I am well into the writing of a new book promoting the spirit of mentoring which is due out in 2024.

There is a lot of doom and gloom in the global marketplace. We seem to be desperately short of global leaders with integrity who genuinely care and are striving, no matter the cost, to see world peace attained. Instead, the East/West divide seems to be gathering momentum, the toothless United Nations seems to be increasingly inept in so many areas of its jurisdiction and so often I feel overwhelmed simply thinking about what needs to happen to transform our global community. The change begins with me, doesn’t it? People ask me why I bother to do this writing, why I occasionally speak up and swim against the populist flow of incomprehensible and illogical thinking. My response in recent times is quite frankly, “My grandkids deserve better.”

I do not want them looking back at these times when they are older and wondering why their grandparents did nothing to help make this world a better place in which to live. After all, as a teenager I was told, “You are the future!”

Earlier this week we watched our grandchildren, aged seven and almost nine, running in their school annual cross-country. A number of parents were cheering on the sidelines and I loved how the kids who came in at the end received such positive messages of affirmation from their teachers because they had completed the race. My grandkids came within the top ten of their respective age groups and did their best. What more can one ask of them?

During the weekend the youngest scored four goals in her field hockey side’s victory. She was overjoyed to receive the Most Valuable player Award – a small hockey stick she keeps for a week, and a pizza voucher (we won’t worry about healthy diets) – an award all the players will ultimately receive by the end of the season to promote teamwork. While the girls like to win, they really gain more enjoyment just from running around with their peers than on the actual result. Things will change as they increase their skills and the competition becomes tougher, though I hope they will always “enjoy” the contest, win with humility and  lose graciously.

Six mentoring lessons

When I look at the suffering children in refugee camps, and the faces of children in war-torn countries, I am reminded each day that face-to-face relationships with family (extended family) and friends are critical to enable us to live healthy and balanced lifestyles. Many millions of young people do not have this privilege, though many of them do appear to be in families that stay together through all the challenges.

I am enjoying watching my grandchildren growing up, and feel incredibly privileged to live within access of their home. As we interact, they continue to teach me six mentoring lessons that cross all age groups. This is a helpful checklist for parents, educators, volunteer mentors, youth workers, employers of young adults, indeed for each one of us no matter our age.

  1. Be authentic: It is important to be myself so my grandchildren know the ‘real’ me – they experience my unconditional, non-judgmental (mostly) love for them; see that I am fallible and will make mistakes; that I apologize when I have done something wrong; that I carry the spirit of forgiveness in my heart, and I never stop learning.
  2. Have a sense of humor: Laugh lots, be crazy and silly – make a fool of myself (easy to do as a retired teacher). This positive energy releases the ‘feel good’ dopamine in my brain. I must never take life too seriously. Try and find the ‘fun’ element in all that I do.
  3. Listen: I must not only ‘hear’, but also listen carefully for the messages, those feelings, and for what is not being said. I continue to learn how to do this consistently with my grandchildren. I remind myself often: “I am the adult. They are children.” Sometimes I struggle to empathize, as it was a long time ago when I was under ten years of age. My daughter politely reminds me!
  4. Learning is in the doing: How true this is. We play a variety of games, so I am coaching the seeds of goal setting: “Our aim is to catch the ball seven times without dropping it”; teamwork; fair play; perseverance – don’t quit, keep getting up again and learn from failure to achieve the goal at the first attempt. That’s how we grow. What lessons can I learn from this activity for my next attempt?; sharing small tips about how to throw the frisbee more effectively and modeling this – they are watching, listening, observing, and suddenly they succeed. We celebrate the small victories, usually with a ‘high five’. Never underestimate the power of genuine affirmations.
  5. Develop resiliency: I can keep coaching my grandchildren how to bounce back when they inevitably stumble and fall. I often use humor, mixed with compassion, to achieve this. I am always on the lookout for strengths – a quality I consistently can see, and which I will eventually name – as I sow the spirit of mentoring in their young lives.
  6. Keep an open mind – variety: My grandchildren are young, so a game does not last long. Then it’s on to something else, then another activity. Then we might take time out to gather our breathe and do some drawing, or read a story, or watch a short DVD or video clip (strict rules around the use of technology), then a jigsaw puzzle, play a card or board game, or play with Lego or building blocks – a chance to speak to their creativity and innovative thinking. My focus remains on my grandchildren for as much time as possible, and we do what they choose to do (within reason) most of the time.

And, of course, does this particular sentence ever vanish? “I’m hungry!” – because they know Nana Jane bakes lots of special goodies. Sometimes they bake together. But, then, aren’t grandparents there to spoil the grandchildren? And, often there are interesting conversations as we sit around the table and have a meal or a treat of some sort. They are in a non-threatening, safe and secure environment, learning how and when to be vulnerable.

Further reflections

Then it’s time to go home and I clear up the mess left behind. No, not totally true. Sometimes we do this together.

And then Nana Jane and I slump into our chairs, pause, catch our breathe, appreciate that we are not getting any younger, yet give grateful thanks for four things:

  1. Having the opportunity to be with family and, hopefully, to make positive memories with our grandchildren.
  2. How incredibly privileged we are  to be able to offer our grandchildren these opportunities at a time when there are millions of children who are not so fortunate. These experiences keep us humble and immensely grateful for the life we are able to lead, and also encourage us, where we can, to reach out to children living in disadvantaged communities and give them a hand up.
  3. How young people especially cherish face-to-face healthy and meaningful relationships.
  4. The opportunity to speak to the potential of our grandchildren which they are often too young to see. One of them has already told me she will be at the Olympics one day – love it!

So, my writing continues, as I share stories, strategies and tips from my own experiences and from the multitude of resources I have collected over the years, in the hope that I can raise the awareness that every adult can significantly impact the lives of our young people with the right attitude and motives.

How about you? What is your most recent fun family moment? How much fun is it for your employees and co-workers to be a part of your team in your work environment? Make those memories and never stop sowing the seeds of mentoring.