By Karen Whiting, Crosswalk.com
You may have overcome lots of struggles and challenges as a mom that will help other moms. You might even have developed systems that make your mom-life easier. You may have learned how to be calmer and relate better to your spouse and children. Any of these experiences are foundations for being a great mentor mom.
Mentoring another mom is not about being perfect or even about you. It's about sharing, supporting, and helping a mom who is not as far ahead as you to help her feel affirmed and a little more prepared to face mom challenges.
1. Be Prepared to Mentor
The most significant qualification to helping other moms is being real and having the genuine desire to help a mom over obstacles you have already learned to navigate. Be vulnerable enough to share your mom bloopers, as that helps a mentee know you understand and have faced difficulties too.
You also need to listen well, be empathetic, non-judgmental, and compatible. You'll probably know easily if you can relate to one another and develop a rapport. Be ready to be a cheerleader and affirm your potential mentee.
Be clear that you are not a trained or certified counselor, doctor, or therapist. You are simply another mom offering support. It's also important to realize when someone needs professional help. This can be for someone who appears suicidal, has debilitating anxiety, has overwhelming stress, or has other serious emotional or mental illness or physical health needs.
2. Start Well
Meet up for coffee or other simple activity where you can sit and talk. This helps you both relax and have an opportunity to talk. Assure her you will keep confidences. Discuss how you will stay connected and when you will meet in person, by email, or by phone.
Discover a little about her children and home life. What's a day like for her? How do the children get along, and what are their personalities? This gives a little insight into the family dynamics. Ask about their faith and church. Ask about her hobbies and interests, as those may be keys to what helps her relax. Ask questions to discover her homemaking style and organization level. This provides insight into her family's lifestyle.
Listen and then together identify her biggest struggles or fears and greatest joys. This can be done with open-ended questions such as, "What made you smile this week?" or "What are some things that are hard for you?"
3. Be Authentic
Avoid assuming what her life is like or how she feels. Ask her to share her feelings and the positive and negative aspects of her life. Tell her about some struggles you overcame as a mom and what helped you persist during tough times.
A mentee feels more at home if she knows the mentor is genuine, overcame obstacles, and faces life with a positive attitude. Share your faith and how prayer and trusting God make a difference. This helps her trust that you may not have all the answers, but you have seen God work in your life as a mom. Share some of your bloopers so you can laugh together and help her realize that life has its bumps, but we can get past them and even laugh at past mistakes. Avoid talking too much, and share when your ideas might be helpful.
4. Set Goals and Visions
Ask your mentee about her goals and dreams. Does she have a vision for what she'd like family life to be like? How does her dream compare to reality? Can she adjust a fairy tale dream to a more realistic one?
Let the vision be part of the goal, but set small steps along the way that are attainable. Discuss personal goals as well as mom/family ones. It's good as part of self-care for a woman to continue to dream and set personal goals. It might be as simple as reading through the Bible or finishing a project, holding the family Christmas event at her home, or it might be a longer goal to start a business or earn a degree. Whatever the goals, be supportive and help her break them down into manageable steps.
There are two catalysts for change. One is to reach rock bottom and know you have to change, and the other is to have a vision for what could be in the future. A vision is a much better motivator. If her dream is more tangible, such as to get the house more organized, suggest she take before photos, find a magazine photo she likes to set as an attainable goal, and develop a plan. That way, she can see progress.
5. Actively Listen
Listen to your mentee's heart and notice her countenance and body language. Active listening means focusing on what the person says, processing it, and responding thoughtfully. You might want to take notes to recall certain points related to goals, needs, and joys. Listen with your eyes as well as your ears. If you are unsure what your mentee means, ask a question or paraphrase what she said. That helps clarify information and ideas.
Express empathy and affirmation at appropriate times. Give encouraging verbal responses, such as nodding your head, saying, "Yes," or "I understand." Notice what the mentee stresses or changes in tone.
Summarize, share, and reflect on what the mentee said. Share a story with a tip on what might help, or ask what type of response she wants. Some people simply want someone to listen, while other people seek advice.
6. Accept Her
A mom wants affirmation and acceptance that she is giving motherhood her best effort. Her home may be cluttered and messy, but that can be normal life with children. Let her know every day is not picture-perfect, but we can improve when we have a doable plan.
A mom can go from joy to feeling like a failure in a moment just because she burned dinner, missed an appointment, or someone criticized her child (and thus her mothering skills). That's when a mentee wants a mentor mom who can lift her spirits and remind her motherhood is full of such moments, but the real gauge is love and trusting God, children's hugs, and not momentary failure. Show approval and remind her not to replay negative words of others or her own negative thoughts. If she made a mistake, she can ask for forgiveness and forgive herself.
