Having kids in New York if you're not rich: how do people pull it off?
February 5, 2011 5:50 PM   Subscribe

Having kids in New York if you're not rich: how do people pull it off?

So, me and the wife have been together for a while and the kid conversation is getting more and more and more frequent. Since we're not getting any younger, it's pretty much set we'll be doing this soon.

We're in our late 30's and we both work. We live comfortably but we're definitely not rich (we can use both incomes). She doesn't want to stop working after the baby is born, and I think she's right. We love New York and we would like to stay here (preferably Manhattan) and raise a child here. But the logistics of it is driving us crazy!

There are a lot of things about raising a child in NY we don't know the first thing about. You see, we're both from Brazil. And there, apartments are bigger, labor is cheaper, and it's common to hire live-in nannies until the kid is five. Also, there's a 4-month maternal leave, which helps kick things off.

Given that these luxuries are not available here (at least not to us mere mortals), how do people pull it off? How do women go back to work, and how soon they do? How difficult is it to find good daycare, how much money does it cost and how soon do people put their children there?

And what about older kids? Is the public school system as bad as they say? Are decent private schools as bad as they say?

I know it's not impossible, because many do it. I just don't see how they pull it off. Maybe I'm making too much out of it? This thread was really helpful, but I think I'm looking for more basic advice, because it's really, literally, foreign to us.

Please help us have a baby without having to move to Westchester!
posted by falameufilho to Human Relations (19 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: oops: are decent private schools as bad expensive as they say?
posted by falameufilho at 5:52 PM on February 5, 2011

Not that you want to divulge personal details here, but how much combined income do you two make? Raising a kid in Manhattan and sending him to private schools is extremely expensive. (As I'm sure you know.)

As for pubic schools, PS 6 is considered the gold standard, and, for the later years, Stuyvesant and Bronx Science are nationally renowned public high schools. But they are as selective as most of the best private high schools in NYC (Dalton, etc.)

Good resources for this type of question include UrbanBaby and other related sites.
posted by dfriedman at 5:57 PM on February 5, 2011

I've taught in NYC independent schools for the past 15 years and seen tuitions go through the roof. My current school (one of the best according to Forbes)will be about greater than $35,000/year for K-12 next year.... so yes, they're VERY expensive. That's near the top end of the scale though. None are cheap, but the quality of the education is worth the expense, in my opinion. I'd spend that much on my kids (If I had any) in a heartbeat.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:03 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Most companies in the US are required to provide three months of unpaid leave to new parents under the Family Medical Leave Act. Sometimes you can get AFLAC or other short-term disability. Did I mention that this leave is unpaid? Because it is unpaid. Yet the rent and the groceries persist.

As dfriedman indicates, where you live impacts the quality of the public schools, but by and large, yeah, not so good at the elementary school level, and unless you are relatively poor, you'll be paying for daycare from 3 months through 4 years.

Decent private schools are difficult to get into -- from the Kindergarten level up -- and all private schools are incredibly expensive. The price does not correlate with the quality.

Our solution was to pay for infant daycare what I paid in college tuition, run up a ton of credit card debt and then move to Cleveland. This has worked out better than you'd expect, actually.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:07 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: (To clarify on the daycare point: if you make very little money, there are Universal Pre-K and Head Start subsidies available, for 4 year olds and possibly slightly younger. I have no idea whether the programs that accept these are any good. I suspect that the upper limit on income is nonetheless very low by your standards, if you're a Manhattan resident with two incomes and no kids.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:10 PM on February 5, 2011

Best answer: I think a lot of poor new yorkers use cheap, unlicensed daycare - maybe a grandma who watches a bunch of babies in the building during the day. Better off new yorkers use nannies without visas and pay cash under the table, saving on taxes. (I'm not suggesting you do this, just pointing out how its done.) As for private school, probably not possible for you. But I hear that public schools are often much better than people give credit for - and not only the top charter schools, just the regular schools.

