If My Children Screw Up Like Lance Armstrong Did

I just watched the second hour of the Oprah interview with disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong and have lots of thoughts about his demeanor, his candor and his beady little eyes.  But the part of the interview that made me the most emotional was the discussion about his mother, who Armstrong reported was “a wreck,” as her son’s confession monopolized the news cycle last week. It was clear that Armstrong felt responsible for her pain.

It made me think about how I want my kids to deal with me if they ever end up in a similar situation.

Here’s what I am planning to tell them:

Dear Sadie and Simon,

Throughout your lives, you will make mistakes, just like I make mistakes all the time. (See, for example, the time I shut the garage door on the car.)  And, you may live a life that brings incredible fame, fortune and power.  In that case, I pray that you remain– always– kind, responsible, humble and honest.

But, just in case you become a star athlete or a BigTime bank CEO or the dictator of a small island country, and you lose your footing, it’s possible that your mistakes, including hubris, may cost millions of dollars or the respect and admiration you had built up.

If so, I hope that you keep in mind several things.

First and foremost, I am your parent and that’s the only role I ever want to play with you. Especially in a crisis.  You do not ever have to take care of me, even if your frailties disgrace you on the cover of every magazine and newspaper in the free world.  Today– and always– I have my own support system, composed of my therapist, your father, my friends, and my recovery peeps. You are not in that group and you never will be. You are not invited to be my parent or my support system.  You are invited to be my child no matter how old you are or how much trouble you are in.

Parents take care of children.

Any feelings (and judgments) I have about your choices, I will take to my support system and then have honest conversations with you about my feelings.  After that, I will butt out, because I am raising you to make  your own decisions and be autonomous. Even if you royally screw it up.

I suppose there is one caveat to this.

One day this vibrant, pain-in-the-keister mother of yours is going to get super old– she’ll lose her mind, her hair and her bowel control.  So, in the event that I no longer have the capacity to know who I am and who you are, then, and only then, are you allowed to take care of me.  When that day comes, by all means, spare no expense and put me up in the ritziest Old Folks Home (near Costco) there is. Hell, you can change my diaper yourself if you are so inclined.

But until then, you’re my kids, and I will gratefully play the role of the parent who allows you to make whatever mistakes you need to make, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you are responsible for my feelings, my happiness or my state of mind.

Also, if you end up on Mother Oprah’s show, just know I am happy to drive you to the interview and snack in the green room while she interviews you.

Kiss, kiss,

Your Dear Old Outlaw Mama


40 thoughts on “If My Children Screw Up Like Lance Armstrong Did

  1. I’m willing to bet she feels largely ashamed, which is sad, as I expect she was probably very proud of him for his accomplishments. So now to feel betrayed and embarrassed….. I can’t even imagine something on that scale. It’s sad, really.

    • It is totally sad and I am sure she’s heartbroken and totally ashamed. I feel that whoosh of shame when my toddlers “act out” in Target, and they can hardly be expected NOT to meltdown….they don’t even have fully formed prefrontal cortexes. So, I am 100% sure I will feel shame if my kids get busted for doping, lying AND bullying. To be honest, the bullying part will hurt the most, because, I would always wonder (1) where did they learn that? (2) did they learn it from me? and (3) I would be SURE people assumed they were the product of my bad parenting.

      And still, I feel so strongly that my feelings about their behavior are not their problem to solve. Maybe my feelings aren’t even a problem, even though they will torture me and keep me up at night. I don’t want my kids to take care of me emotionally now or even when the major ca-ca hits the fan. But the pull to have them “be good for mama” or “behave so I don’t feel shame” is so strong. I’m going to need in patient treatment if this goes down in my family. But then again, maybe it will never happen.

      On Mon, Jan 21, 2013 at 10:47 AM, Outlaw Mama

    • Well, I want everyone’s approval. What I really want is for me to NOT rely on them emotionally. Even if they do something horrifically disgraceful, they are not responsible for my feelings. Because, ALANON.

