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Where Did We Go Wrong?

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New parents are usually as happy as can be. They look forward to raising their kids as idealized versions of themselves, or at least copies of themselves. It is not bad parenting; parents want their kids to share their cherished values and ideas, and avoid the mistakes they made growing up.

Well, that's not what happens here.

These kids ended up having their own views of how the world works. For better or worse, they don't share their parents' interests, they don't want to enter the same careers, or worst of all, they may not share their parents' political or religious views. This leads the parents to wonder, "Where did we go wrong?".

This trope is Played for Laughs as often as it's Played for Drama. Usually, neither party is shown to be to blame but rather, both share it in one way or another.

Classic set-ups include a girl with a domineering Stage Mom, or a son being forced to hunt deer in a Manly Men Can Hunt scene. In more dramatic works, a rebellious child might end up being downright criminal.

Very common in sitcoms.

Compare this to I Have No Son!. May result in Why Couldn't You Be Different?. Pretty much the attitude of the "Well Done, Son" Guy's father.

Not related to tropes such as Gone Horribly Wrong.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Fairy Tail, Makarov says this word for word in the English anime when expelling Laxus (his own grandson) for endangering the lives of his fellow guildmates and trying to take over as Fairy Tail's guild master. While not outright stated in the original Japanese or the manga, the implication of Makarov's feelings is still there, especially seeing that Laxus Used to Be a Sweet Kid.
  • In Hetalia: Axis Powers, the American Revolution is pretty much portrayed this way. Played for Drama, the scene with the rainy battlefield where a desperate England, with his army lost, attacks, disarms but still can't shoot America, before breaking down in tears, is a famous Tear Jerker. To quote America's thoughts... "You used to be... so big..."

    Comic Books 
  • Robin: Jack Drake has such a reaction to realizing his son is not who he thought he was, forbidding him from ever contacting the Waynes again or any of the friends he made through them and then mostly distancing himself from his son at home while policing his activities. Jack eventually does come around and accept Tim for who he is.

    Films — Animation 
  • Spoofed in The Emperor's New Groove, where Yzma, the Evil Chancellor, goes off on an outraged rant after being fired by Royal Brat Kuzco.
    Yzma: How could he do this to me?! Why, I practically raised him!
    Kronk: (Without a shred of irony) Yeah, you'd think he'd have turned out better.
  • In The Land Before Time V: The Mysterious Island, the gang meets Chomper, the baby T-rex they befriended in the first sequel. During the "Friends For Dinner" song, Chopper is collecting various leaves and other flora for his herbivore friends to eat. As he's doing this, his parents are watching (and apparently unclear on what he's doing) and one says to the other, "Sometimes I worry about that boy."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Austin Powers: Dr. Evil asks where he went wrong out loud in response to Scott Evil not living up to his father's expectations in the first two movies. They reconcile in the third movie although Dr. Evil does a Heel–Face Turn, leaving Scott as the lone Big Bad.
  • In Everyone Says I Love You, there is a quick exchange between Alan Alda's character and his son over political beliefs. He playfully exclaims, "How did I end up with a kid on the other end of the political spectrum? How did I fail? Steffi, get me a copy of my will... and an eraser."
  • The Force Awakens: Played in the most serious, dramatic, and painful manner possible with Han and Leia and their son, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. They debate various potential reasons, from Vader's Force echo to the usefulness of Luke's training to the influence of Big Bad Supreme Leader Snoke. They try to bring him back home and for a moment he seems to respond to Han's plea but then cements himself in his grandfather's legacy by murdering his father in cold blood.
  • Freaky Friday: Both the 1976 and 2003 versions, as well as many rip-offs utilize this trope, but also subvert it in that in the end, it's shown that the teenagers and parents weren't quite as different as initially believed.
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding: Gus agonizes over his daughter Toula wanting to go to college, work with computers, and date and marry a non-Greek man instead of wanting to Stay in the Kitchen and become a Greek Baby Factory like all the other women in the family.
  • SLC Punk!: Stevo's parents also seem to have this reaction when Stevo is finally able to fully rebel without any parental repercussions. It should be noted that, while he does flip off his parents and shouts "Fuck you!," he also takes the time to mention that he loves them.
  • Trainspotting: Renton's parents have this view toward him and it's justified considering he's a heroin addict. Sadly, he realizes how much they must be disappointed in him.

