There’s a parenting meme going around Facebook that’s really gotten to me lately. Every time I see it, and I’ve seen it A LOT, I kind of just let my eyes slide away from it and keep scrolling. I haven’t attached any thoughts to it because I just. couldn’t. go there. The meme I’m talking about is this one, the 18 summers meme.
Though I get what she’s trying to say here, I have to tell you, this popular meme just makes me feel…PRESSURE. It doesn’t make me feel excited to cherish every moment with my children. It makes me feel guilty about not having every summer day planned chock full of fun. Maybe that’s on me…maybe my personal issues are clouding this message.
But another quick look at my Facebook feed tells me that it’s NOT just me. The 18 summers meme is rubbing a few other moms the wrong way, too. A couple days ago I saw THIS post on one of my favorite FB pages to follow, Guilty Chocoholic Mama, Elizabeth Spencer. (hey girl!) At first, I didn’t read the post attached to it because I was like, “OH NO! Elizabeth has gone all ’18 summers’ on me! I can’t take the PRESSURE!” But, because I can’t resist reading something from Elizabeth, I took a closer look…and HERE is what she said. It gave me HOPE. Elizabeth posted a photo of her and her two daughters, and said:
**When 18 Summers Are Over, This Is What’s Just Beginning**
My daughters and I took this picture today while we were out on a bike ride.
My older daughter (in the hat) is 19 years old. I’ve already used up every one of those 18 summers post after post keeps warning me are “all” I have with this child who’s technically not a child anymore.
I understand the heart and spirit behind these posts. I really do. They’re meant to make moms savor the summers they have with their children while those children are officially living under their roof. They’re meant to make us appreciate what we have now. They’re meant to make us soak in and savor.
And it is true that something shifts after that 18th summer, as it should. But when I look at this glimpse of a 19th summer, I don’t see what’s over; I see what’s just beginning. I don’t see what’s been used up; I see what’s been stored up. I don’t see what’s behind; I see what’s ahead.
I don’t see what was; I see what is.
I see a child who is also now my friend.
I see sweet memories.
I see a beautiful relationship built over those 18 summers and all the falls and winters and springs in between them.
I see love that goes both ways.
I see trust and honesty.
I see what is so good now and the good that is still to come.
I see hope for the future.
When I look at this picture, I don’t see “all” I had. I see all I have.
Oh, mama, if you’re in the middle of the first summer or the 18th summer or some summer in between, go ahead and squeeze the life out of it. But I encourage you not to do it in fear of what you are losing; do it in faith of what you are gaining.
Because when you get to that 19th summer and beyond, you’ll understand that there is no “only” about it.
CAN I GET A “HALLELUJAH”?? Friends, my oldest child is 14. And this is his 15th summer, and let me tell you, so far my 15th summer with him looks like him playing video games and watching YouTube while his siblings are at the babysitter and I’m in my office working. And when that’s not the case, he is with friends, spending the night, going to movies, hanging at the mall. We’re not exactly going on a bunch of mommy and me adventures. This child used to worship me, and never wanted to be away from me in a second. Now, he much prefers his dad and his friends to spending time with me. I know he loves me, I’m just not that exciting to him right now.Yet I know that when he is an adult, especially when he has kid of his own, that more wonderful summer adventures await us. And I do NOT wish the rest of his childhood away, but I DO look forward to what’s ahead as our relationship matures.
My younger two are still up for adventures on my 2 afternoons off a week, but my work schedule does not allow for a 60-point summer bucket list. Yet, I am truly loving the time we are spending together. But right now, I don’t have the TIME to be on the go with elaborate memory-making activities. I don’t WANT to, as Elizabeth says, live each summer day to the fullest simply because I am afraid of what I’m LOSING. I want to be able to enjoy each day as it comes, and I can’t do that with the pressure of “TIME IS SLIPPING AWAY YOU’LL NEVER GET THIS DAY BACK” in my head.
The things we do are simple. We go to parks. We go to movies. We get slushies at Sonic happy hour. The 18 summers meme makes me feel like a clock is ticking, maybe even a time bomb, and BOOM! —once that beeper goes off, a huge piece of my motherhood is gone forever. So reading the post above from Elizabeth did my heart some good.
Just as I was musing over this this very morning, I saw another post on FB about the 18 summers meme. My friend Jill shared it, from a mom named Kara Blake Sylvester. She also shared the 18 summers meme, with a big X over it, and her message did my heart good as well. She wrote:
Oh this meme… it’s been getting to me. I haven’t been able to articulate why, until tonight, when I really sat down to think about it and talk it over with some friends. To me, these words might as well say “ You are NOT DOING ENOUGH. The CLOCK is TICKING. YOU ARE FAILING.” The expectations set by articles and memes like this can only lead to negativity, competition, and ultimately, GUILT. Big, fat, plain old MOM GUILT. How can we enjoy our teeny, short summer with *this* in the back of our minds!? Have to make the bucket list, gotta go here, need to do this, hurry July is knocking, only 6 weeks left, 6 weeks til one of my 18 summers is GONE.
What if something is left unchecked? What if you just didn’t have time to do it all? Or energy? What if you work? What if you’re sick? What if your kids are sick? What if you’re in a deep, dark depressed hole and even the deliciousness of your kids’ summer just can’t shake you out of it? You feel guilty, that’s what. Poor you, one summer down.
Probably, the best summer of all is one with less. Less rules, less structure, fewer lists, and a little more nothing. Nothing is ok. Bored is ok. And sucky, awful, nothing-goes-right days are ok too.
One last thing… it’s all a lie. We don’t have 18 summers with our kids. We get to keep them, even when they aren’t kids anymore. They don’t disappear and there will always be summers… way more than 18. The kind of summers where we aren’t scrambling to do that “fun thing” before nap while the toddler screams, summers without diapers and spilled bubbles and sandy sunblock. We have a lifetime of fun ahead of us, moms. Don’t beat yourself up, don’t shove in all the things, don’t feel the guilt. Enjoy this delicious LIFE with your kids. You’re doing a really great job.
Here’s the thing, Mamas. My family needs me to earn income right now. I work from home, I work part time, I do the best I can. Summer break in our home has always been “one with less.” We keep it simple. We grab the FREE moments and make the most of them, but most often those things we do are inexpensive. I am choosing present over perfect, and I am just NOT going to feel guilty about it.
I know the 18 summers meme originated to make us think about cherishing the time with our kids. As a mom with kids from ages 14 down to 7, I get that time passes quickly and change happens before you can register it. But as an adult daughter who still loves spending time with her parents, I also get what Elizabeth said, that the 18th summer is NOT going to be the end for us. I truly believe that just being present and intentional with my kids every day, no matter what the season, will give them the kind of non-magical yet memorable childhood that keeps families close through all the stages of life.
So, Mamas, if you’re stressed out by your summer bucket list, throw it away. Slow down. Love your kids as best you can in this season of life. Be intentional in the day-to-day, but don’t let the “tick-tock” of that clock steal your mothering joy. I promise, as Kara said, you’re doing a really great job!