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If you saw the interview Lance Armstrong gave recently, you saw that Armstrong’s confession of doping throughout his cycling career was triggered by the realization of the effect of his actions on his 13-year-old son. The boy believed in Armstrong and was defending him to others. Armstrong fought back tears as he remembered that his son never asked, “’Dad, is this true?’” Armstrong said, “He trusted me.”

Your children trust you. Children trust their parents. Children believe that parents are right and are doing right. Is that true? Are you doing right?

Being a parent means becoming a better person than we have ever been. It means knowing that the example we set has a profound effect on the most important persons in our lives, our children. This is more than just being a good role model. This is about being people of integrity and honor, even in activities we think our kids will never know about.

We will fail. We are human beings, with human weaknesses. Acting with integrity and honor is difficult for we mere human beings to do. One mistake leads to another. We start well, with the best of intentions, and we mean to get quickly back on track when we slip. What will finally stop the slide? Maybe the need to confess to our children what we’ve done.

There’s probably no greater humiliation than telling a child about the mistakes we’ve made. It takes a brave parent to do that. If this is something you need to do, how can you do it?

1. Sit down in a quiet, private place, where neither of you is afraid of being overheard and where you can make eye contact. Choose a time early enough in the day that your child can process what you’re going to say before going to off to school or going to bed.

2. Make no excuses. Remember that you’re modeling how to own up to failings. Don’t demonstrate how to put the blame on someone else but show how to take responsibility. Tell what you did in as straightforward and simple a way as you can.

3. Accept your child’s reaction, whatever it is. He may be angry. He may clam up. He may cry. He is entitled to his feelings, so hear him out. Be supportive and understanding.

4. End the conversation with what comes next. How does this news affect your child? He will want to know. Affirm your love for your child and your commitment to his future. A hug is a good way to end this talk, if your child will let you hug him. But don’t be surprised if he won’t.

Knowing how he disappointed his son and perhaps damaged their relationship for years to come, maybe Lance Armstrong wishes he hadn’t cheated. Maybe he would have cheated still. But it’s not possible to unwind the clock and choose a different path once we’ve traveled down it.

It takes less bravery and inflicts less pain to clean up our behavior now, before it affects our kids. If it’s time to get off a path you’re on, now is the moment.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.