I’ve said it before: I never envisioned myself living in New York City as a mid-30s, married mom. But here I am. My son will be 3 (already!) in April, just when his sister is due to arrive. We’ve somehow been making it work in a two-bedroom apartment in the furthest reaches of Manhattan, juggling full-time jobs with commutes while raising Finn. As I now feel like I have some experience under my belt (instead of wondering around in a daze, which is the best way to describe the first year of motherhood), I thought I’d share what it’s like to be a parent in one of the largest, busiest cities in the world.
We live in Washington Heights, in a generally less-expensive neighborhood than other parts of Manhattan. We moved here from a one-bedroom in Harlem when Finn was just under three-months-old—we were going to pay $200 more a month for that one-bedroom than the two-bedroom we got here. So, Finn has his own room (though he hasn’t necessarily been fond of sleeping in it throughout the night for much of his life). His play space is our living room, which is pretty common from what we’ve seen of other parents’ homes. We have a tall IKEA organizer that keeps his toys semi-contained. If we have guests stay over, we blow up an air mattress in the living room. In the past, Finn bunked with us and visitors stayed in his room, but once we decided he needed sleep training, that stopped.
My friends and family who live outside the city ask how we do it. The answer is that we don’t know any other way. We’ve never known what it’s like to raise a child in a house in the suburbs so this is just normal for us. We often wish we had more space and think about buying a house with a yard, but for now, this suits. I know many parents who have at least one child in a one bedroom and two in a two-bedroom—that will become our scenario come the end of April. Like a lot in this fast-paced metropolis, you just sort of do it.
When I first became a parent, I worried about the noise of apartment and city living being a hindrance to Finn’s sleeping. Sometimes a firetruck or other large truck comes barreling up the street behind our building. There’s been apartment and street work that’s sometimes done at night. And then there are noisy neighbors who have parties, stomp around upstairs or have their dogs barking in the hallway. But by and large, noise has been more of an issue for my and Brendan’s sleep habits than for Finn’s. The solution: headphones and ear plugs (and, when you really have to, beseeching a neighbor to quiet down).
There’s a misconception that kids in New York City never see trees or grass. Brendan and I did joke after Finn started walking that he was freaked out by grass (and sand). We are fortunate to live down the street from Fort Tryon Park, a beautiful greenspace with plenty of room to run around, kick a soccer ball or picnic. In fact, it’s where we had Finn’s second birthday party. There are two other parks within walking distance, one of which has additional greenspace we use to toss a football around or play soccer. The nice thing about having to have your outdoor time in parks instead of yards is that you are exposed to a wider community of parents and their children. It’s a sort of a hub after work and school let out in the nice weather, and a great way for everyone to decompress.
Our location way uptown means that Finn is in daycare 50 hours a week. It’s an amount of time I continue to wrestle with. I’d love to have more time with him, but right now this is our reality. I get about two hours to spend with him during weeknights. I am thankful for that, because I know other people in the city who end up having to pay babysitters to stay with their kids in the evening hours because of their work schedules. We also spend most of our time on the weekends as a family, getting stuff done for ourselves (working out, writing, getting haircuts, catching up on reading or work) during naptimes and after 8pm.
We are usually all up out of bed between 6:25 and 6:45 during the week. Brendan typically gives Finn his sippy cup of milk, and then unloads the dishwasher and starts the coffee and breakfast while I shower. We usually end up all eating breakfast together—Finn has something light because he gets a full breakfast at school later in the morning. Then Brendan usually showers while I get Finn cleaned up, dressed and start the teeth-brushing process (which often has to be finished by Brendan). I leave for work first since I have an hour commute down to the Financial District—I’m usually out the door by 7:40. Brendan walks Finn the five blocks down to school and then heads into work himself.
I leave work by 4:50 to pick up Finn at daycare before it closes at 6. We make our walk back home, sometimes stopping at the market for groceries if we didn’t get that done over the weekend. When daylight savings time is on, we will spend a half hour at the park. Finn usually plays while I get dinner started. I eat with him and then get his bath going if it’s bath night. If not, we will draw, do a puzzle or play with his trucks. Brendan comes in anywhere from 6:30 to 7:30. Then there’s milk, teeth-brushing, PJs and a book before bedtime at 8 pm.
