How Soccer Moms Have Moved On

Our kids have grown up and our priorities have shifted. Here's what politicians need to know about the large cohort of moms they need to win over

  • Share
  • Read Later
Benne Ochs / Getty Images

A mere 15 years ago, I was a soccer mom. I lived in a suburb; my two sons attended public school; they played soccer and little league and hockey, and I went to their games. I even ferried them around in an SUV. A small one, but still. Sorry. It worked for us.

I also commuted to a full-time job; I was divorced and entirely responsible for my health, mental wellbeing and means of support; and, like millions of women who found themselves single again, I never remarried. Of course, like most moms — whether tiger, grizzly, stage, helicopter, hockey or soccer — I put my children in the center of my firmament.

(MORE: Judith Warner: Family and Work Issues — Deferred Yet Again)

Politicians spent hours analyzing what soccer moms thought about them. We were, after all, a huge voting cohort — whether we were Republican or Democrat, centrists or independents. But the children are now grown and on their own — it happened in the blink of an eye, it seems. So what happens to soccer moms when the games come to an end? Now, its time for them to understand a few things about — Yoo hoo! Over here, guys! — the largest new cohort of moms any politician has ever faced: The Legacy Moms. We are in our 50s and 60s. Our ranks are growing; the 45- to 65-year-old population overall grew a whopping 31.5% between 2000 and 2010 (and women are more than half that.)

For all the stuff you read about “the boomerang generation,” the fact is our kids aren’t really coming back to live with us at a startling or even unusual rate. Some of them need a transitional pad, with this tough economy — but that’s happened for generations. Even so, soccer moms have been smart enough to renegotiate our relationships with our adult children. Our children are still the stars in our firmament, but the impetus of their everyday needs no longer drive us. Instead, we are, once again, on our own, more of us living without a husband than with one. We’re dealing with a whole new set of freedoms. And we’re beginning to consider a future with a longer horizon than the next year, or even 10 years.

We’ve spent our adult lives trying to instill good values in our children — so we’ve been thinking,  for years, about things like respect, kindness, moderation, reliability, compassion, honesty, judgment, diligence, resilience, a sense of fair play. We’re looking for those same values in our friends, our lovers, our colleagues — and our political leaders.

We don’t really hold divorce against anyone and we’re a bit suspicious of the perfect marriage. We don’t like sanctimony, nor do we like meeting people who think they are too good to observe the proprieties of common decencies. We are super attuned to all the dog-whistle ways in which men still condescend to women, so beware of that tone in your voice when you start telling me how you deserve to be president because you have fathered many children. Honestly, we hear about lots of progeny and think, forget him. Elect her!

(MORE: Browning: Divorce Is No Longer a Dealbreaker)

Because we’ve been divorced in record numbers, we’ve learned to take care of ourselves. If we are working and in thriving careers, we feel like we should have at least a good 20 years more ahead of us — if the bottom doesn’t fall out of the economy again. We can throw ourselves into our work — and our marriages, our relationships, our friendships — with renewed energy and wisdom.

Don’t even think about making us feel guilty for being privileged. Most of us worked long hours for everything we have, and if we’ve saved money, it is hard won. If we haven’t, believe me, we’re doing it now because we know we can’t count on our children being able to take care of us as we age. The idea of not having income — not having savings — is terrifying. So right about now, we’re getting fiscally conservative.

When we think about health care, we like knowing that Obama cares, or Romney cares. Politicians shouldn’t worry about caring about health care when it comes to Legacy Moms. We’ve paid into a system of caring for years; we’re watching our aging parents get the benefit of their investment, and we know, when the time comes, we’ve earned our protections. We want a safety net. We don’t want to impose on our children because we know, with this economy, that they’re going to have a harder time making ends meet.

We were the primary consumers who drove the economic engine for many years — we made the lioness’ share of those big purchasing decisions: furniture, houses, jewels, televisions, sound systems and, yes, cars. By now, we’ve got plenty of stuff, so we no longer feel it is our job to blow bucks to keep the economy going. We feel it is our job to remind our children that going to Starbucks seven days a week, for a drink that would cost pennies if they made it at home, will make a sizeable dent in their starting salaries. So we’re finding a new appreciation for those old-fashioned values that our parents instilled in us — the ones we rebelled against. They turned out to be right. Thrift is smart. Frugal is good. Waste is bad.

Just like everyone else in the country, we care about jobs and the economy. We know our problems didn’t happen overnight because gas prices hit $5. We also know that the repair of our economy will be gradual and painstaking. We don’t believe anyone who tells us they can fix it the minute they get into office. We know money doesn’t just appear magically overnight, because we were the tooth fairies. But we’ve also been in enough bloated organizations to find it entirely believable that our government bureaucracies are full of fat. But when we hear candidates talk about abolishing agencies wholesale, we’re not thinking, bravo, great management style. We’re thinking: uh-oh, more unemployment. Our friends and our children will be out of work. We prefer a long, thoughtful game here, using attrition and considered surgical tactics.

(MORE: Browning: Who Speaks for the Trees?)

Speaking of surgery: we are the generation that has most benefited — in the history of the world — from the research and discoveries of scientists and doctors. We have learned not to trust manufacturers of products when they tell us nothing will harm us. We want cures for the diseases that are cutting us down too young. We want to know where those poisons are coming from, that are laying waste to our brains, our breasts, our endocrine systems, our hearts. We want those toxins out of our stuff.

We want our politicians to consider climate science, instead of telling us they don’t believe in global warming. Belief is for faith. Science is about measurable data and doesn’t require belief to prove itself. A little respect and intelligence would go a long way.

And speaking of belief, yes, we are spiritual. But we’re making it up as we go along. Some of us hold fast to the faiths of our parents. Some of us wander into new temples to feed our souls. Some of us use our faiths to guide our daily lives. All of us have lived long enough to want to connect to something larger than our own puny, everyday troubles — even if we are atheists. We find spiritual solace in nature, or in friendship or in art. It matters.

And most of us, after long years of finding that reality defies expectations, know that religious dogma and ideology are irrelevant to our lives. So when a candidate tells us that we have to accept the pregnancy that is conceived of rape, we’re thinking: tell it to your own daughter. When we hear that marriage isn’t for gay people, we’re thinking: you can boycott your lesbian daughter’s wedding, but I’m going to mine.

Which leads to the most important thing for any politician to understand about this new stage in the soccer mom’s life. We are thinking about our legacies. We are thinking about the world we are leaving behind for our children. We are thinking about how everything we did to scrub their necks clean, to protect them from bullies, to teach them manners, to keep them safe — all of that isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans if the world into which (we hope) they bring our grandchildren is itself severely compromised and dangerous.

We want something really old-fashioned from politicians: idealism. But we want that idealism served up pragmatically — because that’s how we’ve approached everything we’ve done as moms for the last 25 years. You go for what works — and you make it up as you go along. We’re all about mother love, which, by the way, you don’t even have to have children to feel quite strongly — plenty of us leaned on our childless friends to help us guide our kids to adulthood. Mother love is a powerful value, and it is what our hearts are filled with as we size up the future: Is it good for our children? We’ve got a lot to say about that. Good politicians should still listen to their mothers.

(MORE: The New Greatest Generation)