It’s been nearly a week since he sat down with Oprah and confessed on tv to using performance enhancing drugs after years of denials, and in the time since, the media has chewed him up and spit him out like yesterday’s bubble gum.
I can’t say that I’d ever been swept away by the cyclist’s charisma, but his story was undeniably inspiring: beating cancer, defying odds, raising his arms high as he crossed the finish line of the Tour de France seven times in a row. I’ll be honest— I didn’t have a strong reaction to Armstrong’s fall from grace, but I saw our culture’s response through the lens of my social media feeds: Armstrong wasn’t remorseful enough, he didn’t explain enough, he was a bully, a narcissist, a liar.
I watched it all unfold in a predictable fashion, not invested enough in the story to have an opinion of my own.
That was true until I heard about his confession to his child.
Until that point in the interview Armstrong had remained composed, if a bit stiff. But when he described overhearing his son defending him to a friend, Armstrong’s voice cracked. He described telling his son to stop defending him, and came clean. The 13 year old’s response? “Look, I still love you. You’re my dad. This won’t change that.”
I haven’t been able to let go of these words. As parents, we’re all invested in stories like Armstrong’s. We’ve all been in his position at some point in parenting, even though for us the stakes were likely much lower. And while my children will hopefully never know the pain of a very public parental fall from grace, they do face the reality every day that their parents aren’t always the role models they need us to be.
We’ve all been wrong. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all had to look into our children’s eyes after letting them down in ways both big and small.
Recently my 9 year old stopped me in my tracks after I apologized for losing my temper: “It’s okay, Mom,” he told me. “Sometimes we all say things we don’t mean.”
Reflecting on that moment in the light of Armstrong’s confession, I realized that I should I stop beating myself up for the occasional slip up. Thankfully, kids are quick to forgive. Children don’t expect perfection. They only expect our best. What’s more, it’s probably comforting to them when we admit to making mistakes , because it gives them room to make some themselves.
I for one applaud Lance Armstrong for owning his truth and having the courage to be honest at last. As his son so eloquently reminded me, even when we make mistakes, we’re still their parents. Nothing changes that.