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.
Your Dear Old Outlaw Mama