I am inviting advice on what has become the hardest sticking point in our lives, and in the next few months may come to a head.
I am the proud mum of two DDs, age 8 and 5.
We live in NJ's Essex County. We live about 75 minutes north of our family. My husband's parents and my parents live in the same town (Toms River), where we were both raised. Our brothers and sisters all live in the same general vicinity as our parents, give or take 15 minutes south or north. There is nearly no chance that any of them will be moving very far, since they like the area and/or don't mind commuting for work.
My husband and I have lived in northern NJ for ten years: as a means to work in design and media in NYC, as a way to experience denser, more "vibrant" communities, nightlife and culture. Over five years ago we bought our first house in an older but dense northern NJ suburb.
My husband now works from home but goes into NYC about once/week for meetings. His career is entrepreneurial in nature but he is very driven and would like a large degree of flexibility to work from home, moving forward. He is a very hands-on dad and always takes our two girls bike riding, hiking, etc.
Last fall, my oldest DD secured a spot in the school of our dreams--a suburban charter school. To clarify, charter schools are free. (We applied after two years of significant dissatisfaction with our neighborhood school that didn't resolve itself even as we volunteered hundreds of hours to improve the school in many ways and had the superintendent's full support, but rarely the aging principal's.)
In retrospect, we could have moved one town over and enjoyed a more progressive style of public education. It seems our "fatal flaw" was getting so enthusiastic about our cute, affordable (height of the market!) house in a walkable downtown that we were blind to individual school differences--there are two in town that are much better--though now overcrowded.
I've always had a bit of Sisyphus-style approach to things, and that became evident when we fell in love with the charter school. After attending for over a year, it has exceeded our expectations (small, positive discipline, sustainability-missioned, supportive, lots of professional development for its close-knit teachers) and my eight year-old DD has thrived. This fall, our younger DD started kindergarten there, and she loves it.
The catch? The school is a 25 minute drive WEST, each way. Not very sustainably-minded of us. It's our hypocrisy, I'm the first to admit. (There were many other reasons to attend, and my thriving child exhibits each one.)
My DD would like to move to the school's home district. It is also a semi-urban, walkable town. My DDs could both take the bus, saving an untold amount gas money and two hours each day. We have some neighbors we would miss terribly, but I've always felt that "quality of life" issues often resolve these decisions.
My husband now has his own quality of life issue: he would like to move closer to our families.
He has never "loved" urban living as much as I have. We have four nephews between the ages of 1 and 5, and my husband is increasingly feeling the "pull" to spend more time with them. We make a heroic effort to go down at least every other weekend, often staying over at one of the four houses. It might be an imposition to folks sometimes, but we try to be as low-key as possible, declining extra meals or bringing something for potluck. The families only really come to visit us here in Essex Cty. for birthday parties or a hosted holiday meal. When we have thrown out more formal invites, it usually doesn't come to much. They are very "settled" in their areas and have always seemed uncomfortable in urban environments (--I was kind of the black sheep, so of course I was dissatisfied with the suburbs growing up). It sounds like a big generalization, but it's true.
My husband would like to move three counties south--to live one county above our families--Monmouth County, about 15-20 minutes from our parents. Much of his desire stems from wanting people to visit and stay with us instead of always feeling like the schleppers. I would welcome this as well: since I teach PT, the house gets increasingly messy each year. There is always a half-unpacked suitcase lying around, and it's impossible to get caught up on weekend chores if we aren't home.
I actually would be okay with the move now, in my late thirties. We are both ready for the "15 year" house, knowing that we'll lose money on this, our starter home, but we don't want to mess with the market after this--we just want to live our lives and become the people we want to be. I no longer feel the need to personally save suburban sprawl. I would like a larger garden. I am comfortable enough in my values that they travel well with me and I have a good nose to sniff out like-minded friends. I try to keep in touch with folks from our old neighborhoods when I can, and I know we'll all enjoy wine & chats when our kids are older and we're lonely.
But I can't. Reconcile. To. The. Idea. That. The. Girls. Would. Have. to. Change. Schools.
My eight year-old DD has told us many times that she wants to stay at this school until she graduates eighth grade. (I'm sure she'd prefer to go to high school there, too, for the continuity of knowing a handful of people--the charter school draws students from six counties) I have asked my husband not to discuss moving in front of her because it makes her nervous--she can sense that we are not "locked in" on the decision. My husband has been web surfing on Zillow and it becomes increasingly clear that he's fixated on moving SOUTH instead of WEST. He is finding the style of house that we both love--expanded ranches--and of course they're rare to nonexistent in the school's district, which is populated with older colonials. (I know the house style should not even enter into this conversation, but lets agree that this touches emotional buttons, right? We both want a house we can enjoy now and when the kids are in college and maybe bring their friends home for visits. Of course we want to host our families in a more relaxed way than they typically host us for holidays.)
