I never saw myself living in the suburbs. I have been a city person for most of my life. In fact, I would say the more appropriate term is “city snob.” I used to think a trip out to Short Pump should require a passport and that HOA-led subdivisions and strip malls were signs of the impending apocalypse.
And then in the span of two years our family grew by one dog and two children. Suddenly my urban elitism met its match in the practical reality of life with two babies, and not only did we leave the city, but we moved to the ‘burbiest suburb possible – a new construction, manicured-lawn neighborhood with echoes of the Truman Show.
Despite all of the practical advantages of our lovely new home, despite its convenience and safety, I have still faced an unmistakable sense of disorientation. I also know I am not alone in this unique brand of culture shock and that many other former city people turned suburban parents find themselves slightly off balance in a world of Olive Gardens and golf courses. So, I’ve come up with a guide of sorts, eight tips that will help any city person adapt to the new world order of suburbia.
1. Outfit your car as an extension of your home.
If you live in the suburbs, you will spend a lot of time in your car. There’s no fighting it, so you might as well prepare and use that time to your advantage. Stash snacks, toys, and books to toss at your children in the backseat when they start to complain. Grab lunch for yourself and eat as you drive to various appointments and activities (it might be the most peaceful meal you have all day). Pass the commute by listening to podcasts or new music that you don’t have time to listen to at home. Use your car as a mobile workplace to make calls when you are waiting in a carpool line. In general, embrace the car time, because there’s no way around it.
2. Accept that you will receive thinly veiled threats from your HOA.
If you have young children and/or pets, your house is not going to be in the running for any “Best Lawn” contests. In fact, it is likely going to be the worst looking yard in the entire neighborhood, with yellow patches from your dog’s bathroom breaks and uprooted flowers from your toddler’s explorations. Your trash and recycling cans will always be left out a day too long, and your mailbox is going to be the one on the street that needs a new coat of paint. However, your HOA will likely not take “parenting” as an acceptable excuse for your delinquency, so prepare to receive lots of passive aggressive reminders. Do your best and try to remain calm.
3. Flaunt your individuality whenever you can.
The quirks and diversity of city living are something that can’t be fully replicated in the suburbs. However, you can do your part to bring a little uniqueness to otherwise homogenous neighborhoods. Let your freak flag wave, literally and figuratively. If you’re passionate about politics, put out signs or bumper stickers, even if it will cause certain neighbors to scowl as they pass your house. If everyone else in your neighborhood decorates for Christmas with tasteful white lights, buy a giant, inflatable Snoopy and put it in your front yard. Paint your front door a really bold color. Let your kids run around naked in the sprinkler. Have a little fun and don’t be afraid of the neighborhood gossip mill.
4. Seek out small businesses.
It’s a myth that the suburbs are comprised of only chain restaurants and stores. You might have to look a little harder, but there are plenty of great, local businesses in any suburb. Become a regular. Support the little diner down the road or the family-owned Indian restaurant a few miles away. Check out the cute boutiques or antique stores when you need a gift instead of heading to the mall. Support any business that is run locally, because these places are the ones that prevent your community from feeling like Anywhere, USA.
5. Be a tourist in your own city.
People who live in the city often neglect their own surroundings. Use your newfound space and distance to really appreciate what is on offer. Instead of spending another morning at the mall, head into town and go to a museum or city park. Take your kids shopping downtown and show them independent bookstores. Or simply pick a neighborhood and go on a walk. The best thing about living in the suburbs is that you never have to feel pinned to any one area of town. Use the whole city as your backyard.
6. Embrace your neighbors.
There’s a certain anonymity that comes with living in an urban environment. Sure, you know your next-door neighbors, but people in the city tend to avoid eye contact and keep to themselves. That doesn’t fly in the suburbs. You’ll know everyone, and they will know you, your kids, and your dog by name. So, you can either be that one really surly neighbor, or you can embrace the community. Make Christmas cookies and help your kids deliver them. Organize a game night with the other parents on your street. These are the people who will keep you sane (and maybe even watch your kids in a pinch).
7. Binge city-set TV shows.
If you find yourself homesick for sidewalks, crowds, and high rises, you can always console yourself with fictional city living. Stream Gossip Girl, Sex and the City, 30 Rock, or Friends and get an instant shot of urban life. Or if small towns are more your thing, Gilmore Girls, Northern Exposure, or Dawson’s Creek make for excellent antidotes.
8. Lean in.
You can spend a lot of time fighting your new suburban surroundings and longing for the carefree days of single city life, or you can just lean right into the suburban mom lifestyle. Stock up on athleisure wear and head to spin class, then follow it up with a Starbucks drive-through run. Start a book club, and when it’s your turn to host, buy your wine and cheese in bulk from Costco. Sign your kids up for all of the local parks and recreation activities on offer and join a pool in the summer. Be ok with driving an SUV or minivan if you don’t have one already. Host barbeques and cookouts. Start a vegetable garden and hand out cucumbers to Susan down the street. Join the neighborhood watch. Make trips to Home Depot a weekly event. You’re an adult now, and sometimes that means being secretly okay with all of the trappings of suburbia.