For finances, it would probably be smart for you to scale down costs so you can live on just one salary, regardless of if your wife is actually working. The easiest way to do this is usually saving on housing costs by moving to a cheaper neighborhood.
posted by yarly at 6:11 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't knock Westchester prematurely! After 9 years in the city we LOVE our burb. 30 minute train ride to they city, great neighbors, pre-schools you just "sign up" for, and great public schools.... Not all burbs are as stuffy as Scarsdale and Rye. Try the rivertowns...
posted by mtstover at 6:12 PM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

To sort of echo what mttstover is saying, moving just a little outside the city really isn't the end of the world and can improve many things considerably - particularly public schools. We moved just outside the city to (yikes! - NJ) right near the Meadowlands Stadiums and we've got a huge house, low taxes and the schools are very good (not that I have kids in them but my friends do and I've got friends on the school board so I think I've got a good picture of things). Just something to consider... We hated leaving Manhattan for Brooklyn and then Brooklyn for NJ, but its really been a good thing. Both of our commutes to Manhattan are simple as well. You might very well be able to get the best of both worlds if you compromise just a little.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:32 PM on February 5, 2011

Best answer: I live in the East Village. I don't have children but most of my friends do. They raise their kids the way people have for millennia: they rely on a network of other people.

For babycare, two or three families share the cost of a nanny. Same for after-school childcare. You also develop a roster of people you can call for backup child-transporting. I'm one of those people, though I had to pretty much demand that role. Most people are hesitant to ask friends for this kind of help, for fear of being seen as a leech. Your friends know you're not a leech (unless you are) and would love to help out. If it's hard for you to ask, then ASK.

Private schools are absurdly expensive. Most do offer scholarships, if you want to try that. Almost all my friends have kids in the public schools—NOT the local P.S.whatever. There's a parallel system of target schools, which are still public schools but have somewhat different curricula. Kids get into these schools through some byzantine combo of location and lottery. I wish I could give a better explanation but it's all so convolutedly boring that I've never been able to follow anyone's explanation. BUT! People successfully navigate that path all the time. No reason why you can't.

Memail me and I can put you in touch with parents who are raising perfectly lovely kids.
posted by dogrose at 6:57 PM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I went to Stuyvesant and it's one of the top public schools in the nation. Most of the other specialized high schools are good, I'm sure. However, it's tough to get in, and it may not be right for your kids. If they want to seriously pursue other things while in school (music, art, sports, etc.) it will be difficult.

Yeah, maybe in the beginning you'll have to hire someone to watch your children or leave your children at some sort of daycare, but as they grow older you can ask for favors from other parents once in a while. There are also lots of after-school programs and such to look into.

The bottom line is, it's more than possible. Even if you're really struggling to pay the rent every month, somehow things work out (as long as you have some sort of income...).
posted by jykmf at 7:20 PM on February 5, 2011

Oh wait, I just saw you want to stay in Manhattan. That seems kind of nuts to me unless you have some great rent control deal or are willing to live wayyy uptown. There's a reason why the couple who moves to Brooklyn or the suburbs after hey have kids is such a cliche - because it is really hard to raise kids on he cheap in Manhattan.
posted by yarly at 7:36 PM on February 5, 2011

Best answer: Most of my co-workers have families and had to move to Queens or New Jersey to afford it, but admittedly some of their wives don't work at all. It seems like most people I know who have children in Manhattan are couples with two decent incomes. And a lot of them live in less premium areas like Inwood or Hamilton Heights. These areas are fine, though some parts can be sketchy.

The area where I live now has many young lovely families. Don't knock Brooklyn until you'd tried it. Windsor Terrace, for example, has much nicer amenities than parts of Manhattan. I also like South Slope, Ditmas Park, and Prospect Heights.
posted by melissam at 8:11 PM on February 5, 2011

Best answer: Not an expert by any means, but surely one of your resources when thinking about childcare is ... you know lots of people in Brazil? However above-board or legal you choose to make it, you should be able to find someone who'll look after a kid in exchange for living in New York.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:48 PM on February 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: NOT to undercut your Manhattan ambitions (I just can't speak to them; the only dual-income-with-kids folks I know of have expensive nannies and such)--but maybe you would want to consider more ethnically diverse Queens? Astoria is very family-friendly, and you can obviously get more space for less than you pay in Manh.

If it happens that you are church-going folks... our church has lots of Brazilians and many children and could help as a social network. (Church is protestant, and doctrinally conservative, so it might not be your cup of tea.)