The only schools that would approximate our dear charter school would be private Sudbury-style schools. I want to focus on saving for college and paying NJ property taxes--not private school. I fear traditional public schools as much for their testing-mania and obsessions with control as much as the typical stuff: peer pressure, etc.
If we found the right house in the right town, we might find a cozy elementary school, but then there's middle school. The K-8 models like ours allow middle school-aged kids to take leadership positions, mentor, etc. without the distractions of a new school and new friends.
Am I just afraid of the educational unknown? I don't want to make the mistake--choosing a house or a town before the school--again. It just seems downright unethical to my kids. At the same time, the Me-me-me wants the expanded ranch, the great backyard for entertaining and gardening, the quiet. But it also seems a shame to give up on denser living while I can still involve our young kids in the day-to-day lessons of strong community ties.
Our families miss us. My husband is closer to his family than I am to mine, but we see them almost equally. I have learned to enjoy the time while giving myself emotional space from the intense feeling of misunderstanding I've felt for decades. My in-laws are fun and generous and our kids would probably spend every weekend hour with family if they could--especially with four cousins to play with! We both agree that our parents need more "life" of their own independent from family--and we don't want to be their "everything." I want to attend cultural events, work. Honestly, I don't expect that we'd see our families more during the week. But it might make a difference regarding weekend visits, and with our "schlepping" fatigue. Meanwhile, I am the opposite of a "phone person"--I can't be on the phone and feel "present" with my life, so I'm awful at calling to say hi. Calls even once a week are the best I can do--sometimes only email. My husband sometimes serves as the phone presence for both of us, which actually helps sometimes because I have a very hard time with "small talk" or chit chat.
I appreciate the charter school because it provides a nice counterweight to the values that our families hold--more preoccupied with self, possessions, immediate family over community--and I am heartbroken that I may literally need to choose between school and family--or at least, between school and what my husband seems to want in his heart. (How do I disrespect that? Or should he honor the fact that his DD doesn't want to leave her school?) I don't think the distance is hurting our kids at this time. They enjoy their weekends and are always ready to start a new week. If anyone, maybe the distance mostly hurts me because I don't really connect with my family unless we're sitting in the same room.
Is there any middle ground here that I am blind to? We cannot commute to the school from the southern county. It's too astoundingly far--at least an hour.
If I could, we'd have an apartment in the school district and then go to our "real house" in Monmouth County on the weekends.
And then I wake up, and remember the recession, and the fact that I want to be able to see my kids during the week, and cook for them, and generally be able to breathe.
Advice, admonishments? Thanks so much!
My husband's job only permits us to live up to 7-8 hours away from my family. Our next move will probably put us in the 15 hour range, it looks like. I am really familiar with "schlepping fatigue", as we are the ones who travel every single time. My mom tries to make the drive up here once every year or two, but we are pretty much always the ones who pack the suitcase and head out for every major holiday and a few times for vacations.
Relationships are different when you are bringing a suitcase, I think. Sometimes I think our visits would be much more relaxing if we could just go for the day and go home, more frequently, than making longer trips and staying overnight. Our families love us, but it's a lot harder when our visits always make us "guests" (ykwim) as opposed to family just coming to visit without having to have a sleep space prepared/food on hand for the kids/hearing the kids wake up at night, etc.
I know my own history colors my opinion of your situation, but I would vote for family.
It sounds like a really amazing school, but if you can find something reasonable near your family for your kids, then I would vote for that.
When your kids are older, are they going to reminisce fondly on "Wow, I went to a really great elementary school!" or think back to the amazing times they had with family and be grateful for the lasting relationships they've built with their cousins and all?
That's my opinion. Good luck with your decision. :)
I think it helps to look at overall life over school. Besides the family being closer, there's the issue of how your husband feels living in an urban environment and whether you can really love your home. We went from suburban to extreme rural a couple of years ago, and I was the one who just couldn't stand being in a near city environment any longer and who wanted a forever home. We ended up about the same distance from family but my parents became so much more involved with visiting the grandchildren because they weren't overwhelmed with driving through a city to get to us (DH and I both come from farming families, and while our parents had to work away from the farm, too, they were never really comfortable with city commutes). The children really enjoy the property they live on, the freedom to range. Needless to say, in a rural location, we had one option for school, and that was the local public school. We were so pleasantly surprised! This particular school has tons of community involvement and volunteer opportunities, a great mix of hands-on and academic learning, fairly small class size and overall number of students. I know my situation was suburban to rural rather than urban to suburban, but I think there's still parallels to consider. You really don't know what the schools in a different area will be like unless you look into it more. It's not always about public or charter or private or what have you. It's about the particular school and community and teachers. And what your kids will have available after school and on weekends is a big factor, too. I think you need to look at the big picture over the school, and see if there's a way you can get school to work for you.
