The exciting news of a baby arriving often brings with it a realization: Your cozy apartment in the city won’t cut it much longer. Suddenly, suburbia starts to look pretty appealing.

That’s what happened to me. A mother of four kids, I experienced the daunting task of relocating from Manhattan to the suburbs, and I didn’t make the best choices right out of the gate. We’ve lived in New Jersey, Connecticut and Westchester since the birth of our first child. Each time we settled, we realized that the town we chose wasn’t ideal for us or our children. But how do you know which suburb is the perfect fit? It’s about asking yourself the right questions— and, ultimately, getting the right answers.

What towns have you heard, of and why are you interested in them?

The ideal town for your best friend and her family may not be the best fit for yours. Discussing the towns you’ve come across and why they interested you helps you to separate the needs and wants of others from those of your family.

What’s important to you about a neighborhood?

List the things you can’t live without. For example, knowing whether a local coffee shop and dog park are essential to your daily life is key.

Do you prefer public or private education for you children?

School systems can make or break a town for many families. Investigating education options and envisioning your kids in the local environment is a must before looking at homes.

What’s an acceptable commute?

Is an hour-long commute by train completely out of the question? Being realistic about going to and from work is an integral part of choosing a town. Remember that everything is a trade-off. Typically, the longer the commute, the more house and land you get for your buck.

What form of childcare do you prefer?

Know a town’s childcare options to see whether they match up with your preferences.

Will you have fun?

Learn about the social scene. Find out what time places of business close. Is there only one park for playdates? Mom and dad need to look at the social options for themselves as well as their little ones.

Once you’ve found a town you think may suit your needs, it’s important to test things out.

  • Commute to work
  • Go grocery shopping
  • Grab a latte at a local coffee place and check out who works behind the counter, as well as the type of customers who frequent the place
  • Plan for your child to visit prospective schools for a day
  • Do a test class at a local mommy-and-me program, or try an after-school activity with your older child to see what the kids and parents are like

Don’t worry about finding the perfect home from the start. First, find the town that satisfies your parenting style and the way you want to raise your family. Once you move and set up your life, it is always easier to upgrade the house than it is to change the town. In fact, most families tend to upgrade or change homes within three to seven years. During the entire process, knowing when to compromise eases any emotional strain. Regardless of budget, however, the town is never worth comprising on.

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