  • Hive Mind (2016): Played for laughs. Caleb's level 91 parents, once they get over their fear of offending their level 1 son, complain that he was always too daring and wonder why he couldn't have been a nice, normal son like his level 89 older brother.
  • In Shaman of the Undead, this is the main line of tension between Ida and her parents. They had one girl as a "necessary minimum", expecting her to turn out to be a successful wizard like they are and get married to another well-born wizard, but she turned out to be devoid of magic and completely unwilling to settle down.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Robert Baratheon is a boisterous warrior who has fallen on hard times but is still well-meaning. His eldest son and heir, Joffrey, is a spoiled, sadistic psychopath who loves violence but spends his entire life sheltered at a castle. In a private moment, Robert laments to his friend Ned Stark regarding Joffrey turning out the way he did. Really makes sense since he isn't actually Robert's, after all.
    Robert: "My son. How could I have made a son like that, Ned?"
  • Much of the focus of We Need to Talk About Kevin (and the Film of the Book) is Eva trying to work out whether she did do anything wrong during her school-shooter son's upbringing. While Eva seems to think that there was something wrong with Kevin from the moment he was born (he seemed to spurn contact and affection from the moment he left the womb), she is also well aware that she was a bad mother, and that this may have contributed to his apparent sociopathy. The question is not answered; Eva comes to no conclusion one way or the other, and the fact that she's an Unreliable Narrator means any thoughts she does have are suspect anyway.

    Live Action TV  
  • 7th Heaven: The Camdens have to deal with their rebellious, eldest daughter.
  • Breaking Bad: The Pinkmans (Jesse's parents) spend pretty much all of their time embodying this trope. As Jesse's mom says to him at one point (while throwing him out of his house): "Why are you like this?".
  • Criminal Minds: When the parents of the unsub show up (which isn't often), they usually express this sentiment (unless they're The Family That Slays Together, which shows up more often).
    • Special mention goes to the mother in "The Inspiration"/"The Inspired." It turns out that she'd had twins, but raising them as a single mother was too much of a challenge, so she was forced to give one up for adoption. The boy she kept, Wallace, inherited his father's mental illness and his mother's neuroticism and became a violent, misogynistic serial killer. Even before she realized the full extent of his crimes, she plotted to "switch" him with his brother, Jessie, who'd grown up to be a successful, non-criminal lawyer. In her case, it's entirely rooted in her own pride; she wants to have the perfect son to prove she's the perfect mother.
    • The mother of the initial bomber in "Painless" is horrified by what her son did, even ten years later. When she learns her other son may have information related to the crime, she tells the FBI to search his room, because she refuses to turn a blind eye again.
  • Family Ties: Alex P. Keaton was a business suit wearing Republican teenager born to hippy parents.
  • The George Lopez Show: George and Angie feel this way about Carmen, especially after she runs away and becomes a groupie for some rapper.
  • The Golden Girls: Played for drama when Sophia has a strained relationship with her son, Phil, after he got married to Angela. This in turn, has Angela acting cold towards Sophia. After Phil passes away, Angela and Sophia meet at the funeral and get into an argument over Angela owing Sophia $47 in dowries. Eventually, Sophia reveals the real reason why she is so upset; Phil was a crossdresser and she wondered if she did or say anything to him that made him crossdress and blamed herself for it. Angela assures Sophia that regardless of what Phil was, he was a good man. Sophia completely breaks down in tears.
  • The short-lived 2003 sitcom "Happy Family" has a pair of parents (John Larroquette and Christine Baranski) thinking their kids are doing great. In one day, they discover their oldest son is cheating on his fiancee with his dental assistant; their other son dropped out of college a year ago and has been having an affair with their neighbor; and their daughter is a neurotic mess who talks to her parrot. The pilot ends with the two sitting on a couch and openly asking "what the hell happened?"
    Father: We were so focused on keeping them off drugs...maybe drugs would have helped!
  • How I Met Your Mother: Robin's dad tried his best to raise his kid up to be just like him... despite being a girl. He was more than upset when he caught her kissing a boy for the first time.
  • This is what drives I Hate My Teenage Daughter.
  • The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: Invoked in the episode "The Fairest of Them All" as a throwaway gag in which a girl named Tyreesha (the real one; as soon after this incident Cody gets Dragged into Drag entered into a child beauty pageant) angrily lets her Stage Mom know she wants to go to science camp instead of another pageant; leading to Tyreesha's mom using the trope name verbatim.
  • That '70s Show: Red is usually disappointed at how goofy and nerdy his son is.
    • Eric's sister Laurie starts off as the favorite, but as the series progresses Red begins to see the strong character in Eric while becoming more and more disappointed in how the promiscuous Laurie turned out.
    • Interestingly, before either was born Kitty wanted a girl but wound up with the selfish and promiscuous Laurie, while Red wanted a son but wound up with the goofy and nerdy Eric, so they both wound up favoring the child of the opposite gender because they had no prior expectations to disappoint.

