When You Fear You’re Running Out of Parenting Time

“Only 18 summers.”

It’s a phrase I’ve seen a few different places lately, referring to the limited amount of time parents have for intentional, one-on-one influence before their kids go to college or leave home for other reasons.

by pool

It’s encouragement to make the most of every cold bite of watermelon, every lazy day around the pool, every family vacation. It’s a reminder that time is fleeting, that before we know it our children will fly the coop and the only tangible artifacts we’ll have from their first 18 years are boxes full of dusty sports trophies, camp T-shirts and band concert programs.

I get the point. I really do.

I felt the ache more than once this past summer as I watched my little girl play Monopoly with her stuffed animals, pretend to be a mermaid when she swims and clump around the house all day in her Anna and Elsa nightgown.

I know big changes are coming for her (as they eventually come for every girl), but I can’t help but yearn for her to remain little as long as possible. There are moments when I want this season to last forever.

And don’t even get me started on the fact that, while my big girl is just starting eighth grade, in a few short years, our conversations are likely to be dominated by talk of college majors, career choices and dorm-room décor. While life seems simple now, not-so-simple is looming on the horizon.

Because of all that, it’s tempting for me to bow to the stress “only 18 summers” can trigger. If I let myself, I could easily panic at the thought of how little time we really have with our children before they grow up.

But something a friend said recently—a passing comment really—has alleviated some of the self-induced pressure that comes when you think you only have a certain amount of time to do something extremely important (and, as long as we’re being honest here, when you think the outcome is mostly up to you).

What did my friend say? That her favorite stage of motherhood is parenting young adults.

This is a mom who endeavors to study her children, the youngest of whom just left for college. She would never claim to be a perfect mom, but she has parented faithfully through the good and the hard. Maybe more than most, she understands the unpredictable, fleeting nature of life. She knows, firsthand, that there’s no guarantee we even get 18 summers with each of our kids.

I know my friend’s experience is not universal, and that what is true for her may not be the case for me. But her passing comment struck a chord somewhere deep within me, jarring loose my grip on the expectations I tend to put on myself and my family for the years that our girls are under our roof.

When I asked her to elaborate, she explained that—based on what she has seen and felt—the preschool years are physically demanding for parents, the elementary years are mentally challenging and the teenage years are more emotionally taxing.

She enjoyed each of these phases, she said, but when her children hit young adulthood, parenting took on a different, more rewarding sort of vibe. There’s just something about watching freshly minted adults exercise their freedom to try new things and visit new places, to listen as they “think out loud” and try to figure out what they want to do and where they want to go in life, that she finds very satisfying.

“I love helping them see their strengths, interests and talents,” my friend told me. “I like being there to pick them up when things don’t go well and to help when help is needed to give them a boost. Of course, the best part is when they put it all together and find their way in life independently.”

There are no guarantees in parenting. There’s no surefire way to “raise them right” so they will always make the best choices all the time. What works for one family may not work for another. What works for one child may not work for another child in the same family.

But as my friend’s words encouraged me, parenting doesn’t end when the kids turn 18, graduate from college or get married. It changes, of course, but it doesn’t stop. And even if they leave home at some age and vow never to return, that’s not guaranteed either. Most of us probably don’t have to look very far to see that lost sheep are found, that prodigals do return, that years of parental prayer do pay off.

I realize I may feel differently when my own empty nest is looming large in eight years or so. But the pressure to make sure I enjoy every single second and take advantage of every single teachable moment has lessened some, at least for now.

It’s not like I’m going to take my mothering any less seriously or get lax in my job of preparing my girls to be emotionally healthy, productive, God-fearing members of society. But I’m not trying to be the perfect mother of perfect children, because nobody around here even comes close to meeting that standard.

Instead, I’ll do the best I can with what I’ve been given. I’ll enjoy as many moments as I can, while resisting the temptation to feel guilty when I wish some days (or seasons) would just hurry up and end, already. I’ll pray for wisdom, for grace, for forgiveness.

And rather than dread the day my almost-grown ducklings leave the nest, I’ll look forward to all the good things that can come with helping young adult children figure out who they are and why they’re here.

My friend says the best is yet to come.

I choose to believe her.

