Parenting is certainly one of the most daunting tasks a person can take on. Bookstores and libraries are filled with books on the topic. There are several magazines devoted to the topic. Clearly, parents are looking for guidance; and a parent mentor is another form of such help. Now that you have decided to mentor another parent, you will need some guidance as well. Here are some steps to help you along the way.
Take it from me: “Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege than the raising of the next generation.” — C. Everett Koop, M.D., U.S. Surgeon General 1981–1989
Read a parenting book together and discuss it.
It is best for you to preview the book that you will read together. If you do not preview the book, you may find that you do not agree with the overall philosophy of the book once you actually start reading it. You do not need to look for a book that you agree with 100 percent, but you should choose one that best reflects your life views, values, and ideas about parenting.
Attend an ongoing parenting class with my mentee (or consider leading one).
Parenting classes are often offered at churches, synagogues, preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, libraries, and other places. Look for a group that will address issues related to the ages of your (and your mentee’s) children. In order to get the most from the class, you will want to:
attend regularly—don’t just come now and again
participate in the discussions
complete the homework assignments and come prepared
Respecting privacy: You can use the class materials to give you ideas about what to discuss with your mentee. You can also use the class itself—what you learn about how other parents see and do things to broaden your perspective. Just remember that you should always respect the privacy and dignity of all the class members. You should not discuss what people have shared in the class outside of the class. Rather, you are learning about the issues people face and different ways they respond to those issues (good and bad).
Plan relaxing times to spend with my mentee and children-maybe every other week or so.
If your children are younger, you may be able to get together more often. If the children are older, twice a month may be all that you can reasonably plan. You should not be monitoring your mentee during these times. Here are some guidelines to make sure the time is truly relaxing:
Do not observe your mentee in a monitoring fashion. In fact, you should not use what happens during these times as discussion points during other “formal mentor sessions.”
Recognize that your mentee is observing you. However, try not to do things differently than you would with other people. Be yourself; and allow your mentee to see the difficulties of parenting. Your kids will not be on their best behavior all the time. In a sense, this is better because it allows you to be a real parent in the real world.
Do not talk about how you are parenting or why you are doing something during these times. Again, just be yourself. If your mentee wants to talk about something that has come up, suggest that you talk about this at a later time (and then follow through with this by talking about it when you meet without your kids).
Choose something that will be relatively stress-free. While this may involve an activity where the kids are mostly playing together, and without parental supervision, make sure that some of the time will be spent with parents and kids together.
Meet weekly at a regularly scheduled time, without children.
This is the time when you can freely talk about parenting issues. If you are still reading through a book together, you can use what you have recently read as a springboard for discussion. You should also work with your mentee to create a list of topics or issues you plan to discuss. Then, each week, you can choose what to discuss from the list of topics.
Be honest about my own struggles as a parent and protect my children's privacy.
It is likely that the other parent has sought you as a mentor because of your parenting skills. However, your parenting strengths are not the only thing that qualifies you to be a mentor. In fact, your personal challenges and the way that you have grown and learned to overcome these challenges can be very helpful to another parent. Share what you can. Be honest. Just keep in mind that your children have not agreed to be mentors, too. Their stories are private and their own. You will need to use discretion and really consider how much of their stories you should share (if at all).
Assign specific and meaningful homework.
Homework should be thought provoking, provide instruction, help introduce topics for discussion, or otherwise help you create mentoring situations. Be creative, and don’t limit yourself to the following examples, but these should help you get started:
Read, listen to, or watch something about a parenting-specific topic developed by someone either of you (or both) admire and respect.
Have your mentee (and yourself) participate in a specific child-centered activity that will help to develop a specific parenting skill. (For example, if your mentee has trouble limiting her children to one item in a store, have her take the children shopping. Help her plan ahead by assigning a somewhat specific scenario, such as the grocery store at a time when she is not rushed or harried.)
Take notes or write about an experience related to one parenting skill. For example, if you are working on developing manners with your children, write about a specific situation in which you were working on this with your children over the past week.
Assign your mentee (and yourself) a specific task or other way to try out a completely new parenting strategy that you have discussed. You should both report back about the experience.
Following up on homework: Each time you have a formal mentoring session, you should discuss the homework that had been assigned. Use the responses to gauge where things are going and what you will need to work on next.
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