In a thought-provoking piece for The New York Times, columnist KJ Dell’Antonia wonders what effect her and her partner’s choice to move to the countryside may have had on their children’s independence. She quotes Dr. Richard Jackson, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of California: “Children who grow up in suburbia can’t meet their life needs without getting a ride somewhere.” For many expat families living in Beijing, this sentiment is likely to hit home.
When people look for a place to live, they consider factors that affect their family’s safety and well-being. One of the most basic is the rural-urban divide – or, in the case of many local expat families, the urban-suburban divide.
In her piece, Dell’Antonia writes:
The amount of time my children spend in a car being driven somewhere isn’t about being overscheduled or my hovering tendencies. It’s about the fact that unless I drive them, they’re limited (…). There are no sports, no movies, no after-school activities without my help.
One psychologist, Daniel Gilbert, noted in his book Stumbling on Happiness that people are happier when they live closer to friends or family. This brings up a lot of questions about how we should be choosing our homes. Does a backyard matter so much if you live close to bike trails or a major park? Can the same neighborhood be good for small children but terrible for teens?
There may also be other, more tangible benefits to living in an urban setting. One commenter said:
When we lived in New York City, our kids walked 2 miles (3.2km) a day just getting to and from school (and I walked 4, or 6.4km). When we arrived in Houston, we all immediately gained weight.
Living in Sihui, my boyfriend and I often wish that more of our friends lived in the area. We didn’t choose this neighborhood for its well-kept parks or hip hangouts (as it has very few of these things), but rather because we were rushed and on a budget. Still, I’d rather live here than return to the sleepy Montreal suburb that my sister and I grew up in. The joys of backyards and riding my bike around the block quickly wore off in middle school, when going to a friend’s house meant long bus rides and 30-minute wait times in -30°C and 30°C weather alike.
Though I wouldn’t choose to live in the suburbs myself, I can certainly empathize with the appeal of rural or suburban settings. My own parents traded in the tumult of China for a quiet home ringed with lilac bushes and maple trees, citing safety, breathing space, proximity to nature, and a strong sense of community as prerequisites for raising a family.
How have your lifestyle choices influenced your children’s independence? Why did you choose your current neighborhood? How are you taking pains to foster autonomy in your kids?