I have four kids and have lived here 10 years. We gave up on the two-working-parents thing a few years ago; but memail me if you'd like to talk.
posted by torticat at 9:18 PM on February 5, 2011

It can be done, I know lots of people who are doing it. (We left, but we had an offer it was silly to refuse). Important thing from our point of view was health insurance - through your job is best. Second important thing was living situation - we had a pretty terrific apt. that we had been in for ten years. Nannies, we sucked it up and let my parents help pay.

Friends of ours, he is from Bolivia she is 'Murican, they got one of their kids into a very nice, good private school on full scholarship because the child was of a 'minority.' Other friends (she Brazilian, he Dutch) had a child with some learning disabilities and found, with work, a terrific program through the public schools that they are all really really happy with. Yet other friends set up a alternate address (not strictly legal) so they could send their kid to a better public school in another part of town.

It can be done. And your kid will love it.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:07 AM on February 6, 2011

I had a friend who lived in Inwood --- all the way up at 207th. Admittedly, she was single and living with roommates in a small apartment, but the neighborhood was full of young families and there was a nice park just down the street.

She now lives in Queens as she's attending a grad. program there.

Not much, I know, but if you were willing to live way up town, Inwood might not be a bad place.
posted by zizzle at 4:55 AM on February 6, 2011

Best answer: This will not be an issue for many years, but since several people have mentioned how hard it is to get into the most impressive NYC high schools, I thought I'd chime in.

My husband teaches at a small non-charter magnet-style high school in Manhattan that is really quite good and not hard to get into. And there are a LOT of high schools like this, as you can read in this book.

And there are more and more options like this for the early grades, too. Our neighborhood (Astoria), in addition to the decent neighborhood elementary school, has one charter school and two magnet programs for "gifted & talented" students. And there's part-day pre-K (starting age 4) funded by the city(?) available at lots of day care centers.

It seems to me that in many ways, the first few years are the hardest to get through, financially; paying for either day care or a nanny is like paying a second rent every month, even in less pricey areas. Day care can be $1600/month and a nanny will run $500-600/week. Lots of people seem to lighten the burden by doing nanny shares; one huge advantage of staying in NYC is that you will inevitably have a large support system of fellow parents within a very short radius.

Good luck!
posted by queensb at 7:53 PM on February 6, 2011

Best answer: You might consider me a success story for this particular scenario, but unfortunately a lot of what made it work for us is difficult to replicate:

- lived for a long while in an inherited rent-stabilized apartment
- have a nearby parent willing and able to provide low-cost childcare

Both of those have lowered our costs tremendously and made it possible for us to recently buy a coop in our desired neighborhood.

Bottom line, public schools are probably the only way you can make it work if you're not "rich". There are some quite good ones, especially in Manhattan. So you'll want to target one or two schools and figure out how to afford to live in that area. It took us a long time to find the place we bought, but the market was against us for many years. Renting is an option too of course, if it works for you financially.

Insideschools.org is a good resource, with reviews by editors and parents. They also have a map of each school's zone so you know where you need to live to qualify for that school. Most of the very desirable schools at this point are not accepting students from outside their zone as they used to do, since there are so many more families in the city now. There are also unzoned schools to look at, which accept children from across the district or city, but they generally aren't as good.

One thing to be aware of is that once your child is in a desirable zoned public school, you could move to a cheaper neighborhood without your child losing their spot. I know of some cases like this.

Make a lot of social connections, and talk to them about real estate, schools and nannies. Yeah, you've got to become one of those New Yorkers. But most of the breakthroughs we had came from networking.

I'm afraid I don't have too much advice to offer on childcare. As mentioned above a few public schools have free half-day Pre-K programs starting at age 4, something to include when evaluating your choices. But spots can be very limited and filled by lottery, so don't count too much on it.

Planning ahead (our oldest is in 2nd grade), I'm considering the possibility we might need to spring for private school in the middle school years (grades 6-8), since the very few good ones are placement-only. You also have to test to place into the best high schools. We'll see how it goes :-)
posted by Zippity Goombah at 2:59 PM on February 7, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for the great responses. There's a lot of good stuff here which I'll have to digest over the next six months. Thanks Metafilter!
posted by falameufilho at 9:59 AM on February 8, 2011

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