“You only have 18 summers” - 3 reasons why I hate this parenting meme and think it's time we stopped sharing it

If I hear one more person say I've only got 18 summers with my kids, I might snap

18 summers - mother measuring daughter's height and marking it on a living room wall
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The idea that parents only get 18 summers with their kids is such a stark reminder of how quickly they grow up but our deputy editor, whose three children are aged between 10 and 19 years old, thinks this is one parenting meme we've got to kick back against.

It happens every summer like clockwork. The sun comes out. The kids ditch winter uniforms for school shorts and summer dresses. And the meme I hate most in all the world - you've only got 18 summers with your kids - starts popping up on social media once again.

While I understand the sentiment and even appreciate the mindful reminder that childhood is short, I've come to resent this message. Why? Because we already have enough on our plates dealing with everything from the impact of matrescence and the mental load to extortionate childcare costs and a lack of flexibility for working mums. The last thing we need, as we hurtle headlong towards the school summer holidays, is a syrupy message that makes us feel bad for not relishing every second of the mind-bending juggling act that we're about to deal with. 

No one seems to know the origins of this peppy little guilt trip but like so many sayings that seep into the collective consciousness of modern mothers, it's something everyone seems to have heard. And when messages like this get absorbed into the way we think about parenting, they can take on a strange kind of authority. 

To counteract that, I have a proposal. This summer, how about we take back control of the motherhood narrative and champion filling our own cups instead of obsessing over whether we're doing enough to relish our kids' fleeting childhoods? Because sometimes, let's face it, the summer can seem interminable. Telling us to squeeze every drop of joy from every perfect second is, well, laughably absurd. 

This summer, every time I see that damned meme I'm going to down tools and take five minutes to celebrate the bloody brilliant job I'm doing just getting through the holidays as a working mum. 

Who's with me?

18 summers: 3 reasons why it's a harmful myth

I'm not buying the silly notion that we have to make the summers count before it's all over once they turn 18. Here's why.

1. 18 summers is a scarcity thing

No one explains scarcity better than Brene Brown. She writes: 'Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants.'

In other words, when we frame parenting as if it's a finite experience that can slip through our fingers like a limited resource if we don't DO something to stop it, we end up with this weird, panic-inducing notion that we only have 18 summers to enjoy our kids. But kids are not like library books on loan. Your relationship does not have an expiry date tied to the random point on the calendar when they are eligible to vote. Our connection to our children is timeless. Eternal. Unbreakable. And when you reframe it like that, the pressure to do more and be more drains beautifully away. You can stop watching your child's life slip by as if a meter is running and allow yourself to relish the here and now. When you stop worrying about whether you should be doing more, your focus naturally shifts towards being enough.

'Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack.'

Brené Brown

2. No-one says it to dads

Well, do they? 

Have you ever heard a dad fret over the fact that he only has 18 summers to teach his kids to shave and cut the grass and kick a ball? Of course you haven't. Because society doesn't weigh dads down with the insidious message that they're Not.Doing.Enough. We save that treat for mums. 

In our house, we play a game that goes like this. Whenever I start fretting over some element of motherhood, it's usually always some permutation of whether I've done enough. Did I breastfeed them for long enough? Did I read to them enough when they were babies? Was I around enough as a working mum during their early years? Have I done enough to prepare them for heartbreak and failure? Have I spent enough time explaining consent? Have I told them I love them enough? And on and on it goes. Whenever that little mind loop plays out in my head, I ask myself if my husband has these thoughts. Has he absorbed the same message that maybe his efforts at fatherhood have been under par? If the answer's no (and it always is) then I let myself off the hook. Because I'm 100% committed to equal parenting and if my partner isn't subjected to the parental turmoil that seems routine for mums, well then why should I be?

Our writer, Heidi Scrimgeour's three children pictured laughing together in a park

(Image credit: Heidi Scrimgeour)

3. It's completely false

My eldest child's 18 summers are up. Gone, over, done. This is his 19th summer. Which, according to this meme, means I can expect to have nothing to do with him. No quality time together, no family holidays, no late-night conversations where we stay up watching films or putting the world to rights. That ship has sailed. Those opportunities for connection are no more.

Except he's coming home from Uni for a fortnight and we've already made plans. He's keen to avoid getting bored of small-town living after experiencing student life in the city so we've already run through a laundry list of stuff we'd like to do while he's at home. We'll walk the dog in the forest and go for sea swims. His friends will drop round and I'll run them to the pub. We'll do lunch at the place that opened after he moved into halls and he'll cook up a storm in the kitchen and ask if I want some of what he's made. We'll share a pot of coffee and bicker over his dishes and laugh about stuff that no one else would understand.

This summer is my firstborn's 19th summer. The one that meme would have you believe does not exist. And yet it's the summer of his life that I think I've looked forward to the most. 

If you love a parenting debate on a topical theme, you might enjoy If your Gen-Z kid asks you to go to their job interview, I’m sorry, but you’ve been doing parenting all wrong - why mums should just say no or I'm a parenting expert - here's why Sports Day IS for winners and losers, and shouldn't be a non-competitive woke fest

Heidi Scrimgeour
Deputy Editor

Heidi is a seasoned parenting journalist with over 15 years of experience. She has contributed to numerous UK national newspapers, including The Guardian, The Times, and The Telegraph. Her work has also appeared in a variety of print and digital magazines, such as Psychologies and Mother & Baby, where she was Shopping Editor for six years. In this role, she specialised in consumer features, including buying guides and baby gear reviews. Heidi is also mum to two teenage sons and a ten-year-old daughter.