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Lucy Mangan: ‘Swearing? It’s Just Another Baby Milestone’

All you can do is grin and bear it when the effing and blinding starts, says writer Lucy Mangan

That I WAS yet again outpaced by a child should come as no surprise by this stage. Like most parents, I tend to get the hang of something – babygros, purée, changing nappies one-handed – just as he’s about to leave it behind forever.

Suddenly, the babygros become trousers and braces, mushing up carrot and apple becomes lobbing eggs at him and running, and nappies become trying to pull down padded pants and trousers (Why did I use braces? Why?) in time for the potty to fulfil its calling.

Are you a potty mouth?

But I’ve never felt worse than when, a few weeks ago, my two and a half year old son was playing with some toys when something went mildly wrong with his plans for Mouseface and Hodgepodge. In those fluting, singsong toddler tones that make us all cry a little inside for their sweet innocence, he said, ‘Oh f**k. F**k, f**k, f**k, f**k, f**k!’ It was one of those development stages you don’t realise is looming – your baby’s first swear word.

'It was a development stage I didn't realise was looming - my baby's first swear word'

I’ve felt like I’ve let my child down before. I’ve felt I’ve done the wrong thing with him before. But I’ve never felt like I’d actually corrupted him before. ‘Think yourself lucky you were alone when it happened,’ said my friend Sara.

She was greeted at the door of her son George’s (all names have been changed to protect the less-innocent-than-they-were) preschool at the end of one day to be advised that, when George had knocked over a plastic jar, he’d muttered, ‘Jesus Christ’ with a kind of disgusted resignation. The only saving grace, she says, was that he hadn’t yelled it out for the whole class to hear. ‘You take what comfort you can,’ she added morosely.

Not cool, not clever

It’s always a shocking moment and the urge to react with exhortations to ‘Never, ever do that again’ is almost overwhelming but, as ever, that’s counterproductive. Then the bad words take on the glamorous lure of the forbidden and they will try them out (in different tones and combinations, their powers of invention seemingly infinite) all the more.

We’ve gone for ignoring it and, so far, it’s working. Sara opted for a breezy, ‘Some words aren’t right for children to say’ and has had no (public) outbursts since. And, of course, we’re both trying to curb our own swearing in front of the children.

Bloody hard, though. ‘Because I’m Irish and my wife’s northern, we can always tell who our son is copying,’ says my friend Dan. ‘If it’s “Feckin’ eejit”, it’s obviously me. If it’s “Y’daft bugger”, it’s obviously her. Whoever it is just rolls his or her eyes and says, “That’s my boy.” What else can you do?’ Indeed.

For Lucy Mangan's monthly column, subscribe to Mother & Baby magazine here

Lucy’s new book Charlie's Chocolate Factory: the Complete Story of Willy Wonka, the Golden Ticket and Roald Dahl's Greatest Creation is out on September 4th.

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