What if You’re Wrong?


Mom wearing a shirt that says "Right to be Wrong"Our 4-year-old son is currently obsessed with the book series Who Would Win. If you aren’t familiar with the series, each book features two animals the author pits against one another in an epic hypothetical battle, while sneakily providing all kinds of educational nuggets about both animals and their species.

Before each book, our son likes to ask us who we think would win. The other night after I gave him my answer on whether T-Rex or Velociraptor would win, he asked me, “But what if you’re wrong? Will you still be happy?”

I laughed but he was looking at me intently, waiting for my answer, and it gave me pause. He tends to burst out crying when he’s wrong, even though each book ends by admitting that this is just one possible outcome of such a battle. There is absolutely no consequence for guessing incorrectly. It doesn’t seem to matter.

What if you’re wrong? Will you still be happy?

We spend a lot of time talking with our kids about being wrong and why mistakes are essential to learning. It’s OK if you missed that math question, it’s no big deal that you lost the basketball game, it IS hard to draw eyes, and on and on. 

When they get it wrong, they’re not happy. There are tears, self-recriminations, and certainty that they’ll never get it right. Our darling little perfectionists.

So we read more books about making mistakes and talk about ways to handle the wrongness: deep breaths, taking breaks, asking for help, remembering Michael Jordan’s quote about his 9,000 missed shots, etc.

What if you’re wrong? Will you still be happy? 

I’m wrong a lot.

I’m wrong about eating that extra donut, staying up late to finish the book, not fully engaging in a grad school assignment, talking myself out of applying for that job, not making time for my relationships.

I’m wrong about which summer camps we sign up for and how much screen time they can handle, and which chores to enforce.

I’m wrong about bedtime habits and sugar consumption.

And I’m not happy. I’m cranky, disappointed, and convinced of my inadequacy. I mope, I rage. No deep breaths for me, no breaks, definitely no asking for help, and don’t even get me started on Michael Jordan.

Hypocrisy, thy name is parent. We get it wrong and don’t handle it well. To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous and misleading. Even though I told the 4-year-old that I’d be happy if I’m wrong and continue to suggest it’s easy to self-regulate when things aren’t perfect, it was a lie and a lost learning opportunity. It sucks when you’re wrong.   

What if you’re wrong? Will you still be happy? 

No, kid. I won’t be. But I’ll keep working at it until I am happy, and maybe I won’t always get it wrong. After all, every battle has lots of possible outcomes.

And like the Tyrannosaurus Rex in your Who Would Win book that just got taken out by a pack of Velociprators, I know I can do better next time.


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