State of mind
From fast-paced cities to laid-back small towns and everywhere in […]
From fast-paced cities to laid-back small towns and everywhere in between, the places parents choose to call home while bringing up baby are chock-full of differences. But whether you carry a metro card or drive a minivan, when it comes to the things that matter, the state lines often begin to blur.
It might be smaller in size, but this historic corner of the country has a lot to offer mamas and papas who settle down here. Krystina Monetti, a mom of one in Livingston, New Jersey, loves that she’s a quick trip from the Big Apple or Jersey beaches and boardwalks. After traveling around the last few years, she chose to raise her 9-month-old daughter, Flora, in The Garden State—close to family. “I wish we were able to have mango trees in our yard and pick fresh fruit and vegetables for the week,” she says. “But I love raising my baby near a strong, adoring family, and that is an important part of life around here.
Nikkie Gill, a mom of one in New York City, has also packed her fair share of moving boxes—living in her hometown in India and studying medicine in Europe—but The Empire City has been her address for nearly a decade. “I’ve always thought it would be a great learning experience for [my family] to live in such a dynamic and fun city,” says Gill. “I love that at any given moment, I am a walk or a train ride away from a museum.”
Because there’s so much to do and see in a major metropolis, the days are busy. Tots often have packed schedules of their own with playgroups and classes that range from art and music to gym and language enrichment. Gill’s 2-year-old daughter, Karina, attends a few classes depending on the weekday, and sometimes the mommy-and-me pair will swing by their favorite playgrounds at Central Park or stop in a bookstore to sit and read. “Like any family, we try to do the most we can to keep our daughter stimulated and happy,” she explains.
It’s easy for the hustle and bustle to become overwhelming, though. “I have noticed that many parents in New York City feel their kids need to be busy all the time,” Gill says, admitting that she’s been guilty of thinking that from time to time, too. But more than any class or extracurricular, she notes the importance of letting her daughter experience the world at her own pace (and with her mama by her side): “Your presence in the everyday moments of your child’s life is the biggest gift and biggest advantage you can give your kids.”
Monetti agrees, “[My daughter] teaches me how to appreciate the small beautiful things that sometimes go unnoticed.” Although there’s plenty Monetti wants to teach her little girl, too, including making Christmas cookies, competing with relatives to see whose chicken Parmesan tastes the best and passing on secret, generations-old recipes. “A lot of our family traditions involve cooking or eating—did I mention we’re Italian?”
Life slows down a bit as you make your way westward to the wide-open spaces of America’s heartland. For Brandy Green, Topeka, Kansas, is the just-right size. “It’s small enough that you can get anywhere in town in 15 to 20 minutes, but big enough that we have a shopping mall and several grocery stores,” says the mom of one, who has lived in the same place her entire life.
Monica Tignanelli, a mom of two in Troy, Michigan, chose where to raise her brood based on safety, public school systems and Midwestern values. “It’s a place where people are still kind and giving, work hard, love their family, befriend their neighbors and are not afraid to have a little fun,” she explains. Her girls, Evelyn, 15 months, and Emma, 5 months, are so close in age that Tignanelli was pregnant for practically 18 months straight. Although she currently stays home with the babies, she is looking forward to returning to work later this year.
Tignanelli is far from alone in the working mom world. Green’s job as a dental assistant keeps her busy Monday through Thursday, while her 3-month-old daughter, Eden, is at daycare. Ancestry.com recently analyzed the percentage of working mamas across the U.S., and results revealed that Midwestern states prevail, ranking in the top six spots with a high of 79.9 percent in South Dakota. (Green’s home state of Kansas came in ninth place with 73.3 percent.)
A strong work ethic—and a shorter workweek —didn’t make it any easier for Green to be away from her babe, though. “Our biggest challenge has been our lack of sleep and schedule changes … going back to work was a lot harder than I expected,” she notes. But her crew makes the most of their evenings and weekends by gardening, taking on home improvement projects and volunteering at the local Humane Society. “Our goal is to raise Eden to be an independent, productive member of society … to know God and to treat all people, including herself, with love and respect.”
As mamas who tend to keep busy, both Green and Tignanelli regularly rely on babywearing to keep their kiddos close and their hands free. Tignanelli isn’t shy about admitting that she has used her carrier every single day since bringing her second bundle of joy home from the hospital. With two under 2, it’s easy to understand why.
“Chaos is typical these days, which is hard for me because I try to be a very scheduled person,” shares Tignanelli, a self-proclaimed neatnik. A good friend recently encouraged her to step away from the dustpan, saying, “There will always be a mess to clean up when you are a parent, so you might as well let the kids enjoy making it.” Since then, Tignanelli has tried to take a break from sweeping to sit back and have fun watching the messes happen.
Heading toward the Pacific coastline, the scenery isn’t the only thing that changes. As the altitude picks up, so does the enthusiasm for the great outdoors. Seattle-based mom Natalie Thompson was born in nearby Tacoma, and even though her 4-month-old son, Elliot, isn’t mobile yet, she looks forward to the day he can explore all that Mother Nature has to offer. (Until then, they’ll continue to put their baby carrier and all-terrain stroller to good use!)
“There are lots of outdoor and family-friendly activities on the West Coast, which is great for adventures with kids,” she explains. “I love summer in Seattle and am really excited for Elliot to grow up on the water just like I did—boating, swimming and doing water sports.”
The feeling is mutual for Stephanie Vaughn Simkins, a mom of one in Longmont, Colorado. Her son, Declan, might only have three months under his belt, but he tags along on weekend hikes and visits to the farmers market. During the week, Simkins and her husband race home from work to see their tiny dude and soak in the last few hours of sunshine by going for a walk or playing in the backyard.
