead of funding it through state gas taxes or taxes on the software industry.

  • Docas Laranch

    I was married for 8years with out any child,because of this my husband start acting very strange at home,coming home late and not spending time with me any more.So i became very sad and lost in life because my doctor told me there is no way for me to get pregnant this really make life so hard for me and my sister in law told me about Prophet Osaze from the Internet,how he has helped people with this similar problem that i am going through so i contacted him and explain to him.he cast a spell and it was a miracle three days later my husband can back to apologize for all he has done and told me he is fully ready to support me in any thing i want,few month later i got pregnant and gave birth to twins (girls) we are happy with ourselves. Thanks to Prophet Osaze for saving my relationship and for also saving others too. continue your good work, If you are interested to contact him and testify this blessings like me, the great spell caster email address:spirituallove@hotmail. com