Opinion with Matthew Munson: There’s no such thing as a perfect parent

Matthew and Bryan

Something I realised a while ago is that there’s no manual on how to be a perfect parent. Perfection doesn’t exist – but that doesn’t stop us trying to reach it and beating ourselves up when we fail to achieve it.

I fully believe in being a kind, nurturing, and present father to my amazing son; I vowed I would never, ever get cross, or spend too long looking at my phone, or crave a few minutes alone just to read a couple of pages of my book. Of course, I couldn’t sustain that; it’s not how human beings work.

After five weeks of the summer holidays, Bryan is ready to go back to school; he tells me he’s ready two or three times a day. He’s excited about going into his last year of primary school, to see his friends again and enjoy being at the “top” of the school; he’d go back today if the school decided to let the kids in early – he’d go in at a run, I suspect.

We’re spending this last weekend going on a few day trips, to make a few memories and have some fun, I hope. Dover Castle has a Knight’s Tournament, and we’re going to be walking a goat at Quex Park (it looked interesting on their website; Bryan looked at me with utter confusion in his eyes when I first suggested it, but now he wants to know everything about the goat – its name, its age, how friendly it is – and, of course, I can’t answer any of his questions).

I accept his desire to return to school with good grace; he’s excited and passionate about school, so why would I not? I love his company more than anything, but he wants to enjoy his friends, his teacher, and the school activities – I was the same when I was a child. I love watching him go off into the playground every morning; I accept that I’ll miss him and he’ll not even think about me, but that’s just the nature of the beast – that means he’s settled and embracing his life.

I beat myself up about being a parent a lot; did I get too annoyed about him not putting his clothes away, or did I not get annoyed enough? Did I need to tell him off about that? Should I have told him off about that? Self-doubt is the mark of a parent who wants to do a good enough job and hopes that they are; we’re not going to get it right all the time, and you have to make a reasonable judgement. I never shout at him, I always take the time to listen, and I always show him how much he is cherished – if I can get those bits fairly right, then I hope the rest will follow. And I also try not to take myself too seriously; the ability to laugh at yourself is important, and I do enough daft things to laugh at myself for a very, very long time.

In adoption, you often hear about the “honeymoon period”, where the adult(s) and the child are on their best behaviour in the early days of family life as they get to know each other. But, eventually, the honeymoon period ends and normal life continues; the peaks and troughs of living and spending time together. It’s these moments we should savour, because they’re the most real; Bryan understands that the love of a parent will always be there, even when I ask him for the hundredth time to put his clothes away.