The memes are swirling again. You only get 18 summers with your children. Make it count! Don’t miss out on a single second! You’re running out of time! Make sure you give them an epic summer! The clock is ticking! Don’t fail them!
I understand the sentiment, really. It’s meant to be a reminder to pay attention and soak it in. No harm meant. Much like “your children are only little once” and “enjoy every second.” But how these sentiments land really depends on one’s current state - emotionally, mentally, financially, physically, etc.
When you’re struggling, these well-meaning sentiments land like a swift slap to the cheek. They can induce waves of guilt and not-enoughness as we:
Share custody with a co-parent, only getting half of the summer
Navigate the troubled waters of a mentally or physically ill child
Work extra shifts, multiple jobs, or longer hours to make ends meet
Feel grief and loss or fight the darkness that is descending
Attempt to rebuild broken relationships or shattered dreams
Lack the financial capability to trek to Disney or beaches
Feel complete exhaustion from running in circles daily
Work to piece together childcare solutions because work doesn’t break for the summer
Crave alone time because you’re now a 24/7 jungle gym for little ones
There have been periods in my life when those inspirational memes and quotes did just that - inspired me. They landed softly. Sweetly. They stirred something positive in me.
This summer, when my life is upside down and nothing looks the way it’s supposed to, they land hard and it stings. They leave me feeling deeply ashamed and inferior. It is not the fault of the meme-sharer. While it lands hard on me, it is landing softly on countless other parents, gently encouraging and nudging them along their paths, inspiring connection and presence.
No, it is not incumbent on those who share such things to make sure I am okay enough to read them. My reaction is my own, and rather than spiraling into the shame it evokes, I can notice my not-enoughness - my guilty reaction - and take some important steps.
Step One: Notice
My reaction to “you only get 18 years” landed hard because my kids are teenagers. I don’t have anywhere close to 18 left. I have only 2 left with one child, and 4 left with another. When you’re staring at the end of a journey, well, there are a whole lot of emotions.
Not only is my time left with them extremely limited, but shared custody limits it more. Now the pressure is really on. I need to provide the most awesome final childhood memories.
But wait, financially, things are strapped. We won’t be flying to Disney World like so many of our friends. We won’t spend a week lounging in front of the Atlantic.
It’s no wonder the well-meaning sentiment hit so hard. But now that I’ve noticed the sting and paid attention to its message, I can make the conscious decision not to spiral into the shame it initially evoked.
Your reasons for the sting are different, but I want you to know they are valid. You’re not being silly or overly sensitive. You have permission to feel it all - your disappointment, frustration, sadness, grief - whatever is bubbling up to the surface for you, let it come. Feel your feelings and breathe.
Step Two: Choose Compassion
Now that we’ve noticed the frenzy of feelings that are coming up for us, let’s meet them with compassion. Let’s hold ourselves in a safe space while they wash over us, and then allow them to go, appreciating the messages they brought but not holding on to them.
I have to purposefully choose to be heavy on the self-affirmations this summer - to dose up self-love and self-care because myself is hurting and needs to heal. When the shame gremlins whisper in my ear, when they speak to me of my inferiority, mistakes, and failures, I have to look them in the eye and whisper back “I am enough.” And even though I may not believe it at that moment, I may not truly feel enough, I will repeat it because the little girl within is listening.
Step Three: Own What I Can Do
When I focus on everything I cannot do or provide this summer, I feel despair. But when I focus on what I can do, I feel empowered.
I can make and accept bids for connection.
I can be present and give my full attention at times.
I can stop worrying about tomorrow.
I can take a short trip.
I can build them up and share my love.
I can leave the past where it belongs.
I can choose love over fear.
I can enjoy the days we have together, and if not the whole day, at least a part of it.
Maybe I can’t give my children a magical summer, but I can help make it lovely. I can’t fly them to Universal Studios but I can make sure they feel seen and valued and deeply, deeply loved.
As for me, I can take the next small step toward rebuilding a life that I love. I can rest in the knowledge that this difficult stage is only temporary, as all stages are. And most importantly, I can acknowledge that life doesn’t end when my kids hit 18. I will have lifelong relationships with them, and there will be many, many more opportunities for grand adventures, epic trips, and great memory-making. Sure, childhood may be nearing its end, but life - well life is just getting started, isn’t it? A new stage is coming, and I have a feeling it’s going to get much better.