Q. Our two children, one 10 and the other 12, are giving up grief about the summer.
They are signed up for a tennis camp and art lessons, but what they want to do is make money (lots). There is one drawback. Since no one else wants to hire them, they think I should, even though they already get a reasonable allowance.
I think some people around here are expecting too much. Is it me - or the kids?
A. You both are. This may stagger some parents, but we think you should pay your child only if the work is extraordinary, if you can afford it, and if he has to give up a paying job to work for you.
Since neither you nor your wife is paid to mow the lawn or cook the meals, you are going to resent it when you pay your children to help around the house - and so will they. Trust a child to spot a Mickey Mouse arrangement.
This defeats the whole reason for work. Your children not only want the chance to earn money, but the ability to earn it. They couldn't be asking for anything more important.
Between 6 and 12 a child is stuffing his head with thousands of facts, concepts and principles, but instinctively he knows that this is not enough. A pre-school child judges himself by how well he moves his body, but in the middle years he bases his self-esteem on his competence.
Tennis is dandy, and so is art, but inside every child is a primitive person who wants to believe that he can take care of himself, any time, anywhere.
It is a need that was met differently a few hundred years ago. As Philippe Aries wrote in "Centuries of Childhood," children started their working careers at 6 or 7, when they were sent away to apprentice with other families.
While we are a tad more moderate, we still recommend the apprenticeship system.
By the time a collection of families has children old enough to be in school, the parents have many skills, from fixing a faucet to rewiring a lamp, hemming a skirt, pruning a hedge, cleaning a house, tending a baby or painting a wall.
The apprenticeship begins when you gather the children together to find what work they like best and then meet with the parents and neighbors who are willing to teach one child at a time, in exchange for some half-price help. It's a matter of circulating the names of the children, their phone numbers and their interests and then keeping out of the arrangements, just as other parents will let you hire (and fire) you apprentices without interference.
To work for someone outside the family, even at apprentice pay, tells the child that he is old enough to be taken seriously and because the adult works with only one child at a time, he will take himself seriously, too.
As an old plumber told us when he turned down the helper's friend, "One boy is one boy; two boys is half a boy and three boys is no boy at all." CAPTION: Illustration, no caption