The message that we have only 18 summers with our kids and must do our darnedest to make each of them count seems to be everywhere. It shows up in my Facebook feed every few days. Two different takes on the subject landed in my inbox courtesy of well-meaning friends. For whatever reason, this is the summer the Internet decided to relentlessly remind us that the time we have with our kiddos is fleeting and finite.
We already knew that, thank you very much. Also, it’s super stressful trying to make every moment count.
I live with two awesome teenagers. We’re close and we get along, but they’re more interested in practically anything else than hanging out with their mom. (The 7-year-old is still totally into me, so that helps.) I can’t force them to take a walk with me or bake cookies anymore. In a few short years they’ll be living on their own. The thought makes me sad and nostalgic and, yes, a part of me wishes I could turn back time and do a better job of making the moments count.
But I can’t and even if I could, I don’t think much would be different, despite my best intentions.
While it’s true, we do only have 18 summers with our children, it’s also true that making every minute count, or even just a few hours, isn’t always easy or possible. We engage with our kids as much as we can, but moms get burnt out too. Sometimes we let our kids watch a screen while we read on the couch. Sometimes we scoot them out of the house to play in the backyard on their own. Sometimes depression or anxiety locks us down and we can’t do more than the basics. Working parents don’t have the summer off. Divorced parents don’t see their kids every day.
Motherhood is challenging enough without the added pressure to “make it count.” It’s basically the same idea as “enjoy every minute because it all goes by so fast.” It’s an impossible mission because motherhood isn’t enjoyable all the time, no matter how desperately we want it to be. The toddler melting down in the check out line? Not enjoyable. The tween sassing us about getting off her phone? Again, not fun.
When we’re frustrated, angry or upset with ourselves, our kids, or motherhood in general, we don’t need the added guilt of wondering if we’re single-handedly ruining the magic of childhood. Add to that a culture that tells us if we just parented better and harder, our kids and their childhoods would turn out perfectly and the pressure is crushing.
The truth is, we can’t possibly control all the variables that define childhood. We can love and nurture, teach and guide, discipline and support our kids for as long as they need us to. We can also do our best to make our time with them memorable, but not beat ourselves up for the days we just couldn’t quite make it as wonderful as we – or they – would have liked. Urging moms to make the most of every minute with our kids can sound like another way of telling us we’re not doing enough. So please, just don’t.
So many of us carry feelings of not-enough-ness around raising our kids, even when we try our best to make every moment count. We are not perfect. Our feelings about motherhood, both joyous and difficult, are all part of the picture. We shouldn’t feel guilty about those emotions or pretend they aren’t there because we’re worried they’ll get in the way of making our time with our kids meaningful.
Am I saying it’s no use trying to make the time with your kids memorable? Absolutely not. What I’m saying is don’t feel like you’re failing when time with your kids is less than memorable. It happens. You will do or say the wrong thing. They will do or say the wrong thing. You will ruin a perfectly lovely time together by saying “no” to the ice cream you already said “yes” to. You will choose Instagram, Netflix, a glass of wine or a therapy session over time with your kid. Your kid will choose their friends over you.
And that’s okay.
It doesn’t make you a bad mom or them ungrateful kids. It doesn’t mean you haven’t created wonderful memories with them over the years along with a few crappy ones. By the way, your chance to make memories with your kids doesn’t suddenly end when they turn 18. Motherhood is for life, and if your relationship is a strong one, you’ll spend time with them on and off for many more years. Will it be the same depth and breadth of time you spent with them when they were little? Probably not. Can it still be meaningful and joyous? Totally.
I can’t believe I only have two summers left with my 16-year-old, but I’m not scurrying to make sure that time counts. What we have might not be perfect or particularly extraordinary, but it’s full of the kind of love and trust that lasts way beyond 18 summers.