Note from Naomi: Today's post is a guest post from Jemma from Thimble and Twig about her views on where is best to raise children - the country or the city. Make sure you check out her blog over at Thimble and Twig.
I used to love the story of the Town Mouse and Country Mouse when I was little. I loved the country mouse and the way she foraged for food; but I was always intrigued by the Town Mouses' exotic places to visit. Last year - after much deliberation - we put our house on the market after deciding we needed more space for our 4 children (and, ultimately) our sanity!
When we were deciding where to move to, we were faced with too many decisions. Should we move out of London; where house prices are cheaper but commuting more expensive? Should we move out of London; to give our children a freer, more outdoorsy lifestyle? Should we stay in London; to give them a more vibrant, multicultural upbringing?
Too. Many. Decisions.
Traditionally, it seemed that it was the sensible parenting decision to move out of the city; and that children were better off if they were brought up in the countryside. Living in the city seemed synonymous with danger and gangs of youths; whereas an expanse of wide open spaces seemed the best way to ensure happy, well rounded children. However is it still so widely accepted that the countryside is the best place to bring up children?
We visited some places outside of London to see if they would be the fairy-tale countryside dream we had hoped - but discovered that in order to have the dream, you needed a lot of money. Sometimes more money than you needed in London. Besides, it meant more commuting for my husband - and more missed bath times and bedtimes. We decided this wasn't right for our family either. It seemed that in order to be close to the vibrant city life we loved so much - but still live in an area with relatively good schools - we needed a small fortune.
So we stayed stuck in the middle.
We chose somewhere more leafy, with parks and woods you can walk to but still an easy train ride up into London for some more of the multicultural goodness.
Sometimes, I have the odd pang that we have somehow deprived our children of an outdoor life. That they would have somehow been happier if we'd packed off to the country and raised chickens and I worried that maybe children could have a more magical childhood with more freedom, if we lived in the country. And so, we
focused this year on making our garden a lovely space for little ones. We built a vegetable patch, put a blackboard outside added swings and a playhouse. They spend all day in all weathers out there now, making nature potions and mud pies and building dens.
Other times, I feel like we should have stayed closer to the center of London and forgone the space for the culture and markets and busyness and the-so-much-to-see-all-around-you feeling. I worried that maybe it would have been better to raise the children in the city, they would learn more about diversity and would have friends with different backgrounds and experiences to learn from. So, when I think like this, we hop on a train and brave a museum or an art gallery. With four children, the day often ends in meltdowns and tiredness and tantrums and then you remember why you don't do it more often! Despite this, these are days that they remember - and experiences they need to understand so they learn how different the world is around them.
Sometimes, it can feel like all you end up doing as a parent is compensating for where you live. Sometimes, we do feel duty-bound to drive to the countryside to experience some greenery; and it’s just as important that we remember to brave the chaos and jump on a train to the city every now and then, to show our kids that the world is a much more diverse place than their immediate surroundings might suggest.
I'm trying to ensure that we use the school holidays to introduce our children to arts and culture as much as possible. In our neck of the woods, there are hundreds of museums, theaters and events for the whole family; and so I feel pleased we stayed close to London to easily share these experiences with our children.
Equally, there are days when we can't be bothered with any of this and the weekends call for PJs and hot chocolate and films!
Ultimately it's about a balance.
Diversity is the spice of life and all that. I know if we don't take our children outside to parks and give them some fresh air and time running about on a daily basis; then they are definitely more grumpy in the afternoon. However a life in the countryside might not have suited them because they love the hustle and bustle of a day out in the city.
They are thriving in a large multicultural school amongst all sorts of different children with different backgrounds that they wouldn't have met in a 'village school'. Hopefully, being close to more life and action will pay off when they're teenagers too - not to mention the halving of lifts we'll have to provide because public transport in more readily available in the town.
In balance, I think it's all about a mixture in a young child's life. A whole mix up of indoor and outdoor experiences that can happen in a city or a village that will ensure the happiest child.
I'm always on the lookout for ideas for both indoor/ outdoor living with little ones. I love this list of indoor, outdoor activities for young children. There are some for the most adventurous of us and some about using everyday activities.
It's a great starting point for using a bit of the countryside and a bit of the city to have the best of both worlds! Maybe the town mouse and country mouse got it all along - they needed to do more visiting and less time trying to convince each other that their lifestyle was right!