The following post was written by Molly Burns, our Saturday Night Coordinator for Children's Ministry. Can you give another example of how you've had to differentiate between childishness and foolishness? Share with others by leaving a comment below.
The Defendant, Self-Representing: Quirky 7-year-old girl, missing one tooth
The Prosecutor: Frazzled and time-crunched mom
The Scene: Weeknight dinner prep time. Quirky 7-year-old girl trying to make setting the table more enjoyable by reenacting "Whistle While You Work" scene from Snow White. Dancing inevitable. Liquid spills also inevitable. Milk all over table, chairs, floor, and quirky 7-year-old's favorite mismatched outfit. Mom's reaction, typical: "How many times do I have to tell you . . ."
I can't make this stuff up. This is my house, and yours too, if you are being honest. So how can I as a parent change my typical reaction of exasperation and frustration to patient, understanding and discerning? Is it even possible for my typical reaction to be loving instead of annoyed? In these moments I find myself questioning and doubting how I should lead my children: How can I keep from driving us all bonkers repeating myself over and over? As her parent, how do I know if this is a time for warning her and explaining cause and effect, or a time for consequence?
Our 7-year-old daughter asked us recently, "Why do you say that I did something 'childish,' when I am a child and isn't everything I do going to be childish?" My husband explained to her that there were two different ways she can act out of her own nature: childishly and foolishly. When she is childish, she is doing something because of a lack of understanding or knowledge. When she acts foolishly, she is doing something she knows she should not be doing, but chooses her way despite her understanding of the expectations. When she made the mess at dinner, was she being childish or foolish?
I have read childishness described as "innocent immaturity" (Ezzo), along with non-malicious or non-rebellious behavior, and as Ginger Plowman says in Don't Make Me Count to Three, an "accidental mistake." Foolishness is a heart issue, a child that in their heart doesn't want to do right. There are sinful motives and rebellion in a foolish act. Let's return to the scene of the crime and look at it through the lens of childish vs. foolish. She was not malicious when she spilled the milk. My little rule-follower would never purposefully spill milk and make a mess. But for some reason, I felt like she was not being entirely childish, ether. I had warned her before about not having self-control while doing certain things because it shows a lack of concern for others. In her Snow White reenactment, she was displaying what Reb Miller calls "thoughtless disobedience." Plowman cuts to the chase: "Childishness becomes foolishness when the child has been given clear instructions and understands those instructions but chooses to disobey."
Ah ha! There it is! I have told her before what happens when she is not paying attention to what she's doing, and explained to her that the next time she does not pay attention, there will be a consequence. Although her Snow White impression was dead on, and very endearing, she was being foolish as she danced around the table while doing her chore because I had warned her before to do her part without being silly, so that something or someone didn't get hurt. She was foolish because she was self-focused (Making her taks pleasant) and not others-focused (serving our family by helping prepare for dinner).
If I filter my children's actions through the lens of childishness versus foolishness, it helps me decide which call to make while I am training them to be mature followers of Christ, as I help them understand what it looks like to deny themselves and responsibly serve others. And the bonus is that I don't have to repeat myself over and over to the point of frustration and anger that can turn me into the wicked witch. And we can all live happily ever after.