When Mentoring Goes Wrong – Don’t Give Up!

I volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and am matched with a 12 year old young woman. She is from a huge family, an impoverished family, but she is bright in both intelligence and nature. Lately we’ve run into some issues.

Mom is busy running all the kids around and fails to return my texts for days on end. Summer just started and they’ve stood me up twice in the past two weeks. The two months before that her mom told me that she didn’t want to hang out with me after I told her what we would be doing (volunteering and a local festival). I was frustrated this past weekend – to be quite honest I was downright sad. I give my all to mentoring. It is something I truly believe in and am invested in. I didn’t feel like she was returning the investment and I wanted to walk away. I vented to my boyfriend, my brother, my mom and even said to my two best friends via text “I’m a volunteer, if she doesn’t want to be around me then my time is better spent somewhere else!” But today I vented to my case manager. I told her the whole story, told her I wasn’t sure what to do anymore, told her the communication has to improve or else!….Or else what? I realized I didn’t know what I meant what “or else” meant. My case manager looked at all the survey’s my little sister has filled out about our match, about me, and you know what? She’s given me the best scores on every single question. She loves me, she just doesn’t show it the way I do as a 30 year old.

Mentoring can be hard. It can be thankless and frustrating and overwhelming. But the young people who need the mentoring the most, typically have the most going on in their lives. This makes it really hard to get in touch with their guardian, or overwhelming when to try to schedule time together, or frustrating when you don’t see the improvements you think your mentee is supposed to exhibit. If you are a mentor and you are having a hard time, I encourage you, based on my own experiences, to keep these things in mind:

  1. Call your case manager. Vent to them. They are trained to handle these situations. They have all the files and history about the young person and their family to help it all make sense. Also, some BBBS agencies have Facebook groups or chat rooms where you can ask other mentors about their experiences. They can be an awesome sounding board and give great suggestions based on what they’ve experienced.
  2. Take a deep breath. Step away from it. We all have those days. Its ok. Clear your head and then, get back to it. You are the adult in the relationship. You have to lead and set the example. Yes, they’ve made you mad. Yes, they’ve frustrated you. But they need you!
  3. Get back to the basics. Texting is great because you have everything in writing and guardians/mentees can answer at their leisure. But if you are having trouble getting in touch with your mentee or their guardian, CALL THEM! I am guilty of this. Mom said texting was the best mode of communication. When it got down to the wire I got frustrated with her not answering the text instead of picking up the phone.
  4. If you want them to be open with you, you have to be open with them. Every time I see my little sister, I ask her two questions “Since I last saw you what made you happy? Since I last saw you what made you sad/mad?” She typically asks the questions back to me and I give her the truth. I tell her about my frustrations at work, or how sad I still am about my friend passing away earlier this year.
  5. It’s not always about doing something “cool” or “fun”. Sometimes it’s just about being there. Go to their school music concert, sports game, science fair. It means a lot to them knowing you support them.

Overall, I need you to know you are doing a great thing. Stick with it! Because you and I are changing the world, one young person at a time. Mentoring matters!

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