Helping your children find mentors
As a child growing up, I felt that few adults really understood me. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel loved—I did. But everyone was so busy. I didn’t think that they really “saw” me. I remember my youngest daughter expressing the same thought when she was a child. And, I have to admit that there were many things about her I didn’t really get. She was right.
Our role as parents obscures our vision. Parenthood is filled with responsibilities, demands, and challenges. These pressures and our inherent lack of objectivity blocks our deeper understanding of our children.
When I was 10, I met Manny Sternberg, who was a counselor at a summer camp I attended. I spent many hours with Manny, who seemed to have endless time to listen to me. I felt that he understood me at a very deep level. Fifty-four years later, I still remember him! He was my very first mentor.
Throughout my life, I have been drawn towards adults who had wisdom, integrity, and an intuitive understanding of what guidance and support I needed. My third grade teacher, Mr. Riviera made me stand in front of the class and try to solve a math problem. I spent an hour, unsuccessfully trying to add nine 9’s on the blackboard. He could see that I had become a little cocky and needed a reality check. He was spot on.
I’ve been fortunate. I have found several adults who became my teachers, shared their knowledge and wisdom, and were role models for the adult I wanted to be. Each one of them taught me valuable lessons, challenged me to be a better person, and grasped something essential about me that even I hadn’t articulated. Sometimes they were hard on me, like Mr. Riviera. Other times, they were encouraging. Each one helped me to become the person I am today. I am grateful to all of them.
Coaches, ministers, teachers, neighbors, or relatives can assume this very important role in a young person’s life. Kids need role models, beyond their parents. Of course, we want to be a model for our children. I learned a great deal from both my mother and father. But these mentors taught me lessons that my parents couldn’t teach me.
So how can parents help their children find these important teachers?
Be on the look out for potential role models. Possible role models and mentors can be found in many places—sports teams, religious organizations, clubs, boy and girl scouts, martial arts, or the YMCA. Relatives or family friends can be a good source of potential mentors too.
Encourage your children to acquire experiences rather than stuff. Too many kids plaster themselves in front of their computers or devices playing video games. Expose them to outside activities that can bring them into contact with great adults. They won’t find mentors in front of a video screen.
Create opportunities for your children to spend time with relatives and family friends. My mother sent me to spend a month with my uncle and his family in Ohio. I developed a close bond with my uncle Mel. When I needed help as an adult, he was always there for me. My close friend, a physician, became a mentor for my youngest daughter who was a new health care provider. She was grateful for his support.
Be a role model for others. I was a kids Aikido (a Japanese martial art) instructor for 10 years. I was a stable adult for many youngsters as they went through major life events including divorce and deaths in their families. Find ways of including your nephews, nieces, and neighbors into you life. We all need adults who help us find our way through the complexities and challenges of life.
Who were your mentors?