Some thoughts on city living and lifestyle choices

This is the third post in my Montreal apartment tour series.

I'm currently taking you on an tour of our Montreal apartment. But as I sat down to write the next installment, some other thoughts surfaced so I'm taking time to share those today before we go back to the tour. With me, the practical must always be mixed liberally with the philosophical. Or sometimes the other way around.

Our apartment is approximately 1,100 square feet. I haven't measured, that was the number given in the "apartment for rent" advertisement.

I have visited some beautiful Montreal apartments in areas of the city with older, grander housing. When we came to the city last spring to secure an apartment we Couchsurfed at one such place in the Plateau-Mile End neighborhood.

It was so beautiful and funky I felt like I was on a movie set. Our apartment definitely lacks the character of those classics. On the other hand, it's what we could afford and the location and amenities are great.

When I'm tempted to feel my lot in life is "not enough", it honestly does not take me long to leave this frame of mind by broadening my perspective just a wee bit.

I live in a city of apartments. And families of all sizes, big and small, live in these apartments. I have friends who lived in a camping trailer for four years with four little kids as they saved to build their off-grid, mortgage-free homestead. I have a friend who lives in Japan in a much smaller apartment than mine with her three young children. These are people I know. They are a drop in the population bucket.

Our family is blessed with tons of space.

It's all relative.

I am drawn to blogs that tell beautiful stories of family life. I don't follow a ton of blogs these days, but almost all of the family lifestyle blogs I follow, intermittently or devotedly, feature acreage/rural/wide-open-spaces/single-family dwelling living.

It's not that I'm longing for that kind of lifestyle myself. I've experienced "living surrounded by nature" and it was amazing.

Last night I was driving the kids home after spending a full day with other homeschooled teens and families at our homeschool co-op. We were on the always busy Trans-Canada highway through Montreal, surrounded by other vehicles including plenty of tractor-trailers. Thankfully, because we waited until 7:30 to make our commute home, traffic was flowing smoothly. You learn the tricks.

Traffic on the Gaspe Peninsula

The sun was setting and we were admiring the clouds. It was a pretty sunset, for the city. But it paled in comparison to the sunsets on the Baie des Chaleurs. And my heart longed to be in a natural place for that moment; back on the Gaspe Peninsula, on the Appalachian Trail, on the open prairie of my growing years.

I know, from intimate experience, there are many places in which to watch sunsets without traffic, buildings, or human-made structures to block your view. I've lived those experiences, and now I get to live the unique experiences of the city.

I like to follow blogs that tell stories of family life, but I haven't found many about families in cities or in apartments. I'm not sure why this is.

I crave beauty and to pass muster the lifestyle blogs I read need to feature beauty prominently. Is apartment/city living less beautiful? That doesn't ring true for me, I am continually energized by the beauty of Montreal.

Where are all the beautiful families-living-in-the-city lifestyle blogs? And not just living there, but wanting to live there. There are plenty living-in-the-suburbs-hoping-to-build-a-homestead type blogs.

I enjoy reading the blogs of families making beautiful lives, and for reasons I don't yet understand, these tend to be homestead-focused. On one such blog I read I came across a comment from another reader which basically said, "the homestead life is the best gift you could give your children".

I've said a lot of things in blog comments that I wouldn't want people to pull out of context and quote me on, so I'm not trying to do that here. And we all have biases about what is best for families and children. I've written things here that people have called me on, ideas that were insensitive.

But I feel there is a ring of truth to the sentiment of that comment, the bias towards "rural" life. Maybe it's just a bias in my online world.

I didn't take the comment personally. (It wasn't written to me, for one thing!) Nor did I feel offended that I wasn't giving my kids a homestead life. I noted it with curiosity and a bit of incredulity. If a statement like that is true, most parents on the planet are failing to give their kids the best gifts. Logically and statistically speaking, that just can't be true.

All the people I know, online and in person, want healthy, vibrant family lives. They want the best for their kids.

But I also see families, or at least mothers, living in the shadow of other people's choices and biases, believing those are the choices they too must make for their families. I've done this myself. It's easy to blame the media but I think social media is a larger influence.

Assuming you are raising your kids with a measure of self-awareness, lots of love, and enough food it's not a certain lifestyle that defines what is best for your kids.

What's best for Your kids is the best You can offer.

By virtue of where we are born, how we are raised, and who we are as individuals and couples, the best you offer is different and unique from every other family in your neighborhood, your community, the internet, the planet.

I hear from you in comments and emails, you say things like "we're considering living like x but it feels so different from y, we're not sure..." If x feels like your best, if what you get outweighs what you give why not go for it?

Not all "getting" is selfishly motivated either. A lot of people achieve satisfaction and purpose by living their calling in ministry-related work. And what they "get" from raising kids in a big city, for example, is a fulfilling sense of mission.

There is no best overall and there is no right way to do it. My systematic mind thinks in these terms. These are the words I use. Your words might be different, but the sentiment is the same.

You can have a beautiful, vibrant family life living in the woods, in an apartment, living on the road in an RV, building a homestead, living in a small house, living in a big house, living "overseas" (one person's overseas is another person's homeland), living in the suburbs, etc.

It's not about the "container" - the structure you live in or how much space your children have to free-range. It's about how the choices you make line-up with your goals and values as a family. And if your goals and values are different from some of your friends, your family of origin, your favorite blogger - appreciate the differences, don't use someone else's lifestyle as a standard.

