Jawaria’s Family of 6 in Pittsburgh

Jawaria lives in a 675-square-foot apartment in Pittsburgh with her husband, Jibin, and four kids age five to sixteen. Their life is a vibrant, positive picture of urban living.

Learning to see the entire city as an extension of home is Jawaria’s number one life hack for city family life, and it doesn’t take long to see that she lives out that idea daily. We’d love to take The T around downtown Pittsburgh with Jawaria and her family, but this interview will do for now. We think you’ll be so inspired by this family of six!

Jawaria and Jibin live in a 675-square-foot apartment in Pittsburgh with their kids, Zayn, Sayf, Zoya, and Sophia.
Pittsburgh and the Monongahela River at dusk.

Tell us about your city!

Pittsburgh is an interesting, old, mid-sized city, and it’s growing at an incredible pace. The last decade has seen a lot of growth and the city has become a cultural and technological hub in many ways. As a result, the city’s population and opportunities have both increased, and Pittsburgh has shifted into a nice mixture of old and new.

I will say, one downside of an increased population means our old roads can get clogged with heavy traffic jams. Multiply that by a million when it snows! Public transportation in Pittsburgh exists, but it’s not as widespread or efficient outside of the city.

How long have you lived in Pittsburgh?

I moved here from Florida for my Masters degree seventeen years ago. My plan was to finish school and move to London. Somehow Jibin, the guy I met in undergrad, inserted himself into my plans. Never in a million years did I think I’d be married with four children and still in Pittsburgh more than a decade later!

City kids! Zayn (16), Sayf (13), Zoya (10), and Sophia (5).

What keeps you in the city? Or, to say it differently, what do you love about city life?

I love the noise, the hustle-bustle, and close proximity to everything. I am a city person through and through! The ability to walk everywhere—parks, the library, grocery store, restaurants—is what keeps us living here. Jibin works in the city, so his commute is really easy.

Our son Sayf was diagnosed with Autism at a very young age and we found so much help available to him in the city, from speech and oral therapy to occupational therapy. That’s a big part of what keeps us here too.

Andy Warhol Bridge and downtown Pittsburgh skyline

Can you share a time you felt like your family was thriving in city life?

Honestly, city life allows us to thrive all day, everyday! The opportunities are endless. From museums to parks; from cheap swim and golf lessons to soccer leagues; bicycle paths to hiking trails; ice skating to Frisbee golf; 24-hr grocery stores to 24-hr laundromats; from Primanti Brother sandwiches to kale muffins—everything is at our fingertips. Oh, and when life happens (asthma attacks, broken bones, concussions), UPMC hospitals, among the top 10 in the country, are also always there for us.

There are so many services run by the city that we take advantage of: language courses, teen talks, elderly services, and free lunches during summer to name a few. We also join some of the many organizations that offer volunteer opportunities for families.

I can tell you really love Pittsburgh! How often do you have these feelings of joy and delight about the place where you live?

I think when you are content, any place brings joy and delight. I am especially grateful to be living in a city where there is a surprise at every corner.

The T!

We have met so many kind and friendly people here (initially that can be overwhelming, especially if you aren’t accustomed to it)! Friendly grannies stop us mid-stroll to hand out shiny quarters or sometimes bags of colorful marshmallows. A random dad on the trolley shares extra candy or fruits from his grocery bag with the children. The restaurants we frequent often add a complimentary side or dessert—at times an entire entree!—because they know we could use it. The librarians kindly remove late fees without us even asking. The delivery guys actually ask about how the children are doing in school! The barber below our apartment brought our children their first ever LEGOs (they belonged to his children before). When we had our fourth baby, my hairdresser showed up at our apartment early one morning and only left after making stuffed cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, and chicken soup. I remember it so vividly because I think I’m still getting over the shock!

All of these things make Pittsburgh one of the friendliest places we have ever lived in.

I think when you are content, any place brings joy and delight. I am especially grateful to be living in a city where there is a surprise at every corner.

Shared bedroom magic

Has there ever been a time when you felt like you were merely surviving—maybe questioned whether you were cut out for city life?

Pittsburgh gets fewer than a hundred days of sunlight. That can adversely affect anyone, especially stay-at-home parents of young children. I remember the time I had three children under the age of six and the dreary weather just got to me. I had recently quit my job and after the first month of watching TV, cleaning up messes, and sleeping away the afternoons, it became monotonous. I just wanted to move to a warmer place by the beach.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is real, and tight quarters make it harder sometimes. How did you overcome it?

I went out with a friend one day and realized I wasn’t leaving my home enough. That night we bought a heavy-duty double stroller with an additional seat to accommodate all three kids, a rain cover, a coffee cup holder, and ski gloves for myself. I never looked back! I went out for walks with the children even in the midst of snowstorms—I just bundled them up in a few too many layers!

Now that my children are older we still leave the house daily, even if just for ten minutes. The fresh air does wonders for the mind, soul, and body.

Have you ever thought of leaving the city?

We considered moving for a better school district when our eldest was about to start middle school. But the more we thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed to have to move for school. So we did our research and now we do a combination of Cyber school and Home school, depending on the needs of each child.

What have you gained—or sacrificed—for life in the city?

Space is always the biggest sacrifice when living in a city. For us, lack of space sometimes costs us time. For example, not having a washer or dryer in our home means doing the laundry at the laundromat. This requires dedicated time each week and can be at frustrating, especially when the weather is nice!

Laundromat life on a really good day!

On the other hand, we have gained so much as a family by living in the city. Our small apartment has allowed us to be a close-knit family. Living in such close proximity to each other means learning early to get along, respect each other, and share well.

With Pittsburgh being so diverse, our children have been introduced to various cultures, foods, and traditions and they meet people from numerous backgrounds and walks of life on a daily basis. This allows us to become more appreciative, grateful, open-minded and empathetic. We’ve also learned to be creative, spontaneous, and accommodating.

I think city families are remarkably creative. Can you give me an example of how you’ve been creative recently?

Not long ago, we hosted a party for 55 guests. The party started at the park, and as the food and the guests dwindled it moved to our apartment. We even had some out-of-towners stay the night! As a matter of fact, over the years we’ve hosted many overnight guests, some even staying for a few weeks. Once we learned to just go with the flow, life became a lot simpler! Things always work out.

What advice would you give to someone who has recently moved to a city or is considering a move?

City life can be an incredible experience. Be open to new people and ideas!

The more you interact the more you learn, the more you learn the more you know, and the more you know the better you can serve yourself and others.

See more of Jawaria and her family on Instagram and check out her home feature on Apartment Therapy!