“This area has a great school system, a plethora of opportunities to be outside and a balance of traditional and holistic lifestyles,” Simkins adds. Her local hospital was designated “baby-friendly” by the World Health Organization, and it has been a steady source of support for the exclusively breastfeeding mama. She also attends a parent support group there, where moms and dads come to discuss topics such as cloth diapering and essential oil remedies.
Because the area is such a draw for families, there’s high demand for childcare, making it pricier than you might expect. According to Thompson, daycare costs total about $30,000 per year, and a typical nanny’s salary ranges from $40,000 to $50,000. “I think this is surprising to a lot of people outside of the area,” she says. “Nanny shares—where two families share a nanny—have become incredibly popular, and [it’s] what our family is doing when I return to work.”
For now, Thompson is happily soaking up the last of her days on maternity leave and spending nearly every waking moment with her baby boy. “I think my favorite part of the day is seeing him smile when I go into his nursery first thing in the morning,” she says. “It melts my heart!”
Take a turn down south, and stumble onto a cultural melting pot where food is as much an adventure as it is sustenance. “Cooking is our chance to bond and pass down recipes,” says Jessica Purdy, mom to 11-month-old Lillianna in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. “My husband is Lebanese, and … whether we are making kibbeh from Lebanon or yakes from Korea, we make it together.”
In Buda, Texas, Summer Ullmann, a mom of three (Aubrey, 6; Zayn, 2; Sami, 1), says her family tries to eat organic and whole foods—but they also love tasting different cuisines and are always on the hunt for a new recipe or restaurant. “Because our family is multicultural, we try to expose our children to as many different cultures as possible,” explains Ullmann, whose husband is from Saudi Arabia.
Another boon of living in the area: a lower cost of living. When Purdy and her husband found out she was pregnant, they had stable jobs in California. But after doing the math, they realized a move was in order. “Both [of our] mothers live in New Mexico,” she says. “To raise my daughter around family was a dream come true. Also, the fact that we could afford to raise a child and still save money was a huge bonus!” Moreover, Purdy points out that there is an endless list of easy-on-the-wallet activities to fill their weekends—including “mountains for hiking, lakes for fishing and ancient ruins for exploring.”
Both Purdy and Ullmann are stay-at-home mothers, which isn’t unusual for their region. A recent New York Times article found some of the highest rates of non-working women in the Southwest, particularly parts of Arizona and New Mexico. But with kiddos to take care of, they are on the go regularly. Ullmann’s brood knows the half-hour drive to Austin well as they frequent the city for fun and food. Otherwise, you’ll probably find them in Ullmann’s hometown, Shriner, Texas, clocking quality time with extended family. “When you’re raising a family here, you are really never alone,” Ullmann shares. “Someone is always willing to help you however they can. When you have babies, there are meal calendars planned … there’s always support for families.”
Purdy echoes a similar experience. “Everything is family- and community-oriented here,” she says, citing the St. Joseph’s Children Home Visiting Program as an example. As part of the program, first-time parents can opt to have a nurse stop by once a week to answer questions; Purdy’s home visits are on Tuesdays. She says some of her family and friends thought her decisions to breastfeed and co-sleep were “weird.” But, Purdy notes, “Marisol, my nurse, gave me a lot of advice on both subjects.”
Through the ups and downs of motherhood, Purdy’s parenting motto has been three simple words: Family is first. “With love and respect as our foundation, we can get through anything together,” she shares. “I couldn’t replace the love and support of my family for any city in the world.” And that’s exactly why she can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Venturing back toward the mighty Mississippi River, you’ll find a helping of Southern hospitality and parenting philosophies deeply rooted in family traditions.
After living in Madison, Georgia, for 15 years, Leslie Rohm knew this sleepy town would be the ideal home for her 1-year-old son, Liam. “[My husband and I] both grew up in Madison and love the small town and schools,” she says. “Moving was never a question because we love living in the country.”
The population might be low (we’re talking just under 4,000), but that number includes some of the most important people in Liam’s life, which is what matters most to Rohm. “We spend every holiday with my family and my husband’s,” she says. “I love that we are all under one roof, and I know our kids will love that as they get older.” But time with relatives isn’t saved for special occasions. Rohm tries to squeeze in a family outing to visit the grandparents every weekend if they can.
For Jessie Meador, mom to 8-month-old Ellie in Madison, North Carolina, the decision on where to live was equally simple. “My husband and I both grew up in Rockingham County, and we had enjoyable, stable and memorable childhoods here,” she explains. “We knew we wanted to be around family as well.” Meador’s crew makes weekly rounds to see nearby relatives: Thursday night Mexican with her honey’s family, Sunday church and lunch with hers.
Meador believes having family around, especially those with kiddos, has largely shaped her parenting style. If Rohm is ever in need of child-rearing advice, her mom and mother-in-law are only a phone call away, although Facebook remains her favorite method of getting some parenting perspective. “It’s so easy to post a question and get so many different opinions,” she says. “I may try several to see what works best for us.”
Down south, many parents steer their kiddos toward active learning and time spent outdoors. Screens aren’t off-limits—Rohm admits Liam watches a little TV here and there—but, she says, they prefer more hands-on learning. “We think it’s important to let him explore things on his own and figure out how things work,” Rohm says.
Family traditions are highly valued—both for their practicality and for enjoyment as a shared pastime from one generation to the next. For example, Rohm’s other half is eager to show Liam how to hunt and fish as soon as he’s ready. “We are all about tradition,” Rohm says. “I love knowing my son will know the skills my husband knows and that I can teach him to be a true gentleman.” For Rohm, that means being respectful of everyone, and saying “please” and “thank you” are a must—along with the traditional “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir.”
When it comes to parenting differences between the South and the rest of the U.S., Meador admits she doesn’t see many. “I think everyone basically wants to raise fun, well-behaved children.”
By Chantel Newton