Good luck whatever you decide!
Busy keeping up with three children and an awful lot of chickens!
It depends on how well everyone gets along with their families. We tried it last year and it was horrible, we get along much better with family when there are a number of states in between us and only a few visits per year, we retreated back down to VA at the first possible opportunity and we're not looking back.
Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts. It seems odd in a way that 75 minutes' distance is far. It's really not when some of you live states away from family.
Perhaps it wears on us now because we've been doing this for over ten years. And heck, we're tired.
I appreciate the reality check on family, hopefulfaith. You're right about the bond cousins can have. School friends don't have the same lifelong bond. Hopefully one or two, though.
While I don't think the girls would ever tire of their current school, I should be more open to any "hidden gems" in the potentially-new area. You never know....
It might end up being a change we can bear. Change is hard.
i have a 9 year old. i cant imagine making this decision without an agreement from all around. i would definitely not want to move against dd's desires.
there is no need to rush is there? i would work on this till the family all agrees together.
having said that if i was in ur shoes i would move in a heart beat coz the sudbury schools would be the best fit for dd. money or no money. the ones i know of in other states - some work with scholarships.
and i am biased. i'd choose family over anything without even thinking. however my family is a close knit one. the potential to be near mixed age adults and children is huge for dd.
This can be true, but isn't always. I think it depends very much on the children. I lived far away from family growing up, but built several, lifelong, family-type relationships with school friends and friends of the family. My partner grew up in very close proximity to his cousins and spent a significant amount of time with them, but does not have important relationships with them as an adult (he is very, very different from them--and the bonds he formed with friends with whom he shares more interests has proven to be stronger).
I also think the question of school depends a lot on the child. My school experiences--both elementary and high school, both private--were extremely important to me. I DO think, "Wow, I went to an awesome elementary school!" I also think my school experience were fundamental in making me the person that I am.
When we moved recently, my dd's school was a major priority for us. We found a progressive private elementary school that seemed to be the perfect fit for dd--and, in fact, she absolutely loves it and is thriving. We have a long commute each way (40 mins or so, albeit on public transportation), but it is totally worth it to us to give dd the kind of education that we feel will foster her intellectual curiosity, creativity, independence, and sense of responsibility to her community. I can really see how what she's doing is significantly different from what kids are doing at either the local public schools or the ultra-competitive private prep schools that are common here. Having experienced several extraordinary schools as a child and young adult, I don't think the value of such places should be dismissed out of hand.
That said, I don't have any advice as to what you should do--it's a hard choice and most choices like this involve some sacrifices.
So hard. When DD was small, we moved to live close to her school, and staying close to that school was important. When she was just about ready for high school...the school most of her friends were going to (long story involving a magnet school) was across town. We looked and looked for housing in the school's area, then discovered a way for her to get into the school without being in the school's area... and moved half a mile from my parents who live in the same town.
Keeping my kids in the same school for their whole tenure has always been important to me...but living near family is VITAL to me. I'd almost rather homeschool near family than live farther in order to have a good school for my kids.
But it's a family decision. You're going to have to find a happy medium.
Oh... when we moved, and I know this isn't always an option, we kept our starter home and use it as a rental, rather than try to sell it in a down market.
Jenrose, Mama to DD1, born 1993, DD2, born 2005, and DS1, Jan. 2012. Babywearing, cosleeping, homebirthing mom with fibromyalgia and hashimotos. DD2 has a rare chromosome disorder.
75 miles is nothing, IMO. That's a day trip. My parents lived 70-75 miles from us and over the years I went down there for the day many, many, many times. Couldn't count it. My elderly mom has since moved up to my town to a retirement community. My brother lives in the same town we do also, but he and I have a strained relationship. My MIL lives about 2/2.5 hrs away and my DH's sibs are in her town. I really wouldn't want to live that close to my parents or in-laws, but YMMV.
As far as the schools, have you thoroughly checked out all the schools around your parents and in-law's neck of the woods? There may be some smaller schools you're overlooking. It might work out for you, but I think you need to explore both options thoroughly.
