When I first saw the “18 summers” headline, I’ll admit, it took my breath away. It also sparked a minor panic. It probably would have been a major panic, but I had just survived the chaos that is bedtime with little ones so all I could muster was an “oh wow” before collapsing on the couch.
In the years since I first saw that stark reminder of the all-too-quick passage of time, my feelings about it have changed. A lot. Nowadays, I bristle a bit every time I see it.
I do understand where the sentiment comes from, of course. We can get consumed with the monotony of motherhood and get lost in "sweating the small stuff". Reminders about the fleeting nature of childhood can help output diaper blowouts and middle-of-Target tantrums into perspective. As they say, this too shall pass.
But I’ve come to see the 18 summers reminder as a myth—and a trigger for some major mom guilt. It doesn’t help us actually savor the joy of having our children at home with us.
Even if we only do have 18 summers with our kids, we never stop being a parent.
Sure, we might technically only have 18 summers with our little ones before they become adults and presumably leave the house for college, military service, vocational school, or their own abode. But you know what? We might also have more than 18 years with our child at home. And sadly, we might have less.
In reality, those 18 summers are both longer and shorter than that. Our children may be back for summers after they graduate high school. Who says vacations and spending time with our kids ends when they turn 18? A former colleague of mine who was in her mid-20s told me that she actually spent more time with her parents in her 20s than the previous decade. According to the New York Times, there are even tour groups dedicated to young adults traveling with their parents.
Despite what people tell you, there is a real beauty and joy in raising older kids. And even if we only do have 18 summers with our kids, we never stop being a parent.
The 18 summers myth puts pressure on us to “make it every moment count," to fill those summers up with adventures and memory-making quality time. It’s an admiral goal, sure, but it’s also impossible. Life happens. We are human. We have careers and households to maintain. Sometimes we don’t want adventures, we just want to lounge on the couch. And as our kids get older, their own lives take hold, too. I have a teen and pre-teen and our summer is slipping away into a blur of sports practices and their own desire to spend time with friends.
For me, the “only 18 summers” reminder is just another way to exacerbate mom guilt, especially for working moms. We know the time with our kids at home is fleeting. We know it’ll go too fast. We know this from the moment our baby is laid in our arms—and we know it on a deep, visceral level. We don’t need to be reminded.
What we need is support.
We need support on those days when 18 summers seems so very long. We don't need to be told "it goes so fast," but to be reminded that motherhood is a long game. Not one in which we are judged by the times we lost our cool, the days we put our kids in front of the tv because we needed a break, or the summers that slipped away from us with a flurry of work, a few days at the pool, and a lot of unscheduled time when our kids whined that they were bored.
We need help at home so we can spend more time during those precious summers enjoying time with our kids, taking after-dinner walks, or eating ice cream in the backyard instead of doing the dishes and grocery shopping and folding laundry.
We need reassurance that the beauty of motherhood isn’t confined to those years when we’re raising little ones, but that there is real magic in raising older kids too. As much as I miss the days of kiddie pools and soccer games and I can feel the time with my teen slipping through my fingers, I honestly love these years. Teens are insightful and hilarious, and I truly can't wait to see what joys motherhood will bring when my kids are young adults.
We need society to cut us some slack, to stop telling us to “make it count,” to quit reminding us that "it goes so fast" and, instead, to carry some of the mental load of motherhood so we have the mental and emotional space to actually soak up these days.
We need less pressure to do all the things so that we can be more present and engaged for whatever it is we can do.
Even though the time we have with our children will never be enough, the relationship you are building with your child will last far beyond 18 summers.
We need our husbands and partners to take loads of photos and videos so that when we’re missing the summers of our kids' childhood, we can look through all the reminders of just how great they were.
And we need confidence that we’re good moms—no, great moms—not just for 18 summers, but for all of them.
Fearing the end of something—whether it's the end of the newborn days or the "little kid" years or those proverbial 18 summers —doesn’t make it last longer; it just prevents us from truly enjoying it while it’s happening.
So lean into whatever time you have with your kids. Soak up whatever phase you're in. Let go of the mom guilt. You'll have adventures and you'll have lazy days. Some days will feel way to short, others will feel interminably long. There will be times when you will be the mom you want to be, and there will be times when you fall short. But know this: Even though the time we have with our children will never be enough, the relationship you are building with your child will last far beyond 18 summers.