So many of us have a rose-coloured glasses perspective of what parenting is, and our Hallmark version of parenthood often centres on images of spacious yards, minivans, and life in the suburbs.
In February 2019, the average selling price for a detached home was $1,294,936 - for many Torontonians, the McMansion with the big yard doesn't fit their budget, their lifestyle, or both. In fact, in recent years it's become more and more common for families to live in condos instead of houses. These urban families are able to raise street savvy munchkins with the best possible views.
Here's their perspective on condo living with kids, to help others decide if it's right for them along with some fantastic hacks to help make a sky-high living work for your family.
Walkability is key
One of the big benefits of living in a building, or a complex of buildings, is that there are likely to be a variety of amenities literally at your doorstep. Lindsey is a mother of two and loves the walkability of her condo near Fort York and is appreciative of what Toronto has to offer compared to growing up in Winnipeg, where she had to drive everywhere:
Everything I need is within a 1KM radius from our front door. We can go to the aquarium, we have a pool on our roof, and we have a splash pad and a soccer field. Our doctor and a grocery store are literally right across the street.
Great community and friendly neighbours
When people think about condos they often think of long hallways and awkward conversations with strangers in the elevator, but this is a real misconception. You don't need to have a lawn to build a sense of community in your neighbourhood, many buildings even have parenting and other social gatherings to help people connect. Lindsey loves her parental network within her building:
This is such a community in downtown Toronto. In the winter you can go to someone's house without shovelling out in the snow. If someone needs to run to the grocer, you can leave your kids with a neighbour for five minutes. We never had to put our daughter in the car because we have this happy community right on our floor.
Childproofing and safety is easier
Parents in condos rarely need to worry about stairs and baby gates since, in most cases, the layouts involve little to no stairs. Michelle, a mother of a toddler living in an Islington village condo, believes there is a certain peace of mind in terms of safety within in condo:
I was literally able to see and hear Jacob from every spot in the condo that I was in.
Other parents love that there is a concierge readily available to help with deliveries, large packages, and as an extra set of eyes and ears for normally stressful times, like when a new babysitter is watching the kids.
Except for when it isn't
There are some childproofing stresses in a condo that people in houses won't necessarily need to worry about. Access to windows and balconies in high story buildings can be a huge concern for parents of curious kiddos who love to climb. The same goes for access to the street. A kid can hop on an elevator and end up a variety of places within the building, or go directly outside, within a matter of seconds. Parents maintaining a good relationship with their concierge and neighbours can help alleviate some of these concerns, as can installing high window locks and chain locks on both doors and entrances to balconies to help keep children inside their units instead of roaming the halls.
Birthday parties are a snap
Kid's birthday parties are a pretty big deal, and the good news is that it can be even easier to host one when you live in a condo no matter what the square footage is. Party rooms offer big spaces to play at nominal prices and buildings that have additional amenities including theatre rooms, pools, or courtyards with reservable BBQs and picnic tables are fantastic options when hosting. The added bonus about these spaces is parents don't need to worry about cleaning their home before an event which can be particularly challenging when building a giant robot birthday cake. The dishes can all wait while everyone enjoys a party elsewhere in the building. Lindsey has also used her building's party room to host mom groups on occasion.
Double Duty everything
Space is an issue for most parents whether they're in a house or in a condo. There are a number of things parents can do to make the most of their space, particularly when it comes to kid related stuff. Lindsey, who also works as a professional organizer has a number of hacks to help save space:
Make everything you own multifunctional. Buy stools that have storage space, make couches pull-outs for when you have company. I use shoe cabinets from IKEA to store towels and sheets. I use hooks in my kitchen to hang pots and pans to make everything easily accessible. Think about how stuff can work later so you're not needlessly replacing items, for example, I painted an IKEA kids table to match our decor, so it can be a side table when my kids aren't using it. Another must is ensuring you have a storage locker for lesser used items, like bikes and holiday decorations.
Keeping it simple
Jennifer, a mother of two living in a two bedroom condo just steps away from Union station, believes she had to become a minimalist within her space to remain clutter free:
We got our daughter a loft bed when our son was born, so I can put his crib and her toys under him. She has her own big kid bedroom up top. I reorganized her closet to make it work, and he has a lot of her hand me downs, so we’re not using a lot of storage space for old clothes.
