Notes on Raising a Family in an Apartment


I’ve always loved San Francisco. I’ve loved the city since I was five or six-years-old, when my family would drive down from Marysville for the weekend to see my cousins or great aunt. I loved the fog, the brilliant orange of the Golden Gate Bridge, and eucalyptus-tinged air that whirred in the city. As a parent, I only hope that I can impart my daughter Ilse with the same love for San Francisco. Of course, loving/living San Francisco comes with the cost of renting an apartment versus owning our own home. Living in an apartment while raising a family comes with its own set of challenges, like noise abatement, space issues, and building rules.

    Noise Abatement

My husband and I are loud conversationalists by nature. When we get excited, we talk loud. When we argue, we argue loud. When our daughter Ilse arrived, she added her own volume to our conversation. This was especially evident around 9:30 at night, when we were sleep training. Ilse would cry after being placed in her crib for 20 minutes. I closed her bedroom windows to abate some of the crying. When she was in our room, I closed ours too. While we did not receive complaints from our fellow neighbors about her crying, we tried to soothe our daughter the best way we could. Crying it out has never felt like a good option. Now as Ilse has grown older and has learned to run, we have a “no running in the apartment at night” rule. We remind her and each other to not run in the apartment in the evening. The rule works most of time, except when her friends or cousins are around!

    Space Issues

My manicurist likes to remind me that we have plenty of space to raise more than two children in our two-bedroom apartment, because there was seven of them in her family when they immigrated to the US over thirty years ago. I was thoroughly impressed, because our little family of three feels tight in two bedrooms. Before we decided to start a family, our second bedroom was our office/den. Our futon and cozy lounge chair was in there. On most nights, we would settle there for the evening, with my husband watching a TV show on his duel monitors and me reading decorating magazines. It was fantastic! When I became pregnant, we rearranged, recycled, and donated things to make way for our new baby. The second bedroom became Ilse’s room/guest room (in a pinch!) Every room on our apartment now has Ilse’s things. It’s amazing how much stuff one little person adds… laundry, groceries, and toys. With every growth spurt, we try to cycle out outgrown clothes and donate them to other family members. Every nook and cranny is used for storage. Whenever one of us is considering buying something large for the apartment, like that new baking pan I was eyeballing at Michael’s or a new computer, we always ask the other, “Where would we store it”? Space is at premium in our apartment, and every inch counts.

    Building Rules

Before growing your family in an apartment, it’s always a good idea to review your lease.  If you’re like me, your lease lives deep in a file cabinet. While most apartment leases don’t restrict tenants from having babies and raising families in apartments, they can limit the number of tenants living in a single unit (apartment). The average is four or five persons. Another item on that lease has to do with decorating the apartment. It’s one thing to hang art; it’s another to baby-proof. Protective hooks and latches cannot be screwed into cabinet doors, bedroom doors, or other permanent apartment fixtures. We use adhesive pulls and latches on those items. For our screen door and low-lying windows, we use heavy wooden dowels to prevent Ilse from opening them. Baby-proofing an apartment is certainly doable, we parents just need to make smart substitutions.

Being able to raise a family in San Francisco is a blessing, even if it’s in an apartment. Just as Ilse is learning the basic manners to be a kind person, she is also learning the importance of being conscientious of others by our living in an apartment. For Ilse, the size of our home does not matter to her, so long as she is happy and fed. For me, the challenges of raising a family in an apartment are minimal compared with the reward of living in the city I love.



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