The Four Lessons I Learned from Lance Armstrong

As I watched Armstrong confess his sins, I saw a child of divorce.
01/22/2013 05:02 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2013
FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, file photo provided by Harpo Studios Inc., Lance Armstrong listens as he is interviewed
FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, file photo provided by Harpo Studios Inc., Lance Armstrong listens as he is interviewed by talk show host Oprah Winfrey during taping for the show "Oprah and Lance Armstrong: The Worldwide Exclusive" in Austin, Texas. Armstrong confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France cycling during the interview that aired Thursday, Jan. 17, reversing more than a decade of denial. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc., George Burns, File)

I was mesmerized as I watched the Lance Armstrong interview with Oprah Winfrey. I watched that interview over and over again and was spellbound at each showing. Oprah grilled Lance Armstrong as he admitted to using illegal drugs during his cycling career. After years of denying that he doped, Lance Armstrong came clean.

Armstrong was a hero, known for overcoming cancer and winning the Tour de France cycling race seven times. Seven wins seemed like an impossible feat, never accomplished by another human being. After all, the Tour de France is a grueling cycling race, encompassing 2,000 miles over 23 days. His accomplishments were fantastic.

Yet, as I watched Armstrong confess his sins, I saw a child of divorce. I saw themes that resonated throughout many of our families. Although most of us were never world-class athletes, we suffered from the same frailties. Here are the lessons I learned from Lance Armstrong:

1. Power Your Way Through.
Lance's parents divorced when he was two years old. He was raised by his mom and had no relationship with his biological father. Later, his stepfather adopted him. He told Oprah that he and his mother did not believe in looking back. They never discussed their past. He never asked about his biological father. They never talked about what happened to his biological parents' relationship. Lance decided to just power his way through his past.

It is a common phenomenon that we ask our children to "power through" things. We may not even realize that we are doing it. How many times have you heard a divorced couple tell you that their kids were doing great? I hear it all the time. Do we really believe that? Or, do we need to think that the children are doing great? Does our desire to convince ourselves that we have not done any damage to our children make it impossible for us to see the hurt and damage that we have caused? One lesson that we can garner from the Armstrong interview is to be cognizant and honest about our children's feelings, even if they are not expressing them. We owe our children an open environment where we tell them the truth about our marriages and where they feel comfortable expressing their own emotions, even if our feelings will be hurt.

2. Be Perfect.
Lance Armstrong expressed his remorse at taking third place at his last Tour de France race. He truly felt this accomplishment was a huge failure. Conquering cancer was not enough. His past accomplishments were not enough. Finishing this grueling race, knowing that you were one of the fittest people in the world, was not good enough. He had to win and be the best.

Children of divorce are more prone to feel the drive to be perfect. Harboring the secret thought that they may have been responsible for their parents' divorce or the reason a parent abandoned the family, they are compelled to want to prove themselves. They want to prove that they are worthy. They want to show everyone that they are unharmed. They want to make certain that the parent who left is sorry for leaving that child who won seven Tour de France races.

In addition to the self-imposed pressure described above, we live in a society that seems to demand perfection. I always hated when I would hear other moms talk about how perfect their kids were. How did their children become so perfect when all of us were so imperfect? We should be explaining to our children that it is their job to be imperfect. That is how they learn what they want to do with their lives.

3. Control Everything.
Armstrong repeated over and over again that he felt compelled to control everything that happened with his cycling team. He admitted to suing and threatening people who had told the truth about his activities. At the time, his desperate need to feel control over his environment justified this behavior.

Divorce is traumatic. Anytime a parent leaves, the effect is cataclysmic. The human brain wants to protect the child's broken heart by inserting the thought that control is the answer to a happy life. Do you see your children reacting negatively to constant change? Do they seem to want more consistency? Do they have irrational fears? Understand that these kids know that a bad thing can happen at any time. Do your best to keep schedules consistent. Do anything you can to convince your children that they are safe.

4. Win At All Cost.
I loved hearing Lance Armstrong's disappointment as he described to Oprah how his third place finish at the Tour de France was a failure. Clearly, his definition of winning was to come in first. There was no other choice or option. To qualify to compete was a huge honor and accomplishment. You had to be in incredible physical shape. Being on a Tour de France team was just not enough. You had to be wearing the yellow jersey.

How often do we try to come in first within our families? Have you ever viewed a competition among the adults in your family to gain the love and affection of the children? Do you see the children pitting one parent against another? Are we trying to win? Our family relationships are not a competition. The goal is to love to our maximum capacities. We triumph by loving our children, their mother and all of the important people in their lives. In this way, we show our future athletes how to truly win in the game of life.