Michelle kept big toys to a minimum to avoid overcrowding, whereas Lindsey employs a one in, one out rule for everything from clothing to toys, to keep storage to a minimum. Once all the hangers are filled in someone’s closet it's time to donate to charity.
Choose experiences over things
We live in a culture where "stuff" is important. Condo living can help families focus on creating memories and experiences together instead of accumulating more objects. All of the parents I spoke to rely on local attractions within the city as a primary source of entertainment. Children’s theatre tickets, memberships to the aquarium, the ROM, the Science Centre, or a nearby indoor playground, make great gifts for condo kids because they're practical and don’t take up a lot of space. Lindsey helps put things into perspective:
Think about whether or not you want to have things or the ability to do things.
It’s not all roses
Beyond a lack of space, there are other factors that bug parents living in condos. Complaints include monthly fire alarm testing which is tough on little ears, particularly during nap time.
Jennifer also says you wonder about disturbing your neighbours when you've been up with a crying baby, or for whether or not others can hear you when you're having "one of those days" with the kids and raise your voice a little more often than usual. Depending on the size of the condo, it can be limiting.
Michelle says they're thinking about getting a bigger place:
We made our decision to rent out our condo because we needed more space. With Jacob getting older a one plus den condo was getting pretty tight for us. Now we’re saving up some more money to move forward and purchase something else. As to what we will buy is still up in the air. Housing prices are ridiculous so we may just look into buying a bigger condo.
Jennifer admits that she struggles with not being able to open her patio door and let her kids go outside to play, particularly since that is what she grew up with. On Halloween, there is no trick or treating, but she takes her kids to another neighbourhood in Toronto along with some local friends. Jennifer says:
We just go outside more. We have two parks steps outside of our door and we try to plan a lot more outdoor activities. We use the patio, but know the kids can't go out unsupervised.
Lindsey loves her big balcony and has room for both a water and a sand table for her daughter, but knows this type of play needs very close parental supervision.
More time for family
Because the GTA is so big many people can spend hours commuting each day. These downtown parents love the extra time they can enjoy with their children. Jennifer thinks this is the biggest advantage of living downtown:
My biggest thing is that I don't want to commute. I don't want to waste time commuting from work. Sure, I pay more for living downtown, but I pay nothing in transit because I walk each day. I can see my daughter playing at her daycare from the comfort of our living room when I work from home.
Lindsey's husband works long hours on Bay Street but is close enough to his family that they can take a streetcar to visit him at lunch on weeks they know he'll be working late so he doesn't miss out on family time. Sometimes when Lindsey has an appointment, her husband is able to pop home on a longer lunch, so hiring a sitter is unnecessary.
Sometimes you need to get creative to make space work. Curtains, giving up the master bedroom so multiple siblings can share a bigger room, shelf dividers, and more are great ways to make condos with kids work. Lindsey even temporarily shifted her spare bathroom into a nursery so her infant son would have somewhere to sleep without disturbing her toddler daughter:
We have a spare room right now that will eventually go to one of the kids, but for now, it's a playroom and for guests. I'd seen photos of other people using master closets for nurseries, so we decided to use our extra bathroom. I had a carpenter come in and make a platform that can be easily removed by wheels for both the bathtub and the toilet. The space is still easily usable if necessary. I let the water run each week to ensure the plumbing remains functional and we've covered up any faucets to prevent head bumps.
It's a lot cheaper
When you consider the costs of condos compared to houses in Toronto, a condo is a more economical option, particularly since parents will already be paying a pretty penny in childcare. Condo fees are generally determined by square footage, so, unfortunately, more space means higher fees, but this is something that can easily be worked into a budget as a fixed expense. Jennifer loves that for the most part, living in a condo means that you don’t need to worry about paying for unexpected repairs or household emergencies since condo fees cover most of these household fixes. Lindsey knows just how much a new roof or leaky plumbing have cost friends who live in Toronto houses and appreciates that for the most part, she avoids the worry of an unknown looming expense when you’re in a house. Lindsey is thrilled that she's been able to use their spare money for travel:
Our daughter isn't even in kindergarten and she's already been to 13 countries.
You won't know any different
Having children is a big change and adjustment, it doesn't matter what type of dwelling you live in. The internet and other parents are fabulous resources to help you save space, time, money and sanity. Jennifer adds it just becomes your lifestyle and you won't know anything else:
We've never really known any different, so this has been our life with kids. Our kids know no different. This is their home.