Saturday, May 24, 2008

Plumber's guide to childcare

When damp began redecorating our wall, we called in two plumbers.

The first quoted us a reasonable sum, saying he would drill a few strategic holes, run in a new set of pipes and otherwise have us showering safely again with minimal fuss. The second hatched about the same plan - but slipped in a few pleasant extras. He would replaster our wall, to remove the offending mould. And he would open a panel to drain any excess water still lurking.

We've since gotten to thinking about how the comparison relates to our hopes for Sonny. In one child-rearing scenario, we might implement a decent-enough care plan, delivering all the food, shelter and clothing he requires, providing plenty of stimulus and piping him into good schools. Or we might go further and - much as with plumber number two - improve the deal with, oh, special tutors and better holidays.

The twist is that, when it comes to raising a child, we may want to be extra-careful about not overdoing things. It's not just that, for instance, a plumber wouldn't have won our favour by willy-nilly suggesting prettier new wall tiles, or a snazzier bathtub: Here, the general lesson would simply be that merely because something can be done doesn't mean it should be.

Parenting, however, is likely an even trickier business than plumbing, with apologies to any insulted plumbers. And a child that has had the very best served up on a silver platter might learn quite the wrong early lessons, however much he might otherwise benefit. So why not, to stay with our example, tell the plumber to leave the mould be? We would then have to fix it ourselves, and improve our home decoration skills. The old-fashioned phrase is that it 'builds character'. It's a phrase we still like.

Hey, not all old pipes are leaky and need replacing.