  • The Beatles' "She's Leaving Home", on the third refrain:
    She (What did we do that was wrong?)
    Is having (We didn't know it was wrong)
    Fun (Fun is the one thing that money can't buy)

  • The Addams Family musical has a song entitled "Where Did We Go Wrong?" in which Gomez and Morticia lament over Wednesday's sudden fondness for (gasp) normal, wholesome things.
  • Bye Bye Birdie: Played for Laughs in "What's the Matter With Kids Today".
    Kids! I don't know what's wrong with these kids today
    Kids! Who can understand anything they say?
    Kids! They are nothing but disobedient, disrespectful oafs
    Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy loafers
    And while we're on the subject...

  • In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, the good Doctor's parents have this problem with him. Mitzi McNinja doesn't know how to raise ninja children, having become one by training, and Dan McNinja was never taught this, as it's supposed to be the mother who does this. They tried to teach him via Batman, but instead of a ruthless killer, they raised a vigilante doctor.
  • In Nerf NOW!!, a father is horrified to discover his son is a casual gamer! He's later relieved when he sees him playing a game with a Touhou Project character.
  • In Sabrina Online, the same concept used in the DeviantArt comic is applied to one of the main characters - Sabrina's boyfriend. His parents are ultra-liberal flower-child hippies, and extremely open-minded — and he rebelled by becoming a perfectly straight-laced IT graduate, working tech-support for Microsoft.
  • Played with in "Tatoo Rebel" on DeviantArt.

    Web Original 
  • asdfmovie: This is parodied in a later sketch, where an officer brings a boy home and explains that he was caught "doing homework". The mother screams the singular variant of this phrase in horror.
  • Played for Drama in Worm, where Taylor's father Danny-an honest man from a working-class family who did his best to raise her alone after her mother's death-wonders what he did wrong to make his only daughter turn into a ruthless supervillain with an iron grip on the city's underworld.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad! devoted an episode on Francine and Stan figuring out what they did wrong with Hayley by cloning Steve and experimenting with parenting styles. It's eventually revealed that Francine's parenting alone would turn Steve into a lazy, slovenly, spoiled brat, whereas Stan's parenting alone would turn Steve into a cat-killing sociopath. At the end, they realize that Steve needs both of their parenting styles.
  • Subverted in an episode of Beetlejuice where B.J. and Lydia are involved in a road race with their car Doomie. Scuzzo and Fuzzo set a booby trap along a short cut, but Doomie refuses to take it in spite of B.J.'s wishes. "Where did I go right?" B.J. asks.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers: Played for Laughs in "Dirty Politics". In a possible future, Dr. Blight has a daughter, Betsi, who turns out to be essentially the opposite of her, especially regarding the titular team. Although Dr. Blight is still fond of her, she laments having somehow raised a child who is an environmentalist, and takes her frustration out on MAL, whose files on the Planeteers Betsi viewed.
    Dr. Blight (angrily, to MAL): It's all your fault! You ruined her! (starts pounding on MAL's monitor)
  • On King of the Hill, most plots involving Hank and his son Bobby will take a turn through this trope. Most of the episodes end with Hank learning An Aesop about accepting that his son's talents and interests are different from his, then Status Quo Is God will kick in and they get to recycle the plot with a different disappointment of Bobby's. Eventually averted in the Grand Finale when Hank and Bobby bond over Bobby's talent for grilling.
  • Moral Orel: Played straight on the [adult swim] show with a heavy case of Cerebus Syndrome. This is also a case in which it's seen as a very good thing that the kid will not end up like his parents.
  • A cartoon in Rocky and Bullwinkle featured a pair of parents who are jesters/clowns who has a son who wants to be a knight. Even the father flat out ask what did he do wrong.
  • Wacky Races: Dick Dastardly asks this in the episode "Race To Racine" after Muttley sabotages him instead of the intended victims the Ant Hill Mob.

    Real Life 

"Where did we go wrong...? This trope was supposed to be like me, the Self-Demonstrating Article!"