Differences are beautiful, not scary.

I know we talk about this in homeschooling, and in mothering. And so of course this applies to lifestyle and housing also.

Find your best, your beautiful.

If you enjoyed this post you will probably appreciate the Finding Home Podcast series. Learn more here.

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  • Susan

    Susan on April 23, 2016, 6:12 p.m.

    The best gift I can give to my children is to be actively involved in their lives. It does not mater if I live on a big farm or a city apartment. Happy childhood memories can be made anywhere.


  • Tawny

    Tawny on April 23, 2016, 8:04 p.m.

    I live in the suburbs and appreciate that there are advantages and disadvantages to bringing up kids in the city or rural environment.  I enjoy your reading about your life in the City, and also find this perspective about raising a family in a high density urban environment very interesting:



  • Chandra

    Chandra on April 23, 2016, 8:55 p.m.

    I really liked this post.  I'm one who longs for rural places, because I was born and raised in the countryside.  But, I've lived in a variety of places, including downtown Chicago and Tokyo.  We now live in a suburb of Denver.  Wherever I've been, I've discovered that there will be pros and cons and it's up to you to choose to focus on the positive points.  It's so much easier to just daydream and think that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  Well, then, just plant a flower in a pot on your front porch and make your space a little greener!  My house is a little over 1,000 square feet and it suits us just fine.  We have just one child, which is not common for home school families these days.  But, like you said, each one is unique and special!


  • Shelly

    Shelly on April 23, 2016, 11:51 p.m.

    Oh, this is something I've needed to read in a long time! We (12 people) live in a small twin home in a medium-sized city, and I often feel like we don't measure up to other people. And this feeling can be devastating because on your worst days it can creep in and steal away the contentment that you so long to have. Don't get me wrong- I usually am very content, but on my worst days I read some of these blog posts and think, "Why can't my kids grow up like this?" So thank you. What a beautiful post.


  • Melissa

    Melissa on April 24, 2016, 3:23 a.m.

    I had not thought about it before, but you are absolutely right that most of what is out there regarding raising kids seems to be all about country living. I am smack dab in the middle of suburbia and wrestle with being here. I love the country, wide open spaces, and the idea of growing my own food and living the outdoor life appeals to me. On the other hand, I love cities. I love the busy-ness, my heart aches for the urban poor and uneducated, and I could walk places and have a more independent lifestyle. 

    My dream for years was to "get out" of our box and travel/road school. Sadly those were dreams that my ex husband fed us all and none of that and more ever materialized. They are now all in school after 8 years of home educating them.  We are very financially dependent on family as I earn so little in my full time job. Where would the Lord have me to go and what would He have me to do? Country? City? Right where I am? 


  • Sara

    Sara on April 24, 2016, 12:48 p.m.

    I started to write a comment and it turned into a blog post!  I should thank you Renee, I don't think I've ever finished writing a post in one day!

    We've lived in Japan for a total four and a half years now, and while we've had plenty of WAY COOL city experiences, I'm only just beginning to learn to appreciate the value in our city life.  It's so wonderful, though, to be able to see the goodness in THIS life, the one I'm living right now in my city.  Thank you for the thought provocation!


  • Jill Foley

    Jill Foley on April 24, 2016, 4:25 p.m.

    I really like this post, Renee. I have dreamed of living in a place with acreage and raising my kids with plenty of space around. In fact, our previous 3 homes had at least an acre. But when we moved to the suburbs of Portland, we couldn't afford acreage and bought a home in a neighborhood - which we said we'd never do. It's been 6 years and we've looked at plenty of homes with acreage and always decided to stay where we are because of what the neighborhood offers our family. 

    I think the best gifts we can give our children and our families will vary from family to family. For our family, it looks like reading books together, hiking together, playing music together and homeschooling. For other families, it will look like homesteading or playing board games together or travelling together or playing sports. 


  • kirsten

    kirsten on April 26, 2016, 2:14 a.m.

    We have been "city folk" for a while, apartment-living since before my first kid was born 8 years ago, living in spaces ranging from 600-1000 square feet. I wonder if there are fewer blogs about these sort of homeschoolers because they spend less time at home/writing (there is much to explore outside the doorstep), and perhaps there is not as much mental space indoors to blog a beautiful blog. I keep a family blog, but it's for our immediate family/friends more than for the general public. Anyways, thanks for this post. I am always intrigued by small-er spaces and appreciate the connections they can create, among family members and with neighbors, etc. 


  • Krista O'Reilly-Davi-Digui

    Krista O'Reilly-Davi-Digui on April 23, 2018, 9:37 p.m.

    Simple and lovely. I have never had a desire to live out of town or on an acreage. I like people watching and being close to the heart of things. I'd rather a small apartment within walking distance of shops and library than a huge home (which doesn't appeal at all) on land that I have to care for. I love living near mountains and trees and also love the city. So interesting. Even now, as some peers build dream homes, I am focused on downsizing, minimizing, always simplifying (although my life is fairly simple as is) and moving into an apartment close to farmers markets. I stopped reading lifestyle books and blogs years ago (and magazines and tv way before that) as they left me feeling less than or longing for something "else" that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I quieted the noise to hear myself ... and now I suppose I can appreciate others' choices without feeling judged.


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