Maintaining your long-term mentoring relationship

Long lasting mentoring relationships lead to increased youth outcomes, but it can be difficult to keep a relationship going as life circumstances change.

All good things must end, right? Not necessarily. When mentoring relationships are long lasting and close, youth and mentors experience greater benefits. So, how can matches stay together? There are many examples of mentors and mentees who are still close after five, 10, even 20 years. It takes some work, but these relationships are rewarding for both the youth and the adult.

All relationships change naturally over time. When we accept and embrace these changes our relationships can grow stronger. When we fight against changes it can weaken a relationship or even cause it to end. Mentoring relationships need to allow for the flexibility needed to maintain a close connection.

As youth grow up they have new activities that compete for their time and attention. Mentors also experience transitions that may shift their availability or focus. When these things happen it is common for a match to think that closure is the next step. Mentoring programs often have fairly strict requirements for mentors and youth regarding the frequency and duration of visits. These requirements to meet weekly or to spend at least four hours a month together are designed to ensure that there is consistency and frequency in meetings during the formation stage of the relationship. Meeting regularly often helps matches develop a trusting and caring relationship. Once this relationship is solid there is room for more flexibility. The first year of the match involves creating a strong foundation.

Long lasting mentoring relationships often find the need to transition from meeting the initial program requirements to finding a balance that works for the mentor and mentee. Some programs will allow matches to remain in the program and create a new contract for match meetings when this happens. Others will need matches to close, but allow the relationship to continue with parental support and approval. Here are some tips for matches transitioning into a less structured phase of their relationship:

  • Communicate. It is important to understand the needs of both parties and make decisions about the frequency of communication and visits between the mentor and mentee. Do not assume that talking once every three weeks is sufficient for your mentee just because it feels like a good time frame for you.
  • Be creative. Early match visits may have been more recreational, but you can change your routine. Take your mentee with you when running errands or go cheer him or her on at a sporting event. Making time for each other when schedules get tight can be tough. Find ways to include each other in your regular activities.
  • Do something special. When your visits are less frequent, try to make sure to occassionally try something new or strengthen your bond. Michigan State University Extension hosts 4-H Mentoring Weekend annually. This event provides matches from any Michigan mentoring program with an opportunity to have a great time learning and playing together at the beautiful Kettunen Center in July. You could also try activities that are new to you like rock climbing or stand-up paddle boarding. Learning something new together is a great way to reconnect.

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