My dear friend Michelle Cox has written a novel that every parent in America needs to read. It’s called, “Just 18 Summers.” She reminds us that we have just 18 summers before our children leave home. Just 18 summers.
“I hope parents will realize how quickly those summers will fly by,” she told me. “Take it from a mama whose sons are all grown now, someday you’d give a million dollars to walk down the hall one more time and tuck your children into bed, to kneel down and pray with them, to hear their footsteps and the sound of their laughter filling the house.”
In addition to being a delightful author, Michelle is a fabulous Southern cook. She shares her weekly recipes on my website – and has written several amazing cookbooks!
Here’s my interview with Michelle:
Tell us about the event that inspired you to write Just 18 Summers.
My pastor dedicated a baby at church one Sunday morning, and as the parents turned to leave the platform, Rev. Sexton said, “Don’t forget you have just 18 summers. Go make some memories.” The poignancy of that slammed into me—particularly since my youngest son was getting married a few weeks later.
I came up with the idea to do a gift book based on the thought, but God had much bigger plans. I’m now developing a complete brand based on the concept—and the release of my Just 18 Summers novel (co-authored with Rene Gutteridge) is an exciting component of that.
Aside from the novel, what else are you doing to encourage parents to make the most of the time they have with their children?
The first thing I thought of that day when I heard my pastor say those words was that I was glad we’d spent as much time as we did with our boys, but I wish there had been more. The second thought that hit me was to wonder if I had taught my son the important things he needed to know before he left home. I’m sure other parents can relate to that.
I want to remind parents to enjoy the 18 summers before their children leave home, and I want to equip them with the tools and encouragement they need for the parenting journey, so on January 1, I launched the Just 18 Summers® parenting blog.
It’s like a magazine with a new post every Monday-Friday. We have a staff of 18 writers, and our columns range from home décor, recipes, fun craft projects to do as a family, practical advice, devotionals, and a wealth of other information to help parents.
We’ve also written a screenplay and are in the process of raising funds for a movie. Future plans include music, a complete line of books and products, curriculum for churches, and the list goes on and on. Those simple words from Rev. Sexton have led to a movement.
Most parents know they should spend more time with their children, but why do you think it’s so difficult to do?
I think most parents just get busy. We get so caught up in paying the bills, doing the laundry, and putting dinner on the table—and it just doesn’t click that our children won’t be there forever.
I remember something that happened the last summer before our youngest son left home. My husband has been an exceptionally wonderful dad. I called Paul at work one day and said, “Could we take Jason and his girlfriend, Kella, and go up in the mountains to Cades Cove and have a picnic and spend the day together? You know it’s so busy this time of year on the weekends, so we’d probably need to go on a Thursday to miss the traffic jams.”
He said, “Honey, I can’t. I’m absolutely slammed with work right now.”
I quietly said, “He won’t be here next summer.”
I heard a sharp intake of breath, and then my husband said, “What time do you want to leave?”
Sometimes we just need those reminders that someday those summers will come to an end.
That’s my message for parents today. Just 18 Summers isn’t a guilt trip, it’s a gentle wake-up call to remind parents that God has given us this precious gift—and those children will only be under our roofs for such a short time.
What is the cultural impact when parents aren’t actively involved with their children?
Families are the cornerstone of our society and we have a lot of repair work to do. You don’t have to watch the news for long to realize that a lack of parenting is having a big impact.
A National Family Week poll of 4,000 parents and children revealed that one in eight families admit to spending no more than two hours together each week.”
There are huge benefits to spending time together as a family. FamilyFacts.org says those benefits include: emotional bonding, knowing their children’s social networks, academic success, and kids who are less likely to engage in violence and substance abuse.
And on the flip side, there are huge problems that occur when parents aren’t involved in the lives of their children.
A Facebook post from a friend told how he went to be part of a Father’s Day prison chapel service. The minister asked the inmates to tell about a good memory with their fathers. Out of the room filled with men, only one had a good memory with his dad. That’s a powerful testament to the importance of fathers who are involved in the lives of their children.
I was on faculty at a conference recently with NY Times Bestselling Author Cecil Murphey. He said something in his keynote that really struck home with me: “What we don’t receive in childhood, we spend the rest of our lives seeking.”
He went on to tell that he grew up knowing that his dad didn’t love him. Cec is 81 years old now—and there was still pain in his voice as he made that statement.
Moms and dads, do you want to make a difference in the lives of your children? Spend time with them. Teach them respect for others. Instill a work ethic. Show them kindness by example. Go to church with them. Take time to teach them about character and values.
Have meals together at the family dinner table. Tell your children you love them. Laugh together. Determine now that you’re going to look back with sweet memories instead of regrets.
As summer approaches, what are some practical ways parents can make the moments with their children count and how can they make that a priority?
We need to become more intentional. We schedule car maintenance appointments and doctor appointments. Besides the impromptu moments, why not schedule time to spend with our families?
