After 6 years in Los Angeles, I moved my family to a 5,000-person town in Illinois. We can now afford the life our children deserve.


After 6 years in Los Angeles, I moved my family to a 5,000-person town in Illinois. We can now afford the life our children deserve.

Renee Childs January 11, 2022

  • After six years of living in Los Angeles with two young children, my family decided to move to a small town.
  • Having our kids grow up near their grandparents was very important for all of us. 
  • In L.A., we felt like we couldn’t really enjoy the things the city has to offer. 

“This place is alive,” I thought as I stepped out of the car at 11 p.m. in a southern Illinois town of 5,000 people.

The author's children playing in a field in Illinois
Courtesy of Renee Childs

In August 2015, my family left Los Angeles, which was alive with busy freeways and bustling restaurants. But this small community was alive with the sound of crickets, owls, and blowing trees. It was literally alive.

My husband and I spent years contemplating staying in Southern California, with its high cost of livinghit-or-miss public schools, and distance from family — we spent thousands of dollars flying back and forth to the Midwest to visit them. At a certain point, it became unrealistic for us to keep chasing what we thought was our dream. 

L.A. has a lot to offer, but we weren’t doing much

We lived in L.A. for six years and loved the cultural diversity, the endless places to explore, and my husband especially loved the idea of being able to surf the Pacific in the morning and ski down Mt. Baldy in the afternoon.

I, too, liked the idea of having outdoor adventures, Disneyland, and the beach nearby to visit with the kids. But even though we lived 20 miles from some of these wonders, it could take hours to arrive.

Animated map shows best and worst states to raise a family

Where you decide to live can be crucial to raising a family. There are so many decisions to weigh from education to safety to cost of living.

At times, it felt like we were imprisoned in paradise. We were close enough to have the allure but practically couldn’t drive anywhere between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. Then we’d need to head home before 2 p.m., otherwise we’d be stuck in hours of horrendous traffic.

One of the more traumatic days of my life was after a single-parenting attempt at Disneyland. We missed the 2 p.m. “avoid traffic” deadline and left at 2:45. We sat in traffic for hours. My children, a 2 -year-old and 6-month-old, were strapped in their car seats, helplessly screaming hard enough to blow their vocal cords and my sanity.

We couldn’t afford the life our children deserved

The cost of living added financial stress that made us wonder how we could afford to stay long term and how everyone else seemed to make it work. The financial benefit of staying included a soaring appreciation of home values. But leaving meant we could use that lofty down payment on more stable and cash-flowing investments.

The real kicker was our stage of life. We had two small children in an apartment with no yard and our families 30 driving hours away. After losing one of our parents unexpectedly, we wanted our kids and parents to have rich experiences with one another during this precious phase. 

My husband found a work-from-home job, and I was able to start a master’s degree with the support of my parents nearby.

We do miss the friendships and fascinating people we became close to in L.A., the pop-up opportunities to sit in on a movie screening, and the impressive hiking. My daughter says she wants to be a ballerina and an actress, and sometimes I wonder if we moved from the right place to the wrong place for her dreams.

The emotions of leaving on that one-way flight were exhausting. Change is not easy. But we are enjoying the novelties of the Midwest, like hanging with live pigs at the farm store, hosting baby goats in our yard, and visiting the local creamery, where we eat lots of artisan cheese and ice cream.

We get to share the four seasons of thunderstorm watching, snowball fights, the flowering of spring, and pontoon-boat rides in the summer. And, of course, grandma and grandpa’s love goes a long way.

Author: John Hanno

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Bogan High School. Worked in Alaska after the earthquake. Joined U.S. Army at 17. Sergeant, B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 84th Artillery, 7th Army. Member of 12 different unions, including 4 different locals of the I.B.E.W. Worked for fortune 50, 100 and 200 companies as an industrial electrician, electrical/electronic technician.