In her own words, Howland, the founder of BlackMitzvah.org, discusses her views on parenthood and the importance of mentorship with Right On! Digital.
By MaryAnne Howland
Motherhood is a force of nature that we marshal from the depths of our own maternal womb to protect and nurture our young. A mother learns by instinct to secure sustenance to build a nest that provides safety, comfort, and confidence. The strength and viability of her nest depends on the health of our ecosystem. Responsibility for nurturing the emotional, psychological, and spiritual health of our children in preparation to leave the nest to join our community as global citizens is shared by our village. Raising our young people to become thriving adults is the responsibility of all of us.
It does not matter whether you are married, what religion you practice, where you live, or what your circumstances are, your child can have his or her own Black Mitzvah, or whatever you want to name their rite of passage. All it takes is a little imagination and the commitment of a few men or women who role-model the values that you believe in and would like to develop in your child.
I began preparing for my son’s Black Mitzvah with an assessment of my values and those of others within their own “village.” With those most important questions answered, I used my creativity to customize my son’s own very special celebration with a select group of men who came together to become his “Collective Dad”.
The Black Mitzvah is a development support system for children from age 13 to 18, but once the relationships are established, the mentoring will likely not stop there, but can continue lifelong.
Here is a roadmap that is easily adaptable for any family:
- What is the vision that you have for your child’s future?
- What tenets/ teachings will be the foundation for your child’s growth and development?
- Who are the men and/or women in your family/ community you most admire, trust, and respect? These are individuals you know personally and feel that your child is completely safe with. Once you have your list, it is important to make the decision together with your child about whom you would like to invite to be a mentor. After all, it is your child who must be open to the relationships and who will determine how successful those relationships will be.
- Considerations for selecting a mentor should include time commitment, reliability, confidentiality, profession: If your child is interested in a particular career choice or has a particular aptitude, it may be a good idea to ask someone you know who is experienced or knowledgeable in that particular industry. This can be invaluable along the way to help with motivation and educational counsel.
- How to make the ask is up to you. I simply asked, “Would you be willing to be a mentor to my son?” and then described the goals for his future.
- Once all the mentors are secured, then it’s time to plan the celebration. There are a number of preparation activities to consider: a. Ask your son or daughter to write a letter to each mentor telling them what they most like or respect about them, stating what they hope to learn from them, and, most important, thanking them. b. Ask your son or daughter to prepare for the moment spiritually. No matter what your faith, whether it’s the Bible, Quran, Torah, or any other source, is there a particular verse or story that your child feels is important to them at this moment and would like to share during the celebration? c. Ask each mentor to think of a gift that is particularly meaningful and age appropriate to create a teachable moment during the celebration. Examples: a watch, a book, seeds, an heirloom, a pet (with a parent’s permission). Ask each mentor to prepare a thought or choose a particular spiritual verse to share during the presentation of their gift.
- Include mentor-mentee bonding activities during the celebration. The goal is to make this important rite of passage a memorable and symbolic occasion. One example is to create an activity for mentors and mentees that the mentors did when they were thirteen, which is great for bonding and credibility. Other activities could be teaching a favorite recipe in the kitchen or learning to tie a tie, something that can come in handy for girls too. The idea is to be creative and have fun.
- After the celebration, be sure your child writes a “Thank You” note to each mentor for their gift and their time. This is also a good time for your child to ask when they will see or hear from them next. We have to train the mentors, too.
- After each visit with a mentor, be sure your child writes a “Thank You” note, and it’s a great idea if they also mention what they learned or maybe include a question. This helps prompt a response from a mentor.
- For the parents, it is important to keep the mentors up to date on any important moments that they should be aware of to say “congratulations” or to just check in. I was always careful to not interfere or ask too much. I learned that it is very important to let the mentee take responsibility for the relationship. That way the relationship of trust is natural and unfettered.