Joel Toombs shares some mentoring approaches that will take time with your children to a new level
On an uncertain day, I was sat together with my teenager. I drove her to school. She looked at her phone, I listened to the radio. No drama. All good. I was a good parent. But in terms of relationship and mentoring, it was a bleak, void landscape of scant deep communication. We were happy enough together, but nothing occurred. I call this space. It’s just generic time together. It’s not significant or productive. There’s nothing wrong with space; we all need it. But what if your role as a parent ends up being predominantly this kind of relational empty time?
Last night I got out of bed at gone midnight, to pick her up from the station. Of course, I did this just out of love, but I also knew this could be an excellent opportunity to get some non-intense one to one time with her - well worth giving up sleep for. In the car I asked open questions, looking her in the eyes whenever possible (!). She told me one of her friends had not achieved their grades at A Level, and about the ridiculous amounts of forms she had to fill in for starting university next month. I asked her how that made her feel and waited for her to finish her response before I formed a reply, acknowledging and enquiring about her own emotional responses to it all. I didn’t fill the air with longwinded advice based on my own agenda or preconceived outcomes but I provided a scaffold for her to build her own conclusions, and to deconstruct her own answers and feelings. I also offered to help her go through her forms with her if she wished to make use of my experience. This is when mentoring transforms blank space into valuable place. In both situations we sat in the car. But one time it was ‘space,’ the other it was a ‘place.’
This principle can be applied at any age, in any situation. It’s the relational difference between a void of scrubland between two towerblocks – to a void of scrubland between two towerblocks with a bench in the middle. One no one wants be in, it’s dead space. The other has some sense of purpose, it feels owned, occupied, seen; and like it has some sense of possibility and opportunity. Isn’t that how we want our interactions and time with our children to be?
There’s two slightly different approaches available here if you wish to add an element of mentoring into your parenting. Firstly, intentionally creating NEW ‘places,’ ie. any (literally) un-usual environments in which to open new ground in your relationship with your children. Doing something out of the ordinary in order to provocatively find new experiences and points of contact where you might learn new things about each other and talk and connect in new ways. (It doesn’t have to be grand or dramatic!) What could this be for you?
Secondly, intentionally transforming your usual, or mundane, ‘spaces’ within your current lifestyle and routines into something intentionally more useful and valuable in your parenting practise. How could you use something as routine as the weekly shop as an environment for profound connection with your son or daughter?! What is in your diary, lifestyle, or to-do list that you could use?
If you’re like me you have all kinds of grand aspirations for your parenting. Most of which fall by the wayside due to the magnitude of urgent life priorities such as picking up tiny pointy plastic bricks or mopping up leftover Cheerios off the kitchen side. (Maybe your parenting is going well – brilliant!) But I just want to say, if life feels too busy and hectic to do more than keep your head above water with your parenting, please; PLEASE, take a moment to breathe. Forgive yourself. Shrug off any pressure. If you’re sinking into a simmering heap of self-loathing about how terrible a parent you are (as I do regularly) this is a friendly reminder: be kind to yourself! Remember we all go there… regularly. It’s a really tough gig and you’re doing a great job; you’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
*From a mentoring point of view, what does your child NEED from the environment you create? What the location or setting actually is, is not the most important thing. But when you have intentionally created a stage, the spontaneous magic of parenting then has a platform on which to perform. Allow the possibility of being surprised and impressed by your child’s ability and wisdom.
* What kind of environments will best suit your child? (For instance, being side by side doing something is less intense or confrontational than sitting across a coffee or desk from each other). Mentoring environments are not one-size-fits-all. Choose wisely.
* What would make your choice of environment bad? (eg. feeling overheard, feeling pressurised, being hungry or tired will cause children to clam up). Consider timing. Also be aware of the balance between your desire for the ‘out-of-comfort-zone’ versus their wariness of ‘uncomfortable and awkward’. Maybe over familiarity of a certain location or setting might hinder decent relationship moments? Which of these resonates for you?
* Invite the spirit of God. Ahead of time. (He’s there already anyway, but it will make you more aware and appreciative of His presence!)
* Sometimes creating great mentoring environments is about being creative with what you have and what faces you day to day. But you can also be intentional and plan ahead: not the outcomes of the conversation, but the situation that will best allow a good conversation or experience to occur. Don’t write off any part of your day or life as an opportunity. Sometimes your house or parenting rules can even be broken for your child to connect with you …and they will love you for it.
Where and what are the unlikely environments you could use to allow the unexpected to emerge between you and your child?