When parents volunteer within the same organizations in which their kids participate, they not only help the organizations but teach their kids countless lessons by example. Sometimes the lessons are harder than others. But the toughest ones are the most important…
How do you advocate for your kid and treat others fairly? How do you reach that balance between remembering a child’s heart and encouraging a process of continual improvement?
One way I’ve encountered this challenge is as a superintendent of 4-H projects. During project turn-in, when I took the role, I realized I could no longer help my kids through their own project check in. They were on their own – albeit with their dad and a checklist I helped them develop. While other parents helped their kids, I was helping them. Now, at the end of my 4-H parenting career, I see that that made my kids become more self-reliant and organized.
As a project superintendent, one of the first tasks – one of the unwritten ones – is to greet kids bringing in their projects and remembering that what is just a checkmark and project turn in to you is possibly their pride and joy. They have worked to learn new skills, and this is prime time for affirmation to encourage and compliment them. The kids you inspire and encourage today will resolve to work harder, whatever ribbon they are awarded.
Then comes a trickier part which, like other good project superintendents, I hope to do well – quickly run through the project requirements and see if there are any technical errors that can be immediately fixed so a member isn’t penalized for a technicality. That happens best when we aren’t overwhelmed with entries and something gets missed.
As an example – when notebook displays are turned in with our computer projects, they are required to be submitted in hard cover binders, not flexible sheet covers. That’s because the notebooks may go on a display rack and must be able to stand on their own. To make it more confusing, I also supervise creative writing projects, which are turned in in flexible folders. That’s because we receive so many writing projects that they are placed flat on a table, and there isn’t enough room for over 100 hard cover binders. So if a creative writing entry is submitted in a hardcover binder, or a computer entry is submitted in a flexible folder, I give the same spiel:
“I can accept your project now, but I wanted to make you aware of the rules. Technically, your entry should be in ‘X’ folder. You have a choice – you can submit your entry now but should know that because it doesn’t follow the rules, you will lose points. If you can figure out a way to get the correct folder before the deadline, you could submit it and get those points. It’s your choice.”
Some parents appreciate my help. In one of the most ironic examples, a mother grew very angry with me and tried to argue with me. I just showed her and her child the rules and explained I was trying to help them. They chose to get the correct binder.
When the judging was complete, her child’s project beat mine and won the champion. Her child’s project was demonstrably better than my child’s.
Had I kept my mouth shut, my child would have won the champion.
But the point of 4-H isn’t how many champion ribbons you win. Instead, it’s about the skills that are acquired and the character that is developed.
It’s also about recognizing that when we encourage high standards in a positive way – instead of gloating on the penalty after the fact – we’re raising standards.
When we aspire to excellence, and we reach out our hand to help others along the same path, we all benefit. Rising tides raise all ships.
And my prayer is that, above all the things I taught my kids by lesson or example, they learned integrity in their thoughts and actions.