Q. Our family of four -- two preschool children and a large, older dog -- is moving to an older, colder part of the country.

The new locale offers authentic Victorian housing in the city; older, small-town neighborhoods; sardine developments; open developments much like ours here and country houses and farms.

Is there a best or worst environment for young families?

My husband dislikes the noise and bustle of city life, but mostly he just wants a place to come home to. I like the variety of cities and the open freedom of the country. Small towns don't seem to have town centers anymore -- mostly neighborhoods cut off from each other by freeways -- and I find suburbia boring, inconvenient and restrictive.

We're leaning toward the country, with enough land for a Christmas tree farm and maybe horses. Would our kids be too isolated? Would preschool and school, Scouts, etc., be enough socializing for them?

A. It may be enough socializing for them, but would there be enough socializing for you? Children can be happy anywhere, as long as their parents are happy.

You and your husband will make the best choice if you follow clearheaded negotiations. To do this you'll have to balance your preferences, probably giving more weight to yours than to his, because you'll be at home the most. Before you decide where to live, however, you have to decide what makes each of you tick.

Since you feel isolated in your suburb and regret the loss of small-town centers, it sounds as though people are very important to you. If that's the case, horses may not be a good substitute.

It's great fun to ride in good weather but it's pretty dreary to muck stalls and give the horses the attention they need, day after day.

Trees aren't such a good substitute for people, either. You're probably familiar with the work and the marketing skills that a tree farm requires -- or you wouldn't consider it -- but it's a life that could make you lonelier than ever.

Isolation is doubly demoralizing when you're home with two little children. The intense demands of the young can make motherhood the most ego-damaging job you'll ever have because you seldom get the reinforcement or appreciation you deserve from them. Not many 2 year olds say, "Thanks, Mom, great lunch!"

As charming and lovable -- and loved -- as they are, the chatter and questions and adventures of preschoolers aren't enough. You still need some grown-up conversation, grown-up activities and grown-up interests. Above all, you need strong friendships. They form the network that will hold you up when life seems ready to let you down.

In the country you forge these friendships in long telephone calls from farm to farm, in a development you do it over coffee with neighbors, and wherever you live you make friends while working on projects in PTAs and church groups. It's the city, however, that will give you the greatest choice. With so many people living in a densely populated area, you're sure to find friends whose interests match yours.

The city offers the adventurous family variety in every sphere, with its museums, theaters, ethnic foods and hundreds of small culture shocks that brighten a child's mind.

There are drawbacks, too. You'll still have to walk or drive your children to visit their friends -- unless they live on your block -- and factor other long-term safety precautions into your lives. In time, this will become a plus. City parents have more control over older children than suburban parents -- if they exert it -- because their children have seen enough to know how important it is to tell their parents where they are at all times and why they must be home by dark.

If you do choose the city, concentrate as much on finding the right neighborhood as the right house. A big city has hundreds of neighborhoods -- villages, really -- and each has a character of its own. What is wrong for one family is right for another.

When you visit a neighborhood, check the places where you would be spending much of your time and energy -- the school, the park, even the supermarket. With children along, it's easy to start conversations with other parents and to discover the advantages -- and disadvantages -- of the area.

You'll also want to look for a quiet neighborhood (every city has them) to suit your husband's needs. He shouldn't feel too pressured if you balance city life with weekend camping trips and regular family hikes.

If he still wants full-time country living after a year or two, move on, with no regrets. By then the children will be more self-sufficient and you'll probably be ready for a little more peace and quiet yourself.