Soccer Mom Confessions
Laura Anders Lee uncovers the reality of being a soccer mom.
Soccer moms, by definition, are middle-class, suburban moms who drive their kids around to soccer—or T-ball, ballet, hockey, taekwondo, cheerleading, Irish dancing, piano lessons or any other seemingly forced activity.
My sons are 4 and 6, and we are just now embarking on extracurricular activities. Yet sometimes that nagging mom guilt sets in, and I panic that we didn’t start earlier. Tiger Woods started playing golf at age 2, and Beethoven played his first public concert at 7. Did I hold my genius of a child back from his true potential for greatness? Will my sons get behind so-and-so if they don’t learn Mandarin and violin like, yesterday?
I’m not sure if it’s just my generation, but it seems to me that parents now are obsessed with their child’s achievement, or over-achievement, more than ever. There has never been more pressure to keep up with the Joneses’ kids. Our all-too-precious Facebook posts and Instagram feeds may portray a perfect life for soccer moms and our well-accomplished children, but I’m here to remove the filters and tell you what the bumper sticker won’t.
If you’ve ever been to a 4-year-old’s soccer game—or even a practice—you know it’s a big ol’ hot mess.
It goes something like this: “No, that’s the blue team’s goal. No, not that way, your goal is over there. No, the other way! The other way! The OTHER WAY!”
The kids react to their passionate parents by either running off the field mid-play, flopping on the grass and crying, or simply kicking the ball into the blue team’s goal anyway, exuberant they’ve scored.
When my son Anders was 4, he expressed an interest in soccer. So $180 and one oversized jersey later, he was on a team. At game time, he pitched a fit when he had to use the official ball rather than his own. The cleats and shin guards he was so proud of in the store were suddenly too uncomfortable to wear and hurled under a tree. Meanwhile William, then 2, was ripping into the snack bags meant for the team. We lost the first game 12-1. I swear some of the kids on the other team were 6-year-olds in disguise. Heck, they may have even been recruited from neighboring counties. The entire experience was excruciating.
So why do we soccer moms do this to ourselves, why week after week do we make our kids try to play an organized game of anything? And is the coach a masochist or the Patron Saint of Patience?
I want to help my kids become the people they were born to be. To get there, we have to try on different hats to find the ones that fit best. Sports were an important part of my childhood, and I assumed they would be for my children, too. My dad went to college on a basketball scholarship, and I grew up playing both basketball and volleyball with his encouragement. While playing youth-league basketball, I wrote a poem about playing Michael Jordan one-on-one, and it’s still framed on the wall in my old bedroom at my parents’ house. By high school, I was no longer the tallest player on the team, and I often cheered on my friends from the bench. But I was part of a team. We celebrated our wins; we comforted each other in our losses. And the next day, we always showed up for practice.
Orlando City Soccer founder Phil Rawlins told me the number of American children playing soccer (the other football), is at an all-time high. It’s especially wonderful to see how the sport has been embraced in Orlando. And as a former female athlete, I love that young girls have a new generation of strong role models like Alex Morgan, who fights for gender equality on and off the field.
There are more opportunities for children to get involved than ever before, but with these greater choices come greater pressures. We can’t do everything, much less be the best at everything. Most days are hard enough just trying to fit in school, homework and family time. If youth soccer taught me anything, it’s to lower my expectations. I don’t think my sons are going to grow up to be the next Kaká, and that’s okay.
Before signing up for a new activity, I’m first going to ask what my boys will gain—perhaps it’s building sportsmanship, broadening horizons or just allowing them to exert some energy and feel the camaraderie of a team. I just want my children to be the best versions of themselves, and that’s what being a soccer mom is really all about.