7. Understanding Your Mentee's Needs
Pray proverbs 2:2 to have an attentive ear and an understanding heart. Try to discern your mentee mom's greatest needs and know they will change, and you'll need to continually evaluate her needs.
The primary mom needs fall into categories:
-Developing character and lasting faith in children
-Organization and time management needs
-Communicating better with spouse (or other support) and children
-Destress and self-care
-Creative outlets with and without children
-Feeling safe and secure in mothering
Like all people, moms also have personal needs:
-Acceptance, to feel she belongs and is doing ok as a mom
-Attention, to feel family members love her
-Affirmation that she has a purpose and her efforts with have results
-Assurance, to feel safe and cared for, including eternal assurance
-Approval that her family appreciates her and her work and respects her
-Affection in words and touch, to know she is cherished
-Adventure, the inspiration to try something new and share an adventure with her family
8. Nurture and Affirm Her
Spend time with your mentee to nurture her and support her efforts. Most moms are doing the best they can do and often feel like no one notices. Listen and notice what she's doing.
There are times a mom is self-centered and not nurturing her children enough. This is usually a cry for help and reflects a deeper need. That may mean she needs professional help. Other times, she simply needs to be affirmed that her effort will make a difference and be inspired to continue nurturing her family.
Rejoice when there's success and the mentee progresses toward reaching a goal. Rejoice in the joys you can each share about being a mother.
A mentor also needs to help her mentee move forward and apply the ideas discussed. That means keeping her accountable by asking if she implemented ideas from the last time you met and how it went.
Outside resources can help too. Using a mom Bible study like Growing a Mother's Heart that digs into Scriptures relevant to moms and shares bloopers, as well as practical tips, makes it easier to share your own bloopers and offer suggestions and share God is our constant help.
Moms need to be healthy, feel whole, and be in a good place. That means exercising, eating well, and nurturing their soul. For a single mom, that can be more challenging and mean she might need a babysitting co-op or to spend some time after little ones go to bed caring for herself.
Self-care includes dates out with hubby or a support person, time for haircuts or manicures, and shopping. It also means a little time for phone calls or social media. That is best done by preparing activities to occupy children to make time to have those chats. It also helps to have a few hand signals where a child can interrupt a call or mom activity with a signal for an emergency or just a signal they are hungry or want to be cuddled. That way, mom can understand the need, pause, and pay attention.
11. Notice the Roadblocks
Watch what problems keep repeating and what causes your mentee to stop implementing ideas. Discuss these and look for solutions. Is mom stopping because no one seems to care or notice? She might need to call a family meeting and share what she needs in support. New changes can be implemented, such as paper plates and plasticware if no one cleans up, or no electronics without cleaning. Discuss how she must be prepared to follow through and enforce rules. If they give in to whines, the whining will increase, and the children will rule.
It can help to have a sister-friend as a call buddy. A daily cheerful, but short call, can motivate a woman when her family is not doing giving her needed support.
When the roadblock centers on financial problems, help the mentee find support. She may need to apply for services, change spending habits, add to her income, or consult a financial expert. Listen to understand the underlying problems that add to a mom's stress.
12. Boundaries and Rules
Set mentoring boundaries. As a mentor, you also need space and time for your family. Let your mentee know when you are available and when you are not available.
This also provides an example for a mom on setting boundaries in their home of times mom needs to work or have free time and times they can play together, as well as boundaries for the family to have time together as just their family.
Also, discuss that mentoring is not a grumbling time to vent all the problems of a family member. It's time to look at what she is doing and how she can change. It's also good to balance the grumbles with positive statements about each family member and notice each person's abilities and positive qualities.
Enjoy giving back what a woman in your life gave you in support and mentoring. We find Mary visiting Elizabeth (Luke 1) when they are each pregnant. Even Elizabeth's greeting showed joy and the promise of helping her younger relative. With prayer and love, you'll be great!
Karen Whiting is an award-winning author of more than thirty books, a mom of five, and a grandma. Her newest book, Growing a Mother’s Heart Bible Study is great to use one-on-one or in group mentoring moms who want community and support.
Karen Whiting is a mom, author, international speaker, writing coach, and former television host who loves sharing ideas to strengthen families. She has written Growing a Mother’s Heart: Devotions of Faith, Hope, and Love from Mothers Past, Present, and Future. Check out her new book 52 Weekly Devotions for Family Prayer that includes a different way to pray each week plus stories and activities to explore questions children ask about prayer She loves adventure including camel riding, scuba diving, treetop courses, and white water rafting plus time at home crafting and baking.