Brendan and I will take turns going out with coworkers or friends on weeknights. That’s when the bulk of our individual socializing happens. We spend very little on babysitting due to costs and a desire to prioritize being with Finn. We often go to friends’ homes or have them over.
I stayed home with Finn until he was 4.5 months old. I signed him up for daycare and arrived that first day only to realize I couldn’t leave him there. There was nothing wrong with the daycare—I went back nine months later and enrolled him full-time, and he’s been there ever since. I was just a nervous wreck in my post-partum state, and extremely afraid of SIDS (which tends to affect boys more than girls). So we hired a woman named Robin to take care of Finn, at first part-time and then full-time for five months. Something about him having that one-on-one care, in my home, made me more comfortable.
Finding this type of childcare—whether you call the caretaker doing it a nanny or babysitter—is easy. But it’s super expensive in New York—more so, in my experience, than daycare. That’s one of the reasons we switched Finn to a daycare setting. The other was so he could be around other children. As there are more individual people available to watch your child than there are daycare providers, the latter can sometimes necessitate a wait list that you have to get your child on before they are even born. I luckily didn’t have that problem, partially due to where I live in the city.
Crunching the numbers, we saved more than $20K by making this switch to daycare. Sounds insane, doesn’t it? The cost of childcare is crazy all throughout this country, and it’s one of the reasons so many women don’t go back to work. And while New York is a more expensive city, the people who work here often have higher salaries that justify the cost of childcare.
The summertime will become the true test for us when we have to pay for childcare for two children. Finn enters preschool at the end of this month—the cost range for that, from my research of schools in my area, is $22K to $26K annually. The cost of daycare for my daughter, as an infant, will run a bit over $20K.
Sidebar: I have an incredibly supportive manager who hasn’t batted an eye when I’ve needed to work from home or leave work early because Finn is sick or off from school and no one else can watch him. I realize I am very fortunate in this regard.
Getting out and about
Our lives now are a mix of seeing family, family friends, other friends with kids and going on adventures throughout the city with any number of these groups. In many ways, what we do on the weekends is no different from what any family in the suburbs might do, except for the fact that we will often take public transit to get there. We’ve gone on adventures to museums, beaches and other neighborhoods but weekends like this one are a pretty ordinary mix of soccer class, going over a friend’s for dinner, having a playdate, laundry and food shopping.
If you’re moving to the city, recently moved here or are already a resident and expecting or thinking about having a child, here are a few of my favorite resources and tips. Please note that some of these are specific to Washington Heights as I have spent the majority of my time as a mom here:
Local parents’ groups: Did you know Yahoo Groups were still a thing? I didn’t until Brendan was clued into a local one for neighborhood parents. It’s worth checking if your area has one of these groups, whether it’s on Yahoo, Facebook or another website. These are great places for trading babysitter references, swapping or purchasing used goods, learning about kid-friendly events and staying in the know about news and issues that impact you and your child.
Daycare licensing and regulation: This is a really good article on how to find out which agency regulates the type of daycare you are looking into and how to look up the facility’s most recent inspection.
Things to do: Time Out New York Kids is a great destination for finding out things to do with the littles on a calendar basis.
Baby and toddler play spaces: This article on MommyPoppins is regularly updated with non-membership locations where you can take your child to run off steam indoors. If you’re up in my neck of the woods, the Inwood YMCA has open gym on Sundays from 9:30 to 11:30 for $10.
Stroller accessibility: While carting an umbrella stroller with a 25-lb. toddler strapped in is really good for toning your arms, sometimes you just want to have an easy ride. Here is a list of New York City’s accessible stations and another section of the same site for checking whether elevators and escalators are working.
Toilets: Whether you have a potty-trained kid, need a changing table or have a perpetually full bladder thanks to the joys of childbirth, this handy map tells you the parks, coffee shops, restaurants and other locales with bathroom all throughout the city.
Kid-friendly restaurants: To be fair, you can take a child to a lot of restaurants in New York City and be perfectly fine. But if you get anxious when your kid starts wailing or acting up like I do, check out this list of kid-friendly eateries throughout the city.
Are you raising a child in New York City? What is your experience? What did I leave out of this post?