Dear Dr. Debbie,
We recently learned that our landlord will be terminating our lease in a few months. While we’ve often talked about homeownership (while waiting to be more financially secure), we now have an eighth-grader to think about. How important would it be to keep him in the same school for the rest of this school year? Football is already over for the year and that has been his favorite thing about school and maybe ours, too. He has a great coach! Should we be thinking instead about making the best move to have him in a good high school next year? He’s on the shy side and has had some attention issues with schoolwork. Another factor is that if we move closer to my husband’s job, we’d be closer to where I grew up and where I still have family.
At a Crossroad
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Change is always stressful, especially when there are so many factors in your decision. But if it’s time for a new adventure, it’s best to go into it with a positive attitude.
Assess your financial situation as accurately as possible. The more money you have for a down payment, the less money you’d be paying in interest on a mortgage. See if you may qualify for assistance from the state of Maryland as a first time homebuyer. You’ll need to calculate the amount of money you can afford each month on housing to see what kind of mortgage would be comfortable for you.
Cutting costs in other areas — food, clothing, transportation, entertainment, etc. — increases the amount that could be set aside for the family’s housing. A shorter commute for your husband should be figured into the equation when comparing housing costs closer to his job.
On the negative side, a shy child will struggle to make that new friend or two if he has to change to a new school. However, your son will already be facing a social transition when he goes to high school. Often middle school populations are combined in one larger building for high school. Also, private schools often end at eighth grade at which time students switch to the public high school.
Typically high school is a time for trying out new social groups anyway. Assuming he continues in football, he will have the opportunity to be among a regular group even before the new school year begins. And old friendships, if they’re strong enough, can carry on with the magic of technology and a little parental support for transportation.
As you work on researching your options, consider shopping for next year’s football coach. It sounds like football has a special place in your son’s life, especially when a great coach is involved. There are community leagues in addition to school-based leagues, so widen your search and see what, or more importantly, who is available.
Take a look at high schools in the areas you are considering moving to. Find out about support services for your son’s learning challenges as well as the general school atmosphere, to see where he would fit in well. You can get some information off the internet, but a better plan would be to stop in at a school event, or seek out a high school-aged employee at a local store.
Depending on the extent of your son’s academic difficulties, your search may warrant an appointment with the special education personnel of a potential school before making your decision. It may work best to finish out the year where he is — with a temporary stay elsewhere in your present community, before committing to a mortgage. Perhaps you should set your deadline for being mortgage ready by summer. Your housing decision for the long run should have the next four years prominently in mind.
Family (and Almost Family)
There can be advantages to living near relatives. Ideally, you are there for each other in good times and bad. It may be worth bringing up your impending move, and the wide range of communities you are considering moving to, so that family members can share what they know. They might have input not only on the local high school scene but also about homes that are currently or soon to be on the market. You may have friends who still live in the area who can do the same. Private sales of homes occur sometimes before a sign even goes up, so get those extra eyes and ears working for you.
Another option may be to move in with a family member whose household has decreased. This can work out well to meet intergenerational needs — an older relative benefits from the younger members’ ability to handle physical chores. Or you may have a friend or relative with younger children who has a couple of spare rooms and would appreciate spare grown-ups (and an almost high schooler) to help out.
Such an arrangement would earn your family a nice discount on rent while enriching everyone’s lives with mutually beneficial relationships. Beyond those folks you already know, you can find “shared housing” opportunities online. These may offer an exchange of rent or chores or both.
House Hunting Checklist
When you are ready to consider a new home, it’s helpful to have a clear picture of what you’re looking for. Besides location, the house itself will have features that satisfy your checklist or not. Do you need lots of room to cook? Do you need a fenced yard for a dog? Will your son’s room need morning light to help wake him up? A good realtor will share details about the neighborhood as well as the house itself, but just in case, use a House Hunting Tips and Checklist to be sure you have all the information you need.
You have several important considerations to keep in mind as you plot your next move. Your son can help with decision-making too, however good parenting is often a game of strategy. Once you figure out the best move for your family, the associated adjustments will fall into place. Take these few months that you have to compare all the options.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
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What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy[at]jecoannapolis.com.