I have been married 25 years and have parented for 20. I have observed a lot of other families. And one thing I have noticed is that a family’s location is a huge factor in the happiness and “health” of the family.
My title is an old real estate quote which emphasizes how crucial the location of any particular property is to its desirability. But as I’ve observed families shopping for homes and pursuing their dreams, I’ve realized how easy it is to set aside this mantra for other qualities, such appearance, size, privacy, acreage, climate, or certain “cool factors.”
As they say, you can change a lot about a property, but you can’t change its location.
What makes a good location for raising a family? Every family is a little different, but here are some considerations:
- Babysitting! Having some good babysitting options nearby can make a huge difference in the mental health of a young mom, as well as in her marriage. Super bonus points if the options are family or friends trusted enough for overnights.
- Church life – If you have a church you like, and you want to be involved beyond a weekly service, proximity is key. We personally have found it difficult to truly connect with a group farther than 15-20 minutes away.
- School – Most public- or private-school families are aware of the advantages of settling in a good district, but homeschool families often feel free and unaffected. This may be the case in the short-term, but I’ve seen enough families where circumstances or desires change. Be wary of painting yourself into a corner with no good educational options.
- Enrichment activities – As children get older, think about what kind of activities are available to them (or you) in a given area: music, sports, outdoor life, the arts, scouting, employment, etc.
- Job commute – Sometimes a longer commute can be worth it if it allows for a higher quality of life in other areas. For others, it can steal too much time and create too much stress.
- Extended family – If your relatives are supportive, it can be a real gift to give your children memories of growing up with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The coolest places and experiences in the world cannot make up for it. (Conversely, if relationships are toxic, it may be important to put some space between you and them.)
- Friends – How far would you have to drive just to “hang out” on a lonely afternoon? Even though I’m personally an introvert, having familiar friends nearby greatly boosts my daily life experience. ETA: As your children grow, they too will have increasing need to spend time with good friends. You will be able to get by without much friend-time while they are younger, but by puberty, the game really changes.
Modern life being what it is, it’s unlikely you could find a home that perfectly checks all these boxes. However they are good things to think through.
So you don’t have all these benefits in one spot. How do you choose where to land? Well, there is one place you don’t want to move to. That is between your benefits. Between means that you are close to nothing. The first home we bought was an hour or more to family, church, and work. But it was beautiful, and it was right in the middle of these locations so we thought it made sense. After the novelty wore off, we found ourselves isolated and lonely. You want to be close to something.
I’d like to talk about a bit about living in the country, since many families see that as the ideal. It can be ideal, but it can also take you away from every one of the considerations on the above list. Most of our homes have been in the country and these are some thoughts I have on it:
- Living in the country is generally more expensive than city living. More property maintenance, more gas and vehicle expenses, and often higher purchasing prices.
- Living in the country is more inconvenient than city living. Are you in a good season of life for that?
- Having a good vehicle with good mileage is important
- The warmer months in the country are wonderful, but it can feel very isolated in the winter. Winter evenings are cold, dark, and long where we live. Our kids are often bouncing off the walls with cabin fever.
- Kids do not really reap the unique benefits of country life until they are a little older. A good yard to play in is all they really need when they are small.
- One bad scenario I’ve noticed is when both parents of a homeschooling family are introverts and they move into the country. The family tends to become more and more self-centered. As the children grow, the extroverts become miserable, and the introverts become socially un-adjusted. This is often the case that produces the “weird homeschooler.” (Of course, this can happen anywhere, but it seems to happen easier out in the boonies.)
Sometimes, a decent house in town or on the outskirts, with a nice yard and proximity to parks and trails, or a stable, etc, can be a better option than living in the country for some people.
I’m not necessarily trying to talk anyone out of living in the country. I love the beauty and privacy it offers. But it’s good to understand the cons as well as the pros, and to have your eyes wide open when entering a big financial commitment such as a house.
Want to try out a location without making an expensive mistake? Consider renting first.
I’ve noticed it is detrimental to move around frequently. Building a life is a process and takes time. Every time you make a (major) move, you are in essence tearing down your progress and starting over. You are repeatedly uprooting the plant, hoping it will grow better somewhere else.
If I were to boil down most of my thoughts, they have to do with community and roots. Our modern culture does not value these concepts. Today’s ideal is to leave the people who know you and go somewhere else, looking for experiences. It’s fun for awhile and may even be valuable while you’re single, but community and roots keep a family life healthy. There’s joy in the gifts and support in the sorrows. Which come to us all.
If you are able to capture these values in a physical location, you are lucky indeed.