Mentoring. Meh.

When Cute Just Isn’t Doing It for You

When I train new mentors I tell them how fun it is being a mentor. I tell them the good things like how excited students get when they see their mentors and how much the teachers appreciate their students’ mentors. Usually I can say those things in all honesty. Lately, it hasn’t felt very true coming out of my mouth. Mentoring my 4th grade friend just hasn’t been all that interesting recently. It’s been pretty blah.

TOTALLY NOT HER FAULT.

Obviously if it’s not interesting, that’s on me, right? The thing is though, SHE is having a great time. We’ve played about a hundred games of Clue. We’ve studied for social studies tests. We’ve read chapters of the book she was supposed to write a report on. She seems to look forward to me coming and to hate tearing herself away from me when I leave. She’s as cute as can be!

And I’m bored to tears.

My friend, hiding her clues behind a lid in case I tried to cheat :)

I know, it’s pretty pathetic if I’m relying on 30 minutes a week with a child who has been deemed “at risk” to give me fulfillment, but I also know that it’s important to feel a connection when you’re serving, whether serving as a mentor or in a soup kitchen. As humans, and especially as Christians, we want to connect and build relationships.

It doesn’t help that I also mentor a teenager in juvenile detention and have powerful discussions with her about God and forgiveness and healing. We connect easily and it takes little “work” to mentor her in a meaningful way. Those moments are incredibly rewarding and I feel elated just thinking about visiting her. But my friend in elementary school? Not so much.

Is that too honest? Maybe as the mentor trainer and ministry leader I should be more careful about sharing such opinions. But I think I should actually tell you this. I think it’s my duty to warn people that they will have times like I am having right now. (And, it’s true in all service, isn’t it? Not just mentoring!) You will experience burn out, maybe some boredom, and you’ll possibly reach a point when you need to do some soul-searching to figure out if you want to continue.

For me, my doldrums boil down to my not feeling convinced that what I’m doing is making a difference. Sure, this kid is considered “at risk” but she’s never been violent or done anything bad enough to even be sent to the principal’s office. She struggles academically and seems a little socially awkward but honestly, sometimes I think she’d probably be OK without me. And I wouldn’t have to stifle the yawns when we play our 101st game of Clue.

So I asked myself what I would say to a mentor who came to me with these issues, and I came up with this list:

  1. First I’d say this: Get over yourself. (Ok maybe I wouldn’t actually say that out loud…) It’s not about you and whether you’re getting anything out of the relationship. It’s about her and what she needs in the big picture of her life. And what her school counselor has determined is that she needs a caring adult in her life who is not a teacher or a relative; someone who can model healthy relationships, consistency and reliability to her. So get over yourself.
  2. Second, I’d say don’t get over yourself so much that you allow yourself to continue on being bored and uninterested because IT.WILL.SHOW. You know how dogs can smell fear? Kids instinctively know when you’re bored or uninterested, even if you’re good at faking it. So if whatever you’ve been doing is not cutting it, figure out what might be more interesting. Do a craft project together (ask me about the dollhouse one of my students and I made out of shoe boxes and magazines. It took us three months!). Teach your student how to do something “retro” like play jax (or whatever you did when you were their age). They’ll either think it’s really cool or they’ll love telling their friends you are so old that you actually used to play jax for fun. Just don’t give up. Try a variety of things to find out what you both enjoy. That alone is something school counselors hope for: that mentors will teach commitment, determination, consistency and more by modeling it through their own behavior.
  3. Start praying for your student if you’re not already. Every single day, multiple times if you can. Pray for her well-being, her academics, her family life, her social skills. Pray for her teachers, her family and her friends. Pray for your relationship with her, that God will work through you to be of value in her life and that he will show you how you might help her.
  4. Take a moment to appreciate that you are providing support in areas that other adults might not be able to. Playing board games, for example. My little friend doesn’t get to play board games at home. I was surprised to realize she doesn’t recognize what I consider to be classic must-haves like Battleship, Clue and The Game of Life. There are lots of great reasons to play board games with kids, not the least of which is so you can teach them how to strategize (a really important life skill!). Board games help teach social skills, math, language and so much more! Don’t underestimate the value of those 100 games of Clue you’ve played this year!

Don’t be surprised to hit a wall in any type of service, and particularly in mentoring which is a long-term commitment. It’s a great way to serve our mission field, but it can be challenging as a mentor to be in it for the long haul when you go through a challenging time. In a public elementary school, our job doesn’t always feel very impactful. But among the things that this type of mentoring has going for it, as Father Andrew recently reminded me, is that it’s a safe place to mentor (though if we’re talking emotional safety, I’d be the first to say that sometimes it’s not a bad thing to be emotionally uncomfortable and we should stretch ourselves at times in order to grow). But it’s true. Our adopted school is a safe place. A place that folks can walk into and feel welcome and safe, and know that they’re doing something worthwhile even if it isn’t always exciting or even very interesting.

In the end, we’re planting seeds (or tending to the soil for the seeds to be planted by someone else later on). We won’t necessarily ever see the fruit of our labor. But if we’re faithful in planting seeds, and we know that God is faithful too, then we have to trust he’ll do the rest.

So back to my game of Clue… I’m pretty sure it’s Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the lead pipe. Again.

~dana