Written by Lucy Mangan



Lucy Mangan didn’t sweat the baby stuff when it came to her little boy, but the responsibility for his moral education is making her decidedly edgy.

child reading Ladybird 'Danger Men' book

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Most of the time I manage to keep things in perspective, I think. Obviously, I am not to be wholly trusted when I say this. Very few people think that actually, their perspective on everything is massively skewed (“Hello! I see all events and situations through a hugely distorting prism of my own prejudices and proliferating, untameable neuroses! Would you like a coffee?”). Humans are generally unwilling to acknowledge that they live lives of foaming overreaction. That would compound the mental crippling to an unworkable degree.

But I didn’t panic over mixed feeding when my milk didn’t come in properly for ages when my son was born, or about giving him the occasional – okay, more than occasional – crappy, vegetable-free meal when he moved on to solids. I was able to figure that if that kind of thing had any marked, long-term effects the human race would have died out in 1955 when formula and convenience food were recommended by the medical profession almost as highly as smoking and pre-dinner cocktails (the last two admittedly not for babies).

But now my son is four. We’re moving away from the effects of tangible things on his body and into the far less tangible, infinitely more complex world of effects on his mind – what I suppose, if I were the kind of person that used phrases like “his moral education”, I would call his moral education – and I am almost completely paralysed by fear and doubt.

“If I let him watch television for 20 minutes am I killing off synapses, turning his frontal lobes to mush and murdering his chances of the 2040 Nobel Prize in physics?”

If I read him Babar (hunter shoots baby elephant’s mother, baby elephant runs away to town, is thrilled with sight of civilisation, buys a suit, hurries back to jungle to raze natural world, build own town and get crowned king of it), will he become predisposed to think that colonialism is a good thing? Am I creating a UKIP-voter of the future? Are the princes and princesses in his books of fairy tales too thin/handsome/heterosexual/rigidly cast in traditional gender roles?

If I let him watch television for 20 minutes am I killing off synapses, turning his frontal lobes to mush and murdering his chances of the 2040 Nobel Prize in physics? Or am I allowing him some valuable downtime in which to prepare for another afternoon’s absorption of new and thrillingly stimulating experiences? Should I be able to persuade anyone to provide these new and thrillingly stimulating experiences, of course. I have to go back to work.

I thought that because I’d been fairly sane and rational about the baby stuff I’d be okay from then on. Now I know that I merely postponed what I believe is technically termed ‘the crackalackamental stage’ for a couple of years. We all, it seems, have to pass through it at some point. Maybe that is the very definition of motherhood and you’re not fully qualified until you have spent every waking moment of some key developmental time consumed with mad anxiety and the conviction that everything you are doing for your child can only be for the worse.

In which case, I think I am well on my way to full certification. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got to go and read the Ladybird Danger: Men at Work to him again. Amended for sexual equality, of course. It doubles the length but halves the guilt. It’s the best I can hope for now.


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Written by Lucy Mangan

Lucy Mangan is a columnist and features writer for Stylist, The Guardian and basically anyone else who'll have her. She's written four books (available on Amazon and far more morally sound places) and is currently at the most painful stage of writing a fifth. Please send drugs.