Mama, The First 18 Summers Are Not the End. They Are a Beautiful Beginning.

Here they come again: all the “you only get 18 summers with your kids…make this one count” posts. And so here I come again with my annual “NOOOO!”

Not “noooo” as in “I don’t want it to be true.” “Noooo” as in, in my experience (which is admittedly mine but I know for a fact is not mine alone), it’s NOT true. And I don’t think these posts make parents with under-18 children savor the first or seventh or seventeenth summer they’re on so much as they make them shrink back in dread.

I get where these sentiments come from. I get the posters want to encourage parents to make the most of the summers when their children are living in their houses, playing in their pools, eating their popsicles. That intent is so right.

But we do not “get” any particular number of summers or Christmases or days or minutes with our children, as if when they are born, they come with a warranty promising us a certain period when we can absolutely count on having them in our lives. This is true for all those we love! The future is promised to no one, which is why we are all wise to make any moment we are on—the one already given to us—count as we go about adding up life together.

It is true that at a certain age, our big kids start living large chunks of their lives away from us, even if they’re still mostly sleeping under our roofs. But my goodness: what were all those first 18 years for if not to build lifelong relationships? We were raising our kids, yes, but for what? Just to send them out and be done with them? Of course not! We have them to hold them, we raise them to release them, but we love them for a lifetime. And that love happens during the 19th summer and beyond, if we are granted the gift of those years.

I just had one of the best three-day stretches EVER with my child. She’s 22. The 18 summers I “got” with her are well in my rear-view mirror. But oh the beauty right in front of me. We went camping together. We talked and laughed and played games and ate a whole bunch of s’mores and walked and sat on the beach together. And you know what else we did? We planned for the future….for what we’re glimpsing down the road. For a beyond-18 summer or Christmas or ordinary day made extraordinary for the doing it with each other. We don’t know if we’ll “get” it, of course, but we’re making a road map for it, written with hope.

Will the days we spend in the same physical space be fewer and fewer as she builds the life I’ve been trying to equip her for all those first 18 years? Of course. As they should be. But I’m not done making time with this grown-up child count. By Zoom or by text or by phone call or by long weekends where we meet up halfway between where she is and where I am or by future summer days when she comes to me, we will make the most of any moments we’re given.


Elizabeth Spencer
Elizabeth Spencer
Elizabeth Spencer is a great sinner redeemed by a great Savior. She's been married for 22 years to an exceedingly patient husband and has two teenage daughters who make her look really good as a mother. She blogs about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and vents about hormones and sleep deprivation over on Facebook.

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