Lessons learned as a 4-H parent: One parent’s perspective

4-H is a family adventure, so savor your time as a 4-H parent.

Being a 4-H parent is a dream come true, most of the time. Then there are those moments when you are not sure if this is really what you signed up for, the moments when you need to eat dinner holding your plate on your lap because the table is full of record books and projects in process. Some of the projects are tagged, some are drying, some are painted, some need to be framed and there are recipe cards to complete. Did I mention it is 9 p.m. and you still didn’t help your Cloverbud bake the chocolate chip cookies that need to be checked in tomorrow morning? You already made three trips to the store for supplies and you are really glad they are open 24 hours a day.

These are the moments you realize you are a real 4-H parent, not the perfect one created in your dream, but the one who is loving every moment of being a 4-H parent. You see your kids are happy with most of their projects, they enjoy trying new projects, you’re going to the archery range as a family, trying new recipes and enlisting friends to help with baking so you can learn some different techniques – it’s OK for you to admit you’re not a master chef or baker. I treasure the ceramics we have painted while on vacation and savor the times we made sand art creations that required forming mountains with fork tongs, spoons to create oceans and clouds and toothpicks to design seagulls. These are parent moments to savor and they become sweeter now that I have learned to stop sweating the small stuff and not worrying about the project, but worrying about the child and enjoying the process. Perfect doesn’t mean happiness, but happiness is almost always perfect for this mom.

We take our projects seriously, but we have fun! My boys can tell you how much their animal projects cost, they know the value of their time, how to figure profit and loss, cook, bake, clean up (if you make a mess you have to clean it up) and work together to care for their projects. They understand the value of teamwork and have learned experience is the best teacher in most cases. They participate in projects that are not judged at a fair and others that are; they know the value of the project is not the award it receives. Some projects are meant to be used, some to be shared and others to be displayed, but that all should be done to the best of your ability.

We can now laugh at project check-in days from the past – and they have great stories to tell. Each year produces a new story, so just embrace it. When we are at the fair, we are on vacation; we get to be with 4-H friends and enjoy our time at the grandstands. My recommendation is take show days in stride, do your best to prepare and remember it is your child’s show day, let them show and take in the experience. We have decided to measure success not by the ribbons or pins, but by the feelings at the end of the day.

Here are some questions that can be useful for reflecting with your children:

  • What did you learn today?
  • Did you help someone else learn or do something today?
  • What would you do differently?
  • How could you improve your project for next year?
  • How might you expand your project?
  • How did you feel about what happened today?
  • What was the best part of today?

My favorite moments are those when I see our 4-H moments are shining through in the other aspects of their lives. Sometimes they even tell a teacher or friend, “Yeah, I learned that in 4-H.” They take the time to get involved because they have the confidence to tackle a challenge.

As a 4-H parent, I have experienced the thrill of my child being named a champion and I have watched him struggle to finish a project or finish last. I have learned to stand back and let him take responsibility for his work good or bad. I now know how hard those moments can be and I look forward to what lies ahead of us, good or bad, because we will experience it together. We will learn from it and grow from it. We might need a little ice cream, a time out to refocus or a chat to decide what is next, but isn’t that how we learn? If we can laugh at ourselves and have great memories, than we must be doing it right.

Being a 4-H parent is an experience of a lifetime that allows me to explore projects I never dreamed of with my husband and boys. We enjoy baking, shooting sports, rabbits, chickens, leadership, community service, crafts, gardening and anything they want to try. It is about learning and growing as individuals and supporting each other as a family.

Let 4-H be one of the adventures your family experiences! Join a 4-H club near you or contact your local Michigan State University Extension county office.

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