As the familiar proverb goes, “it takes a village to raise a child”. Its meaning is interpreted to mean many things. I like its literal connotation: It takes more than a parent’s love to raise a child well. It takes the love and support of a community. I like even more an extension to the theme: everyone needs significant mentors that do not belong to the immediate family in order to keep growing and evolving.

Why? Well, have you ever taught your child (brother, sister, niece, nephew…) to drive? Whether you answered yes or no, you know what I mean. So, case closed.

But seriously, why? When my big sister tried to teach me how to drive a stick-shift car 36 years ago, she had the best of loving intentions. I know this for a fact, because she needed that car to get to university, had bought it with her hard-earned money waiting tables… and at the time in California, insurance was not mandatory. If that is not love, then I don’t know what is.

After a few near-death experiences we gave up, and my sister drove back home. The friction between us was second only to that which her car’s poor clutch had just experienced. Why had it not worked and why did it work so well when a month later, our Mom splurged on driving lessons from a qualified instructor? Clearly our Mom knew something we didn’t.

Most of us are lucky enough to know the kind of love we feel for our younger, dependent family members. The desire to help and protect them is visceral. We want them to be always safe and happy…and if they are not, we want them to come to us to fix it. And we can fix it, because we were once in their shoes! We want to teach them from our mistakes so they don’t have to go through what we did.

But it is our job to prepare them for life, not just fix things. And for that, they need a strong self-esteem…because we know that is the foundation of success, no matter what they do. But this is where the conflict comes in. How will their self-esteem develop, if everything they know is thanks to us, and everything they don’t do well will be fixed by us?
And this is where the mentor steps in. The mentor can care deeply for the child, without the emotional entanglement inherent in a family relationship. A mentor, operating from the outside of the family politics and drama, can focus more clearly on the child’s issues. A good mentor is authentically empathetic, while having the objectivity of an outsider at the same time.

In a case where an offspring is having some difficulties in life, be they financial, emotional, interpersonal or scholastic, the mentor can step in and assist in a way a family member cannot. Through the process of mentorship, the child can gradually be guided through their trying situations, at the same time building self-esteem through increased self-reliance. It is the goal of every mentor to not only assist the child, but develop a plan for independence. As the mentorship process progresses, not only do the child’s capabilities improve, but their family relationships do as well.

In short, a mentor from outside the family is best equipped to assist offspring through certain challenging phases in life, by providing a means for the mentee to regain control of their unique and exciting destiny…and ultimately get back into the driver’s seat.

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