It’s not always easy living a downtown lifestyle while being a single, full-custody-mom to a 7-year-old, without a car. It’s hard not being able to load up on groceries or quickly take my kid to the babysitter, and getting out of town to visit my grandparents presents a particular challenge. But there are hidden benefits as well, both to our life as a small family and to the environment and urban life.
As we’re always walking or taking public transit, we’re constantly interacting with all types of people. From subway platforms to coffee shops, I get to socialize with adults on the regular; and so does my daughter. It makes her feel like she’s part of a community. This way of living also fits my values of environmental sustainability, in that I believe a key part of remaking our way of living to be more environmental is to avoid commuting, car-culture and to set up your life to live more locally on a daily basis.
We love the way we get around town, but I understand many are of the opinion that as a parent—living car-free is not an option. Here are some of the ways I’ve dealt with key concerns around car-free parenting.
Without a car, the distance between you and the grocery store is critical. Considering proximity to grocery stores when choosing where to live will make your life a lot easier. If this is not an option, be sure to take advantage of any and all local shops near your house. Spontaneous trips to pick up unexpected items are difficult with a kid, so don’t feel bad about not having the time to make a full grocery trip. It’s also a good idea to shop at your local butcher shop or fruit stand every day so you only have to make a bigger shop once a week. It’ll save on money, food waste, and keep you connected to your community! My kid has a relationship with the local butcher, pizza maker, and convenience store cat.
Nothing but respect to people who for various reasons have to brave the inaccessibility of misogynist design to take a stroller on the bus, but I managed to make babywearing work and it feels like a huge life-hack for a mom without a car. I can squeeze on the bus when it’s full, I don’t have to worry about accessible routes, and I can climb any and all stairs. Even though my kid is in kindergarten now, when she had an ear infection and I had to take her to a walk-in clinic I strapped her to my back and carried her there like a giant human backpack. I still wear her on my back to carry her to my babysitter who lives in another unit of building, because at 5 AM my kid is barely awake and this way she feels snuggly and doesn’t have to really wake up. There’s a learning curve with babywearing especially if you have back problems (which I do), check out this site, or a local babywearing group for more info.
Baby and child seats on bikes are really awesome and freeing: it’s like you are riding the stroller! This summer I ended up with a baby seat on the back and a big basket on the front to carry our stuff, which made it really fun for both of us to be able to bike to Christie pits to go swimming in the wading pool. I don’t find that safety is as big of an issue as I thought it would be, because cars give me a much wider berth when I have a baby seat on my bike. I didn’t get my shit together last year as she outgrew her seat, but in the spring we are going to try a tandem bike. Biking is important to me as a political statement as well as a mode of transportation and I’m excited to get back in the saddle.
Part of my car-free lifestyle is about focusing on what’s available in my own neighbourhood or close-by. We have relationships with all the small businesses in our local micro-neighbourhood. When I decided to focus on yoga for a year I picked a yoga studio that was on my main bus route and right by my kid’s school. We are involved in our local Jewish community which I picked for its inclusiveness and social justice-but also because its located in the neighbourhood we live in. Sometimes i want to sign her up for something cool that’s not in our area but then I think about the logistical difficulties and I take a pass. I joke that I plan my whole life around the Ossington bus route.
When you are in a pinch, taxis are an option. Taking the occasional taxi is still cheaper than car ownership. Unlike Uber or Lyft, Taxis are considered public transportation so they are not required to use car seats, this makes them a good option for unplanned or multi-leg trips, when you get caught in inclement weather or when you just get exhausted. Of course it’s better to bring a car seat if you’ve planned your trip especially for babies, and with my older child I’ve been known to strap a booster seat to my backpack for planned trips.
For many parents in the city, finances are a serious factor due to the cost-of-living, especially childcare for younger kids, so keeping costs down is a major factor in the choice to not own a car. Without having to pay for insurance, parking, and gas, going the car-free route can be ideal, especially for single parents where finances are often an issue. Raising my child in a more sustainable way that allows us to engage with our local community is super important to me, as is showing her that being an environmentalist doesn’t mean you need to own an electric car. Mass transit, walkable communities and cycling are better for mental health and for more sustainable development.
I’m not going to pretend that everything is easy; with or without a car, having a kid increases the logistical problems of life exponentially. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to compromise your preferred (or required) lifestyle to buy a car. You don’t have to be a soccer mom, wine mom, or a pumpkin spice latte mom, constantly shepherding your kids around in a vehicle. There are other options that might make more sense for you and your family, whatever that family looks like.
Megan Kinch is a writer in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @meganysta.