Advice for couple who in their hearts yearns for another child, but knows they can’t cope.

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Dear Carolyn

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

DEAR CAROLYN: My husband and I have a 5-year-old girl, and are not planning more children — primarily because we are easily stressed, don’t do well when sleep-deprived and aren’t really baby/toddler people. Our daughter was NOT an easy baby.

Yet, I always feel a twinge of sadness when another family with an only announces they’re expecting. I love the idea of a bigger family. I wish we could handle another kid, and I feel terrible when my daughter asks for a baby sister. At the same time, I know this is the right choice for us. How do I bring myself to fully accept it?

— Twinge

DEAR TWINGE: Normally I’d say to make sure you’re sure, given the variables: a different baby will be different, possibly easier (or harder, sure); you’ll be better at it, as veteran parents; knowing your limitations could help you plan better for a second baby’s care, including more paid help. I say this because often it’s some deep, not-fully-acknowledged uncertainty that prevents full acceptance.

But stress, sleep deprivation and the steep difficulty of baby/toddler care are pretty much unavoidable with little kids, so you can probably skip the rethinking step.

What I suggest next is (1) to keep in mind that choosing ANY path leads to some sadness about paths you didn’t take. Believe me, parents with bigger families look at the way parents of onlies can, say, travel with relative ease, better afford population-dense areas, focus on one activity at a time … sorry, getting a little misty here. Anyway, yes, your daughter will beg for a sibling — just as kids with siblings wail, “WHY CAN’T I BE AN ONLY CHILD?!” There’s no one magic way to have a happy family, and there’s no happy family without sacrificing some alternative paths.

(2) Then, stop thinking and start enjoying whatever your choices have made possible for you. Do travel — and sleep in, and go to restaurants that normally slam the doors and turn off the lights when they see families with four kids under 10 coming in. Get your big-family-lite by playing host to other kids, which is so much easier when you don’t have to manage the varying needs of different-age siblings. Savor what you’ve got.

As long as you’re “sure sure.” Good?

Re: Twinge:

Knowing yourself is wise. If you don’t feel like you can cope, then don’t do it. It’s frankly the harder, wiser and kinder decision.

— Only Child

DEAR ONLY CHILD:

Re: Twinge:

I saw a Korean drama once where the heroine realized the “right” decision isn’t one with no regrets because no matter what you choose, you’ll always have regrets. It’s the one with fewer regrets than the alternative. If you think your regret is even 1 percent less than what you’d feel if you’d gone the other way, then you made the right choice.

— 1 Percent

DEAR 1 PERCENT: Useful, thanks.

Re: Korean Drama:

Others of us learned about this in econ grad school. From Wikipedia (http://bit.ly/YesRegrets): “Regret theory models choice under uncertainty taking into account the effect of anticipated regret. … It incorporates a regret term in the utility function which depends negatively on the realized outcome and positively on the best alternative outcome given the uncertainty resolution.”

– Economist

DEAR ECONOMIST: Glad there are lids for the Econ pot.