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The Mentor’s Field Guide: Question 32

You may or may not have direct contact with your mentee’s family, depending on the type of program in which you are mentoring. All programs should make every effort to assure the parent’s or guardians’ comfort by involving them during and after the match process. However, even though the family may have requested a mentor for their child and signed a permission form for participation, they may still have ambivalent feelings, wanting to help their child but also feeling uneasy about this “stranger” entering the child’s life.

If you put yourself in the parents’ shoes, it is easy to imagine that the fact that your child has a mentor might make you feel inadequate in some way. Or, you might feel jealous of the mentor’s relationship with your child, especially if your own relationship has been characterized by conflict or lack of time to spend together. Parents also can be nervous if you, as a mentor, come from a different cultural, racial, religious, or socio-economic background, wondering if you are going to turn their child away from her family heritage. To avoid these concerns, it can help to engage parents as “partners” from the beginning. If your program allows, you can talk to them or drop them a note telling them what a wonderful child they have and thanking them for trusting you, reiterating how you can never take their place in your mentee’s life.

When talking with your mentee, it is very important that you avoid any criticism of her family (even though your mentee might be critical) and that you show respect for the family’s culture, values, and beliefs. If your mentee needs to talk to you about family conflicts or frustrations, avoid taking sides; put yourself in “sounding board” mode. Help your mentee figure out why she is upset, and guide her in problem-solving discussions. In general, avoid speaking to your mentee’s parents on her behalf, but rather help your mentee develop a plan for such a talk. If she is willing, role playing can be a fun activity with your mentee being the parent and you being the child. This can help you both see things from a different perspective. If these issues come up frequently or persist over time, talk to your program coordinator and together develop a plan to increase the family’s comfort level with the mentoring relationship.
Father comforts a sad child
Reprinted with permission from The Mentor’s Field guide: Answers You Need to Help Kids Succeed by Gail Manza and Susan K. Patrick; Questions about the Mentoring Relationship, Question 32. Reprinted with permission from Search Institute®, Copyright © 2012 Search Institute, Minneapolis , MN ; 877-240-7251, ext. 1; All rights reserved.