We’ve all seen them; those carpe diem type memes. “You only have 18 summers with your kids,” or “You only have your children for a little while, you can make money later.”
They’re well-meaning and meant to be an encouragement, but to be honest, they make me a little angry and sad.
For all the sound bite, shareable encouragement, they aren’t true. Or at least they don’t have to be true. They assume many things to be absolute and fixed when in reality, life can be what we create and believe.
Making Money isn’t Evil
Earning an income to support your family isn’t evil and doesn’t preclude you from enjoying and connecting with your children.
Yes, it would be so nice to be independently wealthy and spend every day providing our children with incredible experiences, but that is a luxury reserved for an extreme minority.
Most of us aren’t choosing between workaholism to afford extravagance or easily paying our bills while we play in the yard instead of working at the office.
Those aren’t equally viable alternatives for most families.
By repeating this mantra, we are also diminishing the positive impact on a child’s security and attachment that comes from seeing their parents contribute to the family.
What do my children learn by seeing their father go to work every day?
- They see that he loves them and wants to provide for them.
- They see his commitment to the well-being of his family.
- His commitment is also evident in his support, both financially and emotionally, of me staying home to homeschool and care for the family.
Now, of course, there are those who prioritize making money over everything else, including their children, which is unfortunate. But I would venture to say those parents aren’t interacting with social media in circles that would make those messages appear to them.
In other words, social media is the ultimate “preaching to the choir,” situation.
Also, how does this affect the parent that hates their job and would rather be with their children, but still needs to buy groceries? Does this in any way encourage them?
Perhaps, instead of assuming people are making the lesser choice by going to work, we should celebrate them doing the hard thing daily to raise their family.
The Myth of 18 Summers
The myth of 18 summers is the meme that started my whole train of thought on this subject.
Why does this one bother me? Isn’t it just encouraging me to embrace the fleeting years we have with our children? What’s the big deal?
I have this habit of looking at the opposite side of everything. So here goes.
My mom, grandmother, and I took a week-long trip to the Pacific Northwest when I was in college and maybe 19 or 20. I remember it vividly.
My family has traveled with my parents to the beach many times, Arizona to visit grandparents and cousins, Tennessee to visit more distant family, and they’ll be here on Sunday.
This meme makes me think that we package our kids up in a box, send them off to college, and never hear from them again.
We don’t have to cram everything into 18 summers; we have a lifetime.
Yes, I have 18 summers with my child as a minor, but I’ll hopefully have decades more to meet their future spouses, see their children being born, watch my grandchildren play in the sand, help them as they move to a new house, and babysit when they need a break.
An American Expectation
This seems to be an American cultural phenomenon that needs to be examined.
I know a mom that immigrated to the US from Bosnia when she was 15 with her mother. She is now a homeschool mother to three children of her own, and her mother lives with her to this day. When her husband asked her to marry him, she said yes, but made sure he was aware that her mother would be with her.
He was from Morocco, and this thrilled his family. They were made more comfortable about him staying in the US and marrying if there was going to be a multi-generational family unit.
Most Americans would find this shocking; we often look down on parents and adult children that choose to live together. Aren’t grandparents supposed to move to Florida and enjoy their golden years unbothered by young children?
Our attitude shows that for all the talk of family values, we don’t mean it. We live our lives according to a script someone else wrote.
We expect an Instagram worthy life from beginning to end.
Have two children, take them to amazing places, pay for an expensive college so they can have brag-worthy careers, then drink Mai Tais and play tennis. Throw in an exotic vacation for maximum effect.
Oh, and you’re supposed to do this by being intentional and present while they’re children and putting off that worldly goal of money until their grown.
Experience, Yes – Stuff, No
Lastly, another well-meaning meme in which I am in complete agreement. As Americans, we are drowning in useless clutter. I’m as guilty as the next.
However, my kids are about as excited over a dollar store treat as they are over a fantastic experience. This may be because we’ve not created a life where they think every day should be filled with life-changing experiences.
They still value the simple things in life.
Also, be honest, if their lives are filled with adventure after adventure, do you think they’ll remember them all. Not to mention, shouldn’t we leave them some adventures to have on their own as adults?
Consider the Other Perspective
I’m not saying these parenting mantras are wrong or offensive, just pointing out that they might not always be met with the good intentions intended.
I would love to give my children more experiences, but with a family of eight, it can get rather expensive.
My husband would love to spend everyday fishing with the 4-year-old, but we need income and health insurance.
Lastly, yes, I only have another summer before my oldest turns 18, but I have no intention of immediately excluding her from our summer plans. Eventually, that will happen but isn’t it better for me to be positive about our future together than regretting mythical summers that didn’t happen.
Of course, I realize these are popular due to their simple message that is hard to disagree with, but as funny or inspirational internet memes may be, they rarely encompass the complexity of life.
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