"All you fascists are bound to lose" — Woody Guthrie
Another thing to think about is just the overall effect on moving on a child. It's more about the school or the family. We moved from the city to the suburbs when I was going into 6th grade, my brother was going into 9th and my sister into 11th grade. And, it was a disaster. We were all at an age when current friendships mean the world to you. None of us fit in and all of our self esteems suffered tremendously. Looking back, it was one of the worst things that ever happened to our family. I don't want to be overly dramatic, but kids really have it tough in those preteen and teen years with the social factors. A move just makes it that much tougher on them.
I know your daughters are younger, so my only advice to you is if you're going to do it, do it now. Don't wait 3 or 4 years when they'll be even more entrenched in their current school/ friends/ way of life.
Married to one of the last good guys left Jim
Mom to AJ 4/07 and Genevieve 5/09
And then: I'm really, really tired of making angels.
But wait, could it really be true?
The whole story at: www.xerxella.blogspot.com
Hi :) This post is a few months old now, so maybe the urgency has passed, but I wanted to let you know that I live in Monmouth County and am enrolling my dd in an amazing little independent private school. It's called "The New School of Monmouth County." Take a look :) Enrolling 2 kids would be something like 19k/yr (11 for first and 8 for second). It is in Holmdel, which is in the generally cool area of Sandy hook, so we go to the beach all the time! In any case, you might have figured out what you want to do already, but I thought I'd add my 2 cents since I live in, and love, monmouth county. I'd check into Atlantic Highlands if you are looking for a cute small town elementary school. That town is neat because it has a downtown with a movie theater and an ice cream parlor.. there is a ferry directly to Manhattan (45 min) and it is generally just a beautiful place, with Victorian houses tucked into hills overlooking the ocean and NYC. My dd did preschool there and we really love the school. Lots of parent and community involvement. Dd is not enrolling for kindy because we love the private school so much, and are also not residents of the district (we live in neighboring--and sprawling--Middletown)
Hope you figure out a fit that works for you!
We just moved from Utah, where our entire family lived (not exaggerating) within 2 blocks of each other to St. Louis for a school for my daughter. We tried to improve our local school for years, to no avail, so we had to do what was best for her.
My first thought when I read your post was "move wherever you feel the best - schools, community, quality of life, etc. because 75 miles vs. 20 miles just doesn't seem like that much of a difference in terms of proximity to family. We used to live 15 miles from my family. We are all very close, I have 11 nieces and nephews and my parents are very involved in their grandchildren's lives. But for work, and overall community/school quality, we moved 1000 miles away the summer before last. It was an INCREDIBLY hard decision to make. But our kids are thriving here - wonderful schools (you know, the kind where everyone walks to school, the teachers are warm and respectful to their students, the kids LOVE being there, etc), a great community (open-minded but still kind of small town-ish, as in everyone comes out for parades, there are mom and pop stores everywhere and people smile and chat on street corners). We love it here.
We chose to move and continue to stay here because the difference in overall quality of life is huge. We lived in the Baltimore-DC area before (that where I was raised) and find it exhausting, fast paced, very career and goal oriented (the "best" schools are just the highest scoring schools), crowded, and overpriced. So although I love my family and wish we could see them more often, I could never, ever choose to live there again. To each their own, of course - I have plenty of friends and family who love the area, but it was not for us. That said, we see my family much less often. My parents come out about 3 times a year and we go back there twice a year, but it is not the same as a daily or weekly relationship. But we are still very close and I in no way feel like we are disconnected or losing out by not living close. So, very long story short, I doubt a 50 mile move is going to make that much of a difference in your relationship with family and if it makes a huge difference in other areas (quality of life, schools) then it doesn't seem worth it.
Thank you all for your perspectives. We continue to discuss this decision and watch how our individual perspectives change. We made the trip again today and while it was a long day, part of that was us trying to fit in a lot, plus holiday traffic. But we all survived, and many of you are right: it's not that far, really.
I think much of my anxiety is couched in the feeling that "hosting" isn't balanced. Our parents are getting older, more exhausted by their houses and stuff. While that may work itself out over time, they also have room for gatherings. My sister does also. But I'd like to provide an alternative: hopefully without amassing "stuff" for it, but simply offering the spirit and opportunity and yes, space. I hope that despite the specific direction (give or take a few miles), we'll be able to offer a peaceful, warm, loving gathering place.
Tammy, thank you for the recommendation on the New School. I have heard positive things about it and will continue following it as we consider our next move. We like Monmouth County very much. New Jersey on the whole is very expensive, and this has become a longer process for us.
I agree, too, that we need to consider our daughter's opinion as vital to this process, even at nine. She is wise enough to see the intense process behind this. I also think she may continue to meet peers outside of her extended family that demonstrate creativity and perception, because she won't get that from family alone, or from most kid culture, for that matter.
Again, I appreciate all of your thoughtful responses and the time you took to share your personal experiences. Thanks.