18 summers

‘You only have 18 summers with your kid,’ they said. But moms are singing a different tune.

Photo above by Xavier Mouton Photographie via Unsplash.

The symphony of summer. Do you know it? It’s the song that echoes through our house in these no-school months.

Fights over which morning TV show they’ll watch.
Doorbells ringing from neighborhood kids looking to play outside with mine.
Tears when someone stubs a toe in the driveway.
Yells from the kitchen asking if we have any more mustard.
Questions about “what we’re going to do today.”
“Watch this!” calls from the backyard after a new gymnastics skill is learned.
“Watch this!” requests when a new dance was made up.
“Watch this!” as they attempt to sink a three-pointer from the neighbor’s driveway.

But oddly enough, not one of these sounds is the loudest one heard within the walls at my house.

And I’m guessing maybe it’s the same at your house.

What is the sound that makes me – and maybe you – want to cover our ears? It’s the one in our heads created by the mental gymnastics that our summer-mom guilt relentlessly performs each day. The lyrics to that song go a little something like this:

“Is today the day I get work and things around the house done? Or do I need to put that aside because I’m not spending enough time with my kids?
You know what… forget work… it will be there tomorrow. I need to make memories with my kids before summer is over.
OK, but wait … if I skip work today, I’ll be overwhelmed tomorrow.
Maybe today’s the day I do both. Yes, I can do both.
But then I can’t be fully present for either, so does that really make sense?
Gosh …What do I do?”

It’s a whole album on its own. But one day last week, I managed to skip that beat. My blessing of a mother-in-law was in town — and when she’s here, she is always on a mission to take my kids on some sort of adventure. It might be a trip to the playground or an hour’s drive to check out a waterfall.

On that day last week, she decided she wanted to take them down to the local pool. I helped pack a cooler of sandwiches, chips and drinks, filled the pool bag with sunscreen and towels, and waved to them as they drove off for the afternoon.

When I went back inside, I exhaled about a million mom-guilt bricks.

It was such a relief to know they were off making a memory with their Mimi, and I — for a few hours — could have a chance to hear the silence in my mind where mom-guilt was usually fighting it out. And gosh that mental calm was so beautiful.

But after I sat down at my computer for a back-deck-office kind of day, I picked up my phone for a quick social media check. That’s when I saw it…

… the viral-hit narrative that has been playing repeat in too many moms’ minds since it was first released.

“You only have 18 summers with your kids… so soak it in while you can.”

My quiet mind got noisy again.

“Should I have gone to the pool with them? Why am I happy that someone ELSE is making memories with my kids instead of me? Am I prioritizing work too much? Should I just drive down and join them? But gosh I could get so much done if I stay here alone. What do I do?”

I’m sure this “18-summers” concept was shared with the world just to remind moms to soak it in – to enjoy life with kids, despite all the stresses, and help us get the most out of every day. But to me, it sounded like an unbearable drumbeat of guilt stuck on repeat.

You only have 18 summers. You only have 18 summers. Maybe you’ve used them all wrong?

But before it got too loud, something shifted within me. Underneath the post that warned me about how fast these 18 summers would go, I saw moms banding together against the message. They were fighting back against the message that we need to “soak it in” and “do more and be more” while we are already spread too thin.

Mothers were pushing back against this idea because we know it doesn’t help any of us.

• It doesn’t help the working-two-jobs mother who is doing all she can to provide for her kids, but wishes she could take them swimming instead of having to work.
• It doesn’t help the mom who doesn’t have any vacation days to take that spontaneous trip to the zoo.
• It doesn’t help the single mom who lost her job and can’t afford a vacation this year.
• It doesn’t help the mom in the depths of depression who is already beating herself up that she can barely get out of bed let alone set up a sprinkler in the back yard.

You know what does help moms? Reminding them that their value as a mother is not defined by how well they soak in one season, one day or one moment.

It helps to remind mothers that the 18 minutes they sat on the edge of the bed last night listening to their child’s worries makes them a good mom. It helps to remind mothers that the 18 times they’ve driven a kid to after school care or to dance or sports practice (or coordinated a ride) this month makes them a good mom.

It helps to remind mothers that the 18 therapy appointments they’ve gone to – to take care of themselves – makes them a good mom. And it helps to remind them that the 18 times over the years that they’ve apologized to their children when they were wrong — showing them that grownups don’t have to be perfect, and that’s OK — makes them a good mom, too.

Hey, friend? YOU are a good mom.

And you know what? It’s finally our turn to look at the world and say, “Watch this!”

Watch THIS, world, as together we reject your out-of-tune narrative.

Watch THIS, world, while we turn the volume up and sing each other’s praises for doing the best we can with whatever we’ve been given — in this and in every season.

Check out this conversation about the “18 summers” narrative on KDKA’s Talk Pittsburgh: