"Mommy, I think my brother is going to grow up to be a bad guy."
Here we go again. The oh-so-familiar bad guy/good guy conversation, a daily part of life around here lately.
"Oh? Why do you think that?"
"Because I...because he falls a lot...and because sometimes I push him and throw blocks at him."
My breath catches, stomach twists. Oh child...no. I have lived my life that way, me always the one responsible for everyone else's feelings, people-pleaser, giving in to spare others' unhappiness. And here I preach it - don't makes your child responsible for the feelings or actions of others; own your own feelings - and have I already failed so miserably with my own son?
"Honey, when your brother grows up he will have to choose for himself what sort of person he will be. You won't make him into a bad guy."
"But sometimes I push him, and that teaches him bad things, and then he'll grow up to be a bad guy."
My own words, served back to me with a side of heavy guilt. "We must treat your brother with kindness. When we treat him kindly, he learns to be kind. If we are mean to him, he learns to be mean."
"You do sometimes push him, don't you? But you know what? I see you doing very kind things for him as well."
"What kind things do you see me do?"
"Well, just tonight you wiped your brother's eyes and gave him a hug when he was crying. That was very kind. And I often see you give him a toy or share a treat with him. Today you played with him in your bedroom for a long time, and I heard you being very nice to him the whole time. You help me take very good care of him."
"And I patted his back tonight when he was going to sleep."
"Yes you did. That was very thoughtful of you. And you know what else? When you do knock your brother over, you always stop and tell him you're sorry, and then you try to make him feel better. That teaches him kindness too."
"So if I didn't say sorry to my brother, then he would grow up to be a bad guy?"
How do I ever explain this? How do I balance being kind with personal responsibility? empathy and compassion with not being responsible for others' feelings? How? I'm floundering here.
"Even if you didn't say sorry, he would still have choose for himself whether he was going to be a good guy or a bad guy. You can't make your brother be a bad guy. He has to decide himself."
Good guy, bad guy. Such simplistic terms. How can they ever convey the whole range of human experience - the brokenness, sin, choices, emotions, perspectives, hope? But these are the terms he has adopted, and it is in these terms that we explore the ideas of choice, repentance, redemption, grace, and, most of all, love.
"No, if I didn't say sorry, then he would learn mean things."
"You have taught him many kind things already. But even if you didn't, he still has to decide for himself whether he wants to be mean or be kind. We all do. Mommy and Daddy had to choose, even when people were mean to us. And you will have to choose too. Even if people are mean to you, you can still choose to be kind."
"No, if you didn't say sorry to me, then I would grow up to be a bad guy."
"Sweetheart, even then you could still choose to be a good guy. It might be hard but you could still choose to be kind."
"No, I wouldn't if you didn't say sorry."
"I'm glad I do say sorry then. God wants me to treat you so kindly, always, and I am very sorry when I am unkind to you. I love you very much. I think that you will grow up to be a very kind man who makes good choices, and I think your brother will too. Now let's pray and get into bed, okay?"
But is it? Is it okay? I don't know what I'm doing here. How do I teach compassion without co-dependency, balance sacrifice with self-care, encourage thinking of others while maintaining boundaries and an understanding of personal responsibility?
Like I said...I'm floundering here.