Learning to be Wrong

With more information and power, adults excel at being right. It's very useful to our children when we cultivate the ability to be wrong as well.

When I was growing up, there were right and wrong answers to everything, and the adults around me placed a high value on being right. I learned my lessons well, gave hundreds of thousands of right answers in school over more years than I care to think about, and worked hard to avoid any situations in which I might be proved wrong.

I had no idea that becoming a parent would be such a lowering experience in this regard. Almost as soon as they could talk, my children were letting me know that I was wrong. I chose the wrong food, the wrong clothes, the wrong activities, the wrong schedule. As they got older they grew increasingly quick and adept at pouncing on and pointing out every mistake or misstep on my part. I said it would take ten minutes, but it took longer. I said we could have yogurt but there wasn't any. I said it was supposed to snow and it didn't. I'd never been so wrong in my life!

I can't remember when I finally realized that being wrong was simply part of my job description as a parent. It makes sense. The power weighs so heavily in my direction as a parent. They needed a chance to be the right ones. Of course they would delight in any crack in that monolithic presentation of authority. Of course they would notice. Of course they would gloat.

That realization brought a lot of relief. Somehow, if my children need me to be wrong for their well-being, then the whole picture is cast in a different light. I don't have to take it so personally. There's no reason to be overcome by that feeling of angry defensive humiliation at being exposed or accused of a mistake. I can relax into being wrong. Needless to say, this is great for all of us.

It can actually be fun. My teenager and I joke around now about how wrong I am on so many fronts. These days my errors tend to be in matters of fashion and taste--liking the wrong music, wearing the wrong colors, spending money on the wrong things. What relief to be able to laugh, confident that all these "mistakes" don't have anything to do with my intelligence, or my worth, or the strength of my relationship with the children. It's just part of the job description. And when I can joke about it, none of us get confused. We're all good and smart, and we're all wrong sometimes.

It's been interesting, with this realization under my belt, to notice a right/wrong dynamic developing in our house as the boys have become more aware of my spelling abilities. This is an area in which I just don't make mistakes. As they--and their dad---struggle to spell, I am always right. Not a comfortable situation for them. I was very pleased the other night when it occurred to me, after a speedy, very inaccurate retyping of a column, that my eleven year old might enjoy seeing all my spelling mistakes. So I invited him over to do spell check with me.

He was delighted. And his delight grew with each typo. I would try to pronounce the word as it was written, fail miserably, and shake my head as he laughed and laughed. We laughed at my mistakes and laughed at the often-outrageous alternative suggestions from the computer. When we'd finished checking he snuggled in happily and asked if we could do more. What a perfect opportunity for him to hang out with a far-from-perfect mom. And what a triumph for me! Rather than struggling to be right at any cost, carefully hiding any mistakes that I couldn't avoid, I had actually chosen to expose them and invite my child to enjoy them with me. What a contrast to the hot, tight defensiveness of the old days. What a gift I've gotten as I've learned to be wrong.