Opinion with Matthew Munson: Knowing who is in ‘the village’ that raises your child

The latest journey for Matthew and Bryan

I had a very strange experience this past Friday night; I was home alone. Bryan had a sleep-over at his nan and granddad’s, and he was excited about it to the point where I thought he might implode. We stopped off at home after school to collect his things, and he was almost dragging me back out the door again. I remember being similarly excited about my sleepovers when I was a child, so I can’t blame him.

When you’re a single parent, the adult-child relationship can be very intense; you’re the centre of the other’s world, but you must not be all of it. That’s not healthy, and it’s not fair to either side. So I watch Bryan walk through the school gates as he strides towards his classroom, and he doesn’t cast a backward look – he’s too busy talking to his friends. He says goodbye to me when he’s arrived at nanny and granddad’s, then is very clearly excited that he gets them all to himself; at that point, I’m the spare part.

To be a parent, letting them grow is part of the process; knowing that it takes a village to raise a child is key, but so is knowing who is entitled to be in your village. It takes constant policing, and a lot of thought; the “village” will change shape and composition over the years; it will shrink and grow according to the seasons.

What I’m pleased to see is how quickly he’s got back into his schooling; all the children in his class seem to have adjusted back to a new normal, almost forgetting that they weren’t there for so many months. I hear about the trials and tribulations of each day – and learn a lot in the process. I’m hearing about the maths puzzles he works on, and he could as well be speaking Klingon. The English is all fine and dandy, but the maths – I’ve found myself googling questions late at night sometimes just to try and keep up.

One of the many lessons I try to drive home is the importance of good friends; I’m a great believer in the philosophy that a few good quality friends are collectively far better than a large number of acquaintances. That’s a difficult lesson to convey, and I have to be balanced in how I present it – with examples of how people he knows make him feel. I wasn’t very sociable at school, so I stuck very tight to a group of four or five people and that was it. My son is more extrovert than me, so I have to respect that whilst helping him develop a filter to recognise good friends from everyone else.

In the mix of all that, I also have to deal with my son’s night-time conversations. He talks in his sleep sometimes, and since my bedroom is directly opposite his, I usually catch snippets of his conversations. This week alone, I’ve heard about windows, cheese, and whether the dolphins could come in as long as they stayed in the bath. I usually get accused of inventing these things when I mention it to him the following morning; perhaps I should start recording them and see if there’s a story there I could create. But no, on reflection I won’t; in this case, real life is far stranger than fiction.