Lois Flowers

P.S. I’m linking up this week with Grace & Truth, Kelly Balarie at Purposeful Faith, Winter Lawson at #WordswithWinter, Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory and Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart.

18 Responses to When You Fear You’re Running Out of Parenting Time

  1. “My friend says the best is yet to come. I choose to believe her.” Yes, Lois! It is, and you should. 🙂 As a mom of older daughters, I can tell you that in addition to counting down the summers left so as to fully appreciate them, moms should also count UP to all the joys ahead. This is self-promotional, so feel free to delete, but here’s a link to my very personal take on the subject: http://www.foreverymom.com/7-reasons-being-the-mom-of-a-teenager-is-way-more-awesome-than-awful/. Blessings to you, both now and in the lovely years still ahead of you!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Elizabeth, I LOVE your take on the subject … thank you so much for including the link in your comment. And thank you for your encouraging words … I don’t think I can fully express to you how much I appreciate them!! I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog … I have a feeling there’s much more there that I can relate to 100 percent!

  2. Hi Lois, such big changes!
    I am not there yet but can only imagine what it must feel like.
    I pray that God encourages you and your family at this time.
    Thank you Lois.
    God Bless

  3. This was tender and refreshing salve to this sometimes-overwhelmed mama’s heart. I agree that counting summers and similar concepts can pile the pressure on us, and I appreciate your hopeful reminder that while stewarding our time is important, there’s no reason not to believe that the best is yet to come.

    Thank you for linking with us at Grace & Truth! This will be my feature at A Divine Encounter next Friday. 🙂 Have great weekend!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Once again you have captured the essence of what I was hoping to convey, Jennifer! I’m so glad to have found Grace & Truth … I love what you ladies do there every week and look forward to being a part of it next week! Thank you for your kind words today!

  4. Hi Lois, this encourages me so much today. My oldest just left for college, and although I’m excited for him, some days I miss him terribly, and I’m sad for my daughter, who also misses her best friend. What a great testimony that your friend enjoyed the young adult stage most of all. I keep praying for him! #GraceandTruth

    • Lois Flowers says:

      It’s bittersweet, isn’t it, Betsy? I’m glad my friend’s perspective was helpful for you … it doesn’t take away the sadness in the short-term, but it does provide hope for the long-term! Blessings to you today!

  5. Lois,
    This: “Instead, I’ll do the best I can with what I’ve been given.” Yes…such freedom in that statement 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

  6. I think I agree with your friend! I just sent my middle daughter off to college and I am enjoying growing in my relationship with her in a different way. I find that when my kids were young, I would beat myself up a lot for mistakes I made. As they are becoming young adults, I get to take a step back and focus on being more of a support and encourager. I like these roles best 🙂

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Judy, what’s happening with you and your daughter sounds wonderful! It’s such a blessing to hear hopeful words from moms with older girls. Thank you for sharing yours. 🙂

  7. Trudy says:

    Lois, thank you for sharing your fears and insight. Life goes so quickly and kids grow up fast. I see it also now in our grandkids. Take care, and treasure every second no matter what age. 🙂 Praying for God to give you wisdom, grace, and patience! Visiting you from Jennifer’s

  8. Linda Stoll says:

    Lois … that picture speaks of peace and quietness and children at rest. Something good’s going on there …

    And yes, the relationship we have with our kids does grow and change and morph as they move on as adults. But, this too, is a sweet season …


    Hugs, too!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I’m glad you mentioned the picture, Linda … just looking at it brings me all kinds of joy! You are so right … this is a sweet season, and I’m loving it! I’m so thankful for the perspective of moms like you who see the journey from both sides and are able to provide encouragement for this moment. 🙂 Blessings, friend!

  9. Mary Geisen says:

    I agree with your friend about parenting and I am truly enjoying the young adult stage too. Being a mom has been the greatest gift of my life and every stage has had its positives but when they still seek you out as adults, you know you have done something right. Thank you for sharing how this feels to you. I am praying for you as you continue to wake through these stages with your daughter.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Mary, I’m with you about motherhood being the greatest gift! I love it and can’t imagine what it will be like when my girls leave the nest. That’s why I find such comfort in my friend’s words, and now yours this morning. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

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