      On Mon, Jan 21, 2013 at 11:12 AM, Outlaw Mama

  2. This is a brave thing to say. I don’t know if I have ever really thought about this, which is sad because I spent so much of my own childhood wanting to take care of my parents in the way you describe. But I will say this, sometimes kids do whatever they want to do. My mother made it very clear that I was not responsible for my father’s well being. She not only told me with words, but she clearly modeled that behavior as well. I didn’t care. I wanted to do it. Something in me made me take that role. I know that’s not the case for most, most children feel thrust into that role without wanting it. And that’s where your genius comes in. Besides, we’ve established I am strange. Or maybe challenged in a karma way.

    Anyway, enough about me. I loved this. But of course it made me want Simon to become a huge Olympic athlete and get caught doping and lying and bring you to Oprah’s green room. Oops!

  3. I found this extremely thought provoking. I read, a long time ago, a book called The Wonder of Boys in which the author talked about mothers and sons and how mothers often, unconsciously, make sons feel a responsibility for the mother’s feelings. I’m sure it happens with daughters, too, but they claimed more intensely with boys. I think of this often now when looking up to my 13 year old son to speak to him. Like you, I do not want him or my daughters to feel responsible for my emotions.
    That being said, I do feel a certain level of responsibility to my aging, yet fully functional parents. I really wouldn’t want it any other way.

  4. I admit, I was a huge Lance Armstrong fan. I read his memoirs and remember how ardently his mother stood by him during his battle with cancer. I have a feeling she’s tough enough to get through this too.

    Can I have a room next to yours at Shady Pines? I bet we’d have lots of interesting conversations. 🙂

  5. So well said. I’ve tried so hard to never make my son responsible for my physical or mental well-being, and he doesn’t take care of me that way at all. I have to admit that sometimes I wish I’d been a little sicker around all of that and given him a twinge or two of guilt along the way.

  6. Not to sound snarky, but don’t you think Mama Armstrong knew? And maybe she’s guilt-ridden cause she didn’t anything to stop her son. Maybe should did though. It’s a very bad mess, not to mention the hard-to-swallow fact that her son lost an annual income of $75M.

    • That’s an interesting question. I bet she knew about the doping, and thus the lying. I am so hung up about his bullying, though. I wonder if she knew the extent of that. That would be so hard to swallow as a mom– the cruelty to others. She could very well have known. If I knew, I would be worried about the long-term consequences of doping….do we really know what that does to a body. Also, I would be sick of Simon’s BFF was Matthew McCoughnay(Sp?) because that seems wrong on a lot of levels. And a cry for help. God bless ’em all.

  7. We’ve hosted two fundraisers in which the speaker was Linda Armstrong Kelly. She wrote a book about being a single mom and raising Lance, and she makes/made her living touring and speaking about it. I drove her around for that day and we talked a lot. When the news came out about Lance talking to Oprah, I immediately thought of her and said a prayer for her. I don’t know if she knew Lance was doping or not, but I’m inclined to stay she didn’t.

    I can’t imagine what she is going through. Not only is she working through her feelings about the failings of her son, she is also dealing with having lost her source of income too. I mean, she might be able to repackage her schtick…maybe she can now tour the country talking about how to deal when your kids disappoint you (she could probably make even more money off that).

    I don’t feel sorry for Lance, because his Oprah interview and admitting his failings are just a way for him to try to get back into everyone’s good graces and eventually the sport of racing again. But I do feel for his Mama. We all have our moments when we are mortified about something our kids did, but they usually aren’t lived out in the glare of the world’s eye.

  8. You’re a better person than I am, because I would be so pissed at my kids I wouldn’t be able to speak.
    My biggest fear is that of raising a jerk. I don’t think Mr. Tour de Jackass’s mom made him a jerk; I think he did that all himself. But damn I’d be ashamed. And mad.
    Did I mention mad?
    And I’m not the kind of mom who would stay silent, either.
    My poor boys.

  9. Fantastic article and great discussion. I aspire to be outlawmama but am right there with naptimewriting and the shame and fury. Who among us has therapy money?!?

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