You're Doing It Wrong

originally in Abilene Families

A figure emerges, the cheery yellow raincoat and frilly pink umbrella a startling contrast to the blinding downpour surrounding her. She steps up to the car, motioning for the driver to roll down the window. In a drippy sweet voice she exclaims, “Hi, Jack. I’m Annette. You’re doing it wrong.”

So goes my favorite line from the movie “Mr. Mom,” that showcases Michael Keaton portraying an unemployed father of three managing the household as his wife, played by Teri Garr, rejoins corporate America. As this particular scene unfolds, he is unsuccessfully trying to navigate school drop off. Hence, Annette’s chiding:

“You’re doing it wrong!”

While the tone Annette used was so kind, there was no getting around the fact that Jack was going about drop off wrong and must be corrected. Annette was simply doing her job as cross walk guard duty.

Frequently in the course of a day, those words ring in my head:

“You’re doing it wrong!”

Generally it is about parenting. Lately I have noticed that most of my “doing it wrong” seems to be about the first-born child. Since many of our mistakes as parents occur with the first-born child, I have decided we should all agree to call first-borns the beta child.

Just as computer developers will come out with a program that they want you to try so that any bugs or glitches can be discovered and call it a “beta” version, I think we should call the first-borns the beta child.

The difference is that the child isn’t full of bugs and glitches, it’s the parents.

From diapers (disposable? cloth? Genie? service?) to pacifiers to when to call the pediatrician to... well, there are a million six opportunities to second-guess yourself and realize... you’re doing it wrong.
Mistakes are going to happen. That is why the good Lord provides us with erasers and Band-Aids. I just hate for my first-born that all of my parenting mistakes seem to pile up on that child so that I can realize, “Wow. That did not turn out the way I thought it would. I will do so much better with my next kid when we get to this stage.”

Thankfully, the beta child seems to have thrived as we parents have floundered. A responsible, observant, kind-hearted, young adult, first-born is a leader in most situations. Beta child also doesn’t mind leading child 2.0 through all the minefields mom and dad seemed to find.

As first born moves into being a young adult, the weight of these decisions move ever so slightly off of my shoulders and land more onto beta child’s hard drive. As we wade into high school and help first-born navigate AP versus regular versus dual credit classes, driver education choices, extra-curricular decisions, testing decisions, post-high school decisions... we realize every decision seems to be a stack of dominos that may set off a really cool display of artistry, or may simply make a jumbled heap of dominos.

But these decisions are less mine to make than they are now beta child’s. Thankfully first-born still values my input and wants to hear what I have to say, but ultimately the decision is with the child that will live with the decision. Beta child has had to live with plenty of my mistakes and knows that mistakes are survivable, possibly even character building. Live, learn, move on.

And, never, not once, will I approach and say, “Hi, hon. It’s mom. You’re doing it wrong.”


Roxanne said...

My dear friend, Sarah.

Of everything that you have ever written. . .as in EVER. . .of all of the posts and articles and letters and everything, I truly, with ALL of my heart believe this to be THE BEST EVER.



From a writing standpoint, this is perfection. And from a parenting standpoint--dead on.


Donna said...

Oh how often I've felt this way...lately I've been convinced that I did it all wrong. Yet through it all, I remind myself that even when I "do it wrong", God knew I would and already has a plan. He loves my children more than that possible? Yes, and He has made a way.
I also have to remind myself that THEY sometimes choose ways that aren't best...and sometimes it's not my fault. Have to admit - that is harder for me to believe.
Thank you for the encouragement for all of us who are "Doing it wrong."

Melissa said...

Sarah, I clicked on this because I say "you're doing it wrong" both out loud and internally SEVERAL times DAILY! I recently got to whisper it to our school principal (small private school) who was dealing with the traffic flow during the first week of school. I was pleased to learn that it is one of her all time favorite movie lines as well. I love the beta child analogy and am living it with my kids also.

Sarah S. said...

Mr. Mom came on TV a few weeks ago. I made my kids watch it long enough to see Annette tell Jack, "You're doing it wrong!" :-) We also use the word "woobie" for any blankie in the house because of that movie. :-) Yeah, the beta child. Just... bless 'em. I guess you were one and you turned out okay! :-)

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