The Big City Versus Suburban Life When You're Childless or Childfree

by sockii

Is it easier to live happily childless or childfree in a big city? What are some of the drawbacks of NOT being a parent if you move to a rural or suburban area?

(Article first published in 2014.)

Approximately four years ago, I moved out of a large East Coast city where I'd lived on my own for over fifteen years. Even though I'd grown up in a very rural area, I'd spent all of my time from college onward living in a large metropolitan city. But then my partner and I bought a house in a small development in a very rural area, one that while still within an hour's drive to the "big city" was actually very rustic and largely still farmland. And as much as I now greatly prefer this kind of suburban/rural living to city life, there is one thing I do greatly miss about living in an urban area:

Being able to easily make and keep friendships as a woman without children.

One of the primary reasons, after all, that many couples move out of a city to the suburbs is to provide a "better environment" to children they either recently had or are planning on having soon. Those parents want access to the supposedly better school systems outside of urban areas, the open outdoor spaces for sports and recreation, the perceived safety of "smalltown life". And all of that is certainly understandable. But none of those reasons are why I moved to where I live now, however, and I often definitely feel a sense of "otherness" being half of a childless couple living in the 'burbs today.

Backyard sunsetThe sunset view from our backyard.There are about twenty houses in our development, and to the best of my knowledge we are the only childless couple currently living here. A few other couples are older and retired, true, with grown children living elsewhere. But those adult children still visit them regularly, often with their own kids in tow. There is often the sound of children playing outside when I come home from work or am out taking care of my garden.

I don't mind that at all, those signs of that kind of family life. But I do feel it keeps us somewhat isolated from our neighbors; I often see the other couples with young kids chatting with each other in their driveways, going to each others' kids birthday parties, talking about school-related activities they are involved in. Whenever I've met one of the neighbors for the first time, or some new couple has moved to the development, invariably one of the first questions they ask is "How many children do you have?" and they look at me askance when I answer "none". It's like a door has been immediately closed between us.

When my partner and I have parties, like for Christmas or otherwise, we invite all our neighbors; usually maybe two or three do come (and sometimes with their kids, which is totally fine.) Yet I think in contrast we've been invited to two parties hosted by our neighbors in the four years we've been here. Do they simply not like us? Or is it just that, not being parents, we don't have that ability to relate to them as they do with the other parents that fill our neighborhood?

A question for parents reading this article

Do you find it hard to relate to couples or individuals who don't have children?

Craft fairWorking a local craft fairBut it's not just about home and our neighborhood. I notice it when I work craft shows and attend other local events. All the women I run into at these events (and they are largely attended and worked by women) all seem to know each other because their kids all go to the same schools, or are involved in sports teams together, or other after-school activities. Almost all of the discussions they have revolve around their kids, whether they are present or not. That is where their social life entirely revolves around: kids and school.

It seems that if you want to find friends and people interested in other activities, other things to talk about, you really have to make an significant effort to do so in the 'burbs. I've found some Meetup groups in my area for things like book clubs, dining out, wine appreciation, or crafting, but I've yet to look into them in detail. A lot of them seem to have met once or twice and then not been very active after that...often because the people running them seem to "get busy" with their "real lives" after a while. I.e., kids and parenting have to take precedence.

Things were certainly different when I lived in Philadelphia. It seemed so much easier to find like-minded childless or childfree people interested in maintaining friendships and participating in activities that didn't revolve around children. I had a close network of easily about a dozen friends who regularly enjoyed going out for dinner, going to the movies, the museum or a theater performance, or just meeting up to hang out at one of our places for a few hours to catch up on things. And those friends had more friends, and whether just at a craft show or via an online community forum, it always seemed easy to find new people who I could enjoy socializing with— without having to hang out at a bar, which seems to be one of the only social gathering places in the burbs and rural areas which are decidedly "childfree"—no thanks!

GardeningI love being able to work in my garden.I am not writing this to say I wish I hadn't moved out of the city. Far from the case, as for me the pluses have definitely outweighed these negatives. I love the peace and quiet of rural living; I love being able to have my own large garden, to go shopping at nearby farmers markets instead of cramped and over-priced city supermarkets; I love having the space of my larger home and being able to breath fresh country air every morning when I wake up.

But there are days and times when I really do miss my childfree friends in the city and see how much my move has isolated me from them. Many of them do not drive or have cars, so it is a considerable effort for them to come out for a visit where I live. Likewise, it can be a hassle for me to drive into the city, find and pay for parking, worry about not drinking too much if we go out for dinner or a party unless I'm with a designated driver. I realize I've only made maybe 1 or 2 reasonably close friends since our move, at least in the immediate area. So the isolation is certainly something you should consider if you are either a couple or individual who knows you are going to remain childless or childfree.

Do you think city life is inherently better if you are not a parent?

Deciding not to have children can still cause shockwaves in our modern society. Just look at author Marcia Drut-Davis, who lost her job after appearing on "60 Minutes" and expressing her desire to never become a mother. Her memoirs deal with the aftermath of that appearance and society's continued pro-natal biases - along with what can be gained in life by choosing one's own path.

Related articles

For a woman dealing with infertility, an invitation to attend a baby shower can present a challenging situation.
Those who are openly childfree are often forced to defend their choice not to have children.
Mother's Day can be one of the hardest days of the year for women dealing with infertility.
Updated: 10/29/2018, sockii
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