March 21, 2006

Need a kid fix? Why not mentor?

I always felt that all middle and high school students were "at risk." I graduated from a high school that had a reputation for habitual drug use among the student population. Pregnancies were not unusual. In fact my high school now has on-site day care for students. Though we were not categorized as "at-risk," some of my friends, fellow college bound students, did not make it through college. They raised their kids, worked at the A & P, or got a factory job at the GM plant. For the grace of God go I.

Which is why I felt it was important to mentor teens. People would tell me how good I was with the kids. I'm sure they wondered why I didn't have my own. What they didn't know is that I didn't want or need my own child. I just needed an occasional "kid fix."

I just came back from a spring break week in Florida with my current mentee, a twenty-year-old woman Big Brothers, Big Sisters matched me with seven years ago. We've since graduated out of the program but she remains my "little sister." Like any child, she has kept me young. We spent much of the eleven hour drive to Florida evaluating the new releases of artists like Ne-yo and Nelly, and talking about religion and how to avoid a speeding ticket (if you lead foot responds to the base beat of a good R & B track, use cruise control). Any urge of mine to nurture
another is completely satiated by 3-5 hours a week of mentoring.

If you are childfree but don't care to be totally free of children in your life, try mentoring. It's a win-win opportunity to extend yourself into the community and, when parents start talking about the trials of teaching a teen to drive or those awkward sex conversations, you can nod and say, "Yeah, been there, done that."


Boxing Tomboy said...

That had occurred to me, but that depends a whole lot on the kid and how much authority their parents will give you. Too many parents don't want anyone telling their kids anything, even if the advice is solid.

Anonymous said...

I have had thoughts along these lines. Maybe I can explore this when we move back home to California. I adore my nieces and nephews and although I have accepted not raising kids in this lifetime, I wouldn't mind having a relationship with a young person.

I did a little walk on the "wild side" and ran a swim school for year and a half, helped the owner sell it and do a smooth transition. I was surrounded by kids and parents. I really enjoyed the interaction with the kids expecially, admittedly some more than others. It was an interesting window into family lifestyles, very multicultural as it was in Northern California. The customers were very diverse.

It's a big committment to pledge time to another person and to be consistent. But when compared to full-on parenting, it seems that so little of my time can make a big difference for a young person. I am very interested in hearing more about this. What organizations do this? What kind of screening do they do? How do they match you with the child/teen? What are the minimum expectations? I am asking this retorically, as I am sure each program is different.

ChrisR said...

Reminds me of when my girlfriend asked me to godmother her kids - I think you've made enough mistakes to be useful to my son.

I think it was a compliment! Basically she's hoping I can sort him out without just saying 'no' and 'don't'. Fair enough, I say.

Anonymous said...

Chris -- how is that going? I've never been the designated "God"-anything. I feel like I play that role for my niece and nephew, but they are not religious and I believe that the whole "God-parent" thing is of the Catholic persuations, yes?

NikkiJ said...

You don't necessarily have to be religious to be a God parent and although it has been taken to be a somewhat religious it was probably something that was done way before the church got involved. It also isn't a Catholic invention. Having said that, even if you are not religious, if you're asked to be a God parent, it's likely that one of the parents of the child is religious or at least a church goer. It would be pretty hypocritical if two Atheists asked someone to be a God parent to their child.
Accepting the role of God parent simply means that you pledge to look after your God child if anything should happen to the child's parents, e.g, if they died for example. It's a moral obligation rather than a legal one, but it is a responsibility. It is a compliment to be asked to be a God parent, as it means the parents trust you with their child's best interests if they should no longer be there. When the child is formally christened (which happens in a church) the God parents are formally acknowledged by all present at the christening ceremony. These days, a God parent is likely to be more active in the childs life when their parents are around, rather like an aunt or uncle.

Anonymous said...


Elise said...

Another vote for being a Big Sister here. I was matched for about four years with a native American girl here in NH, from when she was 10 to about 14. Big Brothers/Big Sisters are very careful about matching you with a kid who shares your interests. In my case, we generally listened to music in the car on the way to hiking, playing pool, etc. (she was a SHARK!) or just walked our dogs together. The time requirement was something like 2-4 hours, every two weeks. The only real requirement, according to the agency, was "do what you say you'll do, be where you say you'll be", and show the Little a bigger world than they would otherwise be exposed to. My Little lived with her mom and step-dad (no dad in the picture); both adults in her household had lousy jobs and therefore had to work many, many hours. They were wonderful about the match and very supportive. Unfortunately, they moved to VA when my Little was 14.

The "traditional matches", like mine, within BB/BS take quite a bit of set-up, since once you're matched, there's very little in the way of supervision from the agency. There's also an "in-school match" which, if you've got less time but are available during school hours, you can spend and hour every week or two with a Little. Because it's in-school, the vetting process for Traditional Matches (meeting with a social worker, going to a training session, having a quick home visit, etc.) isn't necessary, so it's all a lot more streamlined. You can hang out with the Little, do homework, shoot baskets, whatever.

BTW, I'm really enjoing the PW site here. Having hung out on Usenet's site for just about the entire late '90s, I have to say I really appreciate the calm, civilized tone here!


Anonymous said...

I really like the dialogue that this post inspired. I would like to feature it in the sidebar.

Dr. Band - What's not to love about that blog handle! I looked at your profile to learn that you are a high school band teacher. BTW, we both list Blade Runner as one of our favourite movies.

Congrats on your engagement. Is your fiance childfree or are you going to be a step-parent?

I would really like to be a Big Sister, when we move back to California...and not just so I can blog about it!