Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dear Sugar: Finding a Mentor For Your Adoptee

Dear Sugar:

One of the questions I'm asked most frequently is this:  how did you find a mentor for your child?   

I talked about mentoring on NPR and MSNBC, and I've mentioned it several other times throughout the past several years, but today I want to break down the mentoring process for you so that you might successfully be able to find a mentor for your own child.   

First, why find a mentor for your child?

Mentors provide children who were adopted with support, love, encouragement, and empathy.   The mentor should match your child's needs and personality, as well as your family values.  For example, when we first decided to find a mentor for our two daughters, we wanted a Black, Christian, female mentor, college-age with a strong sense of confidence, as well as someone who was driven.  

Of course, keep in mind that your six-month-old probably doesn't need a mentor.   You will know when your child is ready.  There is no set age or life stage.   My girls were four and two when they first had a mentor.   It helped that I had two girls who did everything together, so having them both be mentored just made sense for our family. My son, who is currently four, doesn't have a mentor yet due to his needs.    

HOWEVER, just because your child may not be ready for a mentor, it doesn't mean you get a pass!  Your child needs racial role models/racial mirrors in their lives.   As I discuss in my first (and most popular) book on transracial adoption and parenting, you need to do everything you can to surround your children with people who look like them.   Babysitters, doctors, neighbors, friends, hair stylists, etc. 

What does a mentor do?

A mentor is an extension of your family and spends one-on-one time with the child.   Our girls' mentors (they are now working with a second mentor) have taken them to the park, to the local children's museum, or played with them here in our home.   The mentor doesn't sit them down to purposefully instill values in them via lectures or "talks," but instead is there, guiding, encouraging, loving.   A mentor demonstrates what a strong, Black female is, in the case of our daughters.  

I should note, it was very important to us to find a mentor who would be in our girls' life for a significant time period. Relationships take time to build, and in the case of some adoptees, having someone come and go isn't healthy.   

What are your guidelines?  

I think you need to go into finding a mentor for your child with well-established, purposeful guidelines.  Make a list (check it twice).   There are things you must consider.  Does your child have special needs, and who can best meet those needs?   Does your child prefer someone who enjoys outdoor activities?   What are your family values?  (As I mentioned, we would only work with a Christian mentor, because that is an important value to our family.) What about your child's personality?  For me, I have an extrovert-introvert and an introvert, and I needed someone to mentor my girls who could push them when they needed to be pushed, but be cool with them being themselves.   

How do you find and select a mentor?  

I used to work at a university, so I called a contact I had there and asked for help finding a mentor. Of course, you don't need a personal connection to call your local college.   You just need the conviction and courage to start making calls!   Other places to consider calling:  local high schools (if you are ok with a younger mentor), organizations, your local library, houses of worship, etc.   

I had a list of qualities I wanted in a mentor, and I shared this with my contact.  I was quite up front with her, that I was a white woman, my girls are Black, and I was looking for someone to be a racial role model and long-term mentor to my daughters.    

We had about eight young women express interest (yes, eight!!!), so we conducted interviews in our home.  They were informal, and my girls were present.   We talked to each young woman, asking why they were interested, what their availability was like, how long they planned to live in the area, what their major in college was, etc. Important:  We also asked what their understanding of adoption was, any connections they had with/to adoption, etc.  And we asked, what do you want to know about adoption? We then narrowed it down until we found THE one.

Now, I will tell you, initially we chose two mentors.  One of them was great during the interview:  energetic, ambitious, strong.  But on the very first day she mentored my girls, they were in our home playing downstairs.  The mentor came up and said to me, "So, do they ever watch movies?"   We never had her come back over again.  She wasn't in it for the right reasons and obviously couldn't handle my girls' energy level and excitement.   This turned out to be a blessing, because the other mentor was a perfect match for my daughters:  mentoring them for THREE years!       

The second mentor is someone we'd met through friends.  

Safety first.  

One question I've been asked is about background checks.   It's always tricky to meet someone new and have them gradually take on the responsibility of mentoring your child.   We decided to ask each candidate:  would you be open to a background check?   If they hesitated (which none of them did), that would have been a red flag for us.   Of course, not all "bad people" are going to have issues passing a background check!  And sometimes people have a past that is hardly concerning despite what a "check" says.  Thus, the background check wasn't our sole "check."    

Another thing you can do is ask for references, and then check them! 

Have some of the mentoring sessions (especially the first few) in your home where you can observe.  

And always, always make sure that you have had talks with your children about their bodies, safety, stranger awareness, and NO keeping secrets (ever!).  In fact, we tell our children secrets are NEVER allowed, because a secret covers up something bad.   

You also need to establish your social media guidelines with your child's mentor.  Since we do not post public photos of our children, we made this clear to the mentor.   

Of course, social media can be your best friend.  Look up the candidates on social media outlets:  Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook.   You can use your state's public court records too.   
Should you pay your child's mentor?

Listen, I taught college students for eight years, and they are generally broke.  (As was I during my first three years of college: working three jobs to pay my tuition.)  We offered, up front, to pay the mentor an hourly rate.   Usually our girls were with their mentor for two hours, every-other-week, usually on a Saturday afternoon.   

I think if you're going to pay your mentor, you need to be clear what the "job" duties are.  It was important to us that the mentor not be a babysitter.   Though yes, the job required supervising our girls.  But we made sure we packed a backpack full of essentials (such as snacks and jackets) and met somewhere where their sole focus could be having fun together.   

Some mentors may be interested in racking up volunteer hours, which is fine if that's the arrangement you make.  

I'm asked, how much should you pay your child's mentor?  I feel like "you get what you pay for" in any case where someone is caring for your child.   I would either offer what you're willing to pay and see what the response is, or ask the mentor how much she/he believes is a fair, hourly rate.  Take into consideration if he/she has to travel to get to you, the mentor's age (college students should be paid more than high school students), etc.   Also, consider if you're having the mentor transport your child somewhere (using his/her own car and gas money) and what they do together (of course, you will pay for those things like admission to a museum, dinner out, etc. in addition to paying the mentor the hourly rate).  

Getting started.

As I mentioned before, have the first few mentoring sessions in your home, or you could go to a park. You sit and read a book while the mentor and child play together.   Also, be sure to check in with the mentor and ask if he/she needs anything, as well as check in with your child.   Let the mentor know things about your child:  personality, preferences, even his/her Love Language.  Talk about discipline and if you're a fan of The Connected Child like we are, how you deal with conflict, struggles, etc. with the child.   

A mentor is not...

-a replacement for the parents or birth parents
-a babysitter
-the sole racial role model/racial mirror in your child's life

How does a mentor benefit the entire family?

Having a mentor for our girls has become a beautiful thing for our whole family.  When I've needed support (especially in a situation or question involving race), I call the mentor.  And when the mentor has needed support (usually because she's living away from home or is having an issue at school), we are there for her.  It's a mutually beneficial relationship.   Our girls' mentors have attended family parties with us, holiday gatherings, etc.  And we've attended events with them, such as a graduation. We're gearing up to travel to Chicago to attend our girls' first mentor's wedding!   

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