Spring 2019 / Matthew McDill
Just the other night, Dana and I had dinner with some veteran homeschoolers. As we discussed the challenges of homeschooling, one experienced mother lamented, “It would be nice if everyone didn’t have to reinvent the wheel and make all the same mistakes.”
I’m sure there are several solutions to this problem, but I would like to suggest one that is particularly significant: mentorship. Mentoring happens when a less experienced person learns knowledge, skills, and strategies from a more experienced person. It is somewhat like having a teacher but less structured and more relational.
Mentorship is the solution that the Bible presents for passing on faith and life skills. Paul instructs Timothy: “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) He also explains to Titus that “Older women…are to teach what is good and so train the young women to love their husbands and children….” (Titus 2:3-4)
I am amazed that most people I know do not have intentional, mentoring relationships. But I really shouldn’t be surprised, because I also have struggled to have mentors in my life consistently! Here are some reasons that many of us give for not having a mentor:
- I am already too busy.
We certainly have a limited amount of time that we must spend wisely. But let’s ask ourselves a question: Are we really saving time or being most effective by not investing time and effort to learn from others? I think we would teach our own children that instead of just figuring things out as we go, it is always worth our time to learn from others.
- I don’t really know anyone who can help me.
Maybe. But first, take a closer look and make sure. Sometimes, we don’t find things, because we are not really looking. Second, pray that God will lead you to someone and then go make a concerted effort to find a mentor.
- I’m not sure who would be willing to mentor me.
Possibly, this is because you haven’t asked. It is possible that some may not be willing to mentor you, but I think most people are ready to help. At any rate, there is no harm in asking. You may have to ask a few people before you find the right one, but you won’t regret trying.
- Others do not know my situation and needs.
This could be true, but please consider these two thoughts: First, there are basic principles and ideas that apply to everyone. One of the best ways to learn these is from those who have the wisdom of life experience. Second, no one has a perfectly unique situation. There are always others out there who can relate to at least some parts of our situation. Go find them!
- Older people don’t really know what is going on these days. We face a whole new set of challenges.
“There is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl 1:9) This does not mean there is no new technology under the sun. But the basic human challenges of life have been consistent throughout generations. If you listen with an open mind, you may be surprised at the wisdom of older generations.
The last two reasons that many of us do not have mentors are probably thoughts that we would never actually say, or even consciously think. They stem from pride and arrogance.
- I don’t want others to know that I don’t know what I’m doing.
This is pride. It is so important for us to develop a humble and teachable spirit! Instead of participating in a culture of comparison and competition, let’s just admit that we don’t know what we are doing and that we need help from one another.
- I already know what I’m doing.
This is arrogance. The apostle Paul writes, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” (1 Corinthians 8:2) Sure, some of us are smart, and we’ve figured out a few things. But I have discovered over the years that the wiser I become, the more I know how much I don’t know. We can start down the road of having a humble and teachable spirit by accepting that we don’t know all that we need to know.
I went to another veteran homeschool couple’s house for dinner last night. All their kids are married and are homeschooling their own children. We went to see them because we have a specific issue we are trying to resolve with one of our children. To be honest, I had some of the thoughts that I shared above. But we went, described our situation, and listened carefully. Did we agree with everything that was recommended? No. But it was helpful to hear new perspectives. And their questions and thoughts certainly stretched and challenged our thinking. It was a refreshing and productive time.
We do not have an ongoing mentoring relationship with this couple. Don’t limit yourself to just one mentor! Simply seek out as many older, more experienced people as you can. Invite them over for dinner or take them out. When you do, prepare a list of questions you can ask. Be ready to take notes. This shows your mentor that you are serious about learning. More importantly, you will be able to take some time later to consider, pray over, and sort through what you recorded.
So, maybe you feel like you are having to reinvent the wheel or that you are making mistakes with your children. Ask for help. Don’t wait for more experienced people to approach you and give you advice. They probably won’t (and probably shouldn’t). They are waiting for you to ask.
Maybe you are an experienced mom watching younger mothers suffer and struggle along without help. As I said above, I don’t recommend offering unsolicited advice. But you can certainly pray for that young mom. You can initiate a friendship with her, ask questions to see if you can come along side and serve her. You will find out if there is an openness to learn.
Most of us will find ourselves on both sides of this relationship. We are experienced enough to help others, and at the same time, there is much we can learn from the wisdom of those further down the road of life.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But a wise man listens to advice.
Note: NCHE’s Thrive! Conference, May 30 – June 1, will offer mentoring throughout the weekend. Come by the mentoring table outside the book fair entrance to get quick answers from experienced home educators.