These don’t have to be big trips or expensive things. I was reminded of that awhile back when I found one of my son’s English papers from high school. The assignment for the students was to write about their most vivid childhood memory. My son, Tim, wrote about a trip to the circus—but he actually didn’t write about the circus itself. He wrote about something that led up to the circus trip.
The day I bought the tickets, I went home and put together a scavenger hunt for my sons. I hid clues all over the house that led to them finding the circus tickets. And that’s what Tim wrote about—the scavenger hunt. Not one word about the circus despite all the money we’d spent.
And you know what’s really interesting? I don’t remember one thing about the circus that year, but I can close my eyes and still see those little boys’ faces and hear the sound of their laughter as they ran from clue to clue. Sometimes the big memories come from the little moments.
So what can you do together? We have some great ideas for craft projects and activities on our parenting blog atwww.just18summers.com. Pinterest is also a wonderful source for fun and inexpensive activities to do together as a family. If your children are older, even volunteering together can be a fun (and rewarding) family time.
And one last thought for you. Sometimes even when families are in the same room, they aren’t really spending time together. Turn the technology off and talk for a change. The technology will always be there . . . but your children won’t.
You say mothers can use seemingly insignificant acts to make a difference in their children and the world. What do you mean by this?
You know, sometimes we as moms get a bit discouraged because we don’t see how God could possibly use our efforts as moms as we clean house, and change diapers, and do laundry—but because a mother packed a lunch with five loaves and two fish, her child was part of a miracle.
God can use our daily efforts in amazing ways, and it’s obvious that He values motherhood, because out of all the ways He could have sent His Son to earth, He sent Him by way of a mother. I don’t think the message could be any clearer than that.
Jochebed taught Moses about God’s deliverance, the Widow of Zarepath taught her little boy that God can supply our needs, Sarah taught Isaac that God can do the impossible, Hannah taught Samuel about answered prayers, Eunice taught Timothy about character and integrity, and Mrs. Noah taught her children about God’s provision and protection.
The question for us as moms is: What lessons are our lives teaching our children. What are WE leaving behind?
How can churches and individuals come alongside parents to help them?
My husband and I have volunteered with teens and singles at our church for over 30 years. Many of them are young parents now and they come to us and say, “We want to be good parents, but we don’t know what to do? Will you help us?”
That’s where churches can step in and provide mentoring, resources, and encouragement to parents. They can sponsor conferences for families, provide curriculum and training, and even give hands-on help as needed–especially for single parent homes, parents with special needs children, and for military families.
What can parents do if their children are older or grown and they feel like they didn’t spend enough time with them?
Unfortunately, we can’t go back and rewind yesterday, but folks can start now to begin making good memories together as a family. There might be scars from the past, and it might take some real effort to bridge the gap that’s been caused by those times, but it will be so worth it for everyone.
The words “I’m sorry and I love you” go a long way. Pray over the situation and make a consistent effort to be the loving supportive parent now that you wish you’d been before.
The novel follows the lives of four different families. Briefly tell us about the family situations and why you chose to include these storylines in the book.
Construction foreman Tippy O’Reilly and his wife, Daphne, are having their first baby. They’ve done all the internet searches and read all the books—and Daphne liberally shares her parenting expertise with everyone. Tippy and Daphne are confident they know it all . . . and then the baby arrives.
Larry and Beth Anderson have been good parents. They’re still a bit misty-eyed about their son’s graduation—and then receive a bombshell when their daughter announces that she’s engaged . . . to the pizza delivery guy. Beth doesn’t think she’s ready and scrambles to teach her daughter everything she needs to know about marriage. Larry immediately starts planning ways to pack a lifetime of memories into their last summer together.
Charles and Helen Buckley are ambitious, affluent parents with a daughter who is graduating, one in middle school, and a son who just wants to fly a kite. And Charles misses it all. When a billionaire shares his regrets with Charles about being absent from his son’s life and tells him, “Don’t forget—you have just 18 summers!” it falls on deaf ears. Or does it?
After the tragic death of his wife, construction company owner Butch Browning has to adjust to life without her, and figure out how to relate to his eight-year-old daughter, Ava, with whom he’s not been close. Even though Ava’s grieving her mom and adapting to life with just her dad, the pint-sized charmer still manages to make every guy on the construction site fall in love with her (with some hilarious results), and to get her entire church involved in a project to help a homeless family.
All four of these families have one thing in common. They have just 18 summers with their children. How will they make them count . . . and will they wake up in time to end up with sweet memories instead of regrets? The question for every parent who will read the book is: How many summers do YOU have left . . . and what are you going to do with them?
What do you hope parents will take away from the stories in Just 18 Summers?
Eighteen years sounds like a long time—but in most cases we really have just 18 summers before our children leave home. Eighteen short summers to make memories together, to instill character and life lessons, to enjoy the moments.
Savor the sweetness of those moments, because one day soon—before you blink twice—they won’t be there to do that. Don’t forget you have Just 18 Summers. Take time to make some memories.”