Parenting in Chicago is hard. Two recent events reminded me of this.
The first, running our two daughters out to the car parked in front of our house in what seemed like biblical rains — no attached garage to keep us dry. And the second, wading into the Chicago Public Schools application process. After reading about three different ways to apply to preschool, I realized this was the first step in a nebulous 18-year-plus journey.
These are surface examples of a subtler thought that has gnawed at me for the last couple of years: This is not how I grew up.
In many ways, my childhood was idyllic. I grew up in a nice suburb and have fond memories of it. That’s why I always planned to raise my children in one. If the suburbs worked for me, why wouldn’t I raise a family in the same way?
Marrying a Chicago native changed things. And while we’re committed to living in the city, a review of the news headlines on any given day makes Chicago seem like the least family-friendly place to be.
I’m slowly, sometimes reluctantly, learning the city is a great place for a family. What I know now is that the childhood my two daughters experience is not going to be the one that I had — and that’s okay. In fact, I’m glad. Here's why:
My daughters will not be intimidated by the “big city” things that scared me. They will know how to get from point A to point B and all the way to Z. And they’ll do it by understanding the CTA routes and schedules. This ability will open up the city to them and make so many experiences instantly accessible: visiting other neighborhoods, biking by the lake, enjoying countless festivals and museums, and soaking in the world-class culture Chicago offers.
The diversity of cultures, learning and day-to-day experiences my children will encounter will provide a perspective — and, I hope, understanding — that’s hard to come by in the suburbs. From trying elotes at the park to neighbors who speak a different language, their close proximity to others different from them raises an opportunity to know people and their cultures better.
My girls will have a chance to see and respond to the challenges of the city. They can be part of making Chicago not just the place where they live, but the community where they thrive. For us right now it looks messy. We cart our girls to homeless shelters and imperfectly prepare meals for guests once or twice a month. But our hope is that one day they’ll lead us to the problems they seek to fix in our city and commit to serving our community.
Chicago reminds me on an almost-daily basis that the things that are worthwhile are often challenging. Raising a family in Chicago is a worthwhile challenge, and one that will leave me thankful that my daughters experience a different childhood than my own.