The best parenting advice my wife and I ever received was not to be so concerned about whether our children were listening to us or not, but to be more concerned with the fact that they were always watching us. This wisdom is not just for parents; it is for all adults–grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, youth leaders, teachers, coaches, clergy, and all of us who have children in our lives who are watching us. I was reminded of the wisdom of this advice when I watched the televised confession that Lance Armstrong made to Oprah Winfrey and the world last week.
Being an avid biker, as well as an avid student of the human psyche, I was very interested in watching the entire two and a half hours of Armstrong’s interview last weekend. In case you missed the interview, I want to highlight one moment that illustrated so clearly the wisdom I have already mentioned that was shared with us so long ago. It was two hours into the interview before Lance Armstrong showed vulnerability and emotion. This occurred when he began to talk about how his lying and deception had begun to affect his thirteen year old son. It was not the loss of his friends, team mates, or sponsors that caused him to break down in the interview. Instead, it was when he talked about overhearing his son telling his friends from school that the media was all wrong and that his dad was innocent and had never cheated in any way. After all of those years of lying it was when he heard his lies being imitated by his son that the seriousness of what he was doing finally became real to him. He knew then that he needed to tell the truth to his son, and that eventually he would need to do the same with his four other younger children.
Armstrong’s son was simply doing what all young people do. They watch the important adults in their lives and believe what they say and do without question. There are few things more humbling for a parent or any adult than when they see or hear one of their own bad habits being imitated by a child. For Lance Armstrong, it appears that it was his child that humbled him and did something that all the powerful adults in his life could not do. It was a child that got him to tell the truth.
Children need us to tell the truth. Children need us to live the truth. This is their greatest blessing to us and it is our greatest challenge. In their innocence and dependence on us children ask us to align our lives with what we say we believe so they have something to hold onto as they learn to how to live in this complex world. They unknowingly ask us as well to align our lives with our ideals and core values so they will have a compass to guide them. They ask us to walk the talk. And when we get off track and make mistakes–which we inevitably all do at times–they simply ask us to tell the truth, acknowledge our mistakes, and move forward in a renewed way. This is hopefully what Lance Armstrong is doing, and it is hopefully what all of us who are blessed to have children watching us, are doing on a regular basis.