Mentoring & Motherhood

I recently read an article about mentoring by Orin C. Davis, Ph.D., who holds the educational distinction of being the first person to earn a doctorate in Positive Psychology. His research focuses on flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring.

Perhaps, because Mother’s Day is right around the corner, his article led me to ask myself, “Is mentoring part of motherhood?” and “Could the mentoring principles in his article guide mothers, as well?”

Was, or is, your Mom a mentor to you? Do you feel you are a mentor to your kids? Is that a role Moms should play?

Davis’ research with Jeanne Nakamura involved finding out how mentors can enable protégés to make the most of having a good mentor, which Davis describes as having “implications for empowering others to find and use their passions.” (As always, I’m in on anything that helps us find or use our passions.)

These are the six principles Davis and Nakamura determined should guide the mentor-protégé relationship:

    1. Emotional Safety – a non-threatening environment in which people can feel comfortable asking questions, trying out ideas, and receiving criticism
    2. Responsiveness – providing honest and clear feedback, and making time for the other person
    3. Support – fostering self-efficacy and self-confidence, and providing trust, empathy, and protection
    4. Protégé-Centeredness – tailoring advising and teaching to the other’s needs
    5. Respect – treating the other as a future equal, and being willing to entertain the other’s ideas
    6. Informality – the relationship is not formally assigned – both people are voluntarily involved, and not necessarily in a prescribed context

Should developing emotional safety, responsiveness and support be a part of Motherhood?

To me, emotional safety, responsiveness and support all apply to mothering. I hope mothers everywhere are striving intentionally or intuitively to provide a safe emotional environment for their children, are responsive and offer support. I think emotional safety is a great list-topper for Moms. I remember asking my Mom about the birds and the bees. I was nervous, and even though she slipped by on sharing any of the details, I like that I felt safe enough to ask.

I also remember her poignant answer to another of my questions: “What is it like to be 40?” We were alone in the car, which was an extremely rare circumstance for a child with 8 siblings; I was in the front seat feeling very grown-up. She said, “You don’t feel any different from when you were a kid. Inside you feel exactly the same.”

Whaaaaat! She was feeling exactly like me, how could that be?

Her answer surprised the heck out of me for a number of reasons. First because she presented it so thoughtfully and genuinely. You see, my Mom could be a bit of a martyr, and almost always found a way to work her personal plight into her responses and remarks. (I’m not complaining, just saying. I would have been be overwhelmed raising 9 kids on a shoestring budget, too.) I learned early to take most of what my Mom said with a grain of salt, so when she replied to me that day without a tinge of regret or blame, I knew her answer and the moment were special, and I wanted to remember them.

The second reason I was shocked was that since I was 9 or 10 years old and my Mom seemed so much older than me, at that time, it was hard to believe we could be feeling the same way – even for a second. But, I loved the possibility that we could be. I thought of her for the first time as a real person, not just my Mom. 

Her willingness to pause, reflect and answer me honestly made a huge impression on me. Her response has guided me throughout my life and reminded me in the toughest of times that I am allowed to be me and to feel like a kid no matter what else is happening in my life. I like that; thank you, Mom.

My Mom, before I knew her.


Do the concepts of protégé-centeredness, respect and informality apply to Motherhood?

I think the “Protégé-Centered” perspective also works in the mothering environment. There were many times I was great at “tailoring advising and teaching” to my sons needs rather than my own, but I must admit the “Mother knows best.” adage also found its way into my mothering repertoire. Perhaps it is a balancing act, there are universal need-to-know kinds of things, but many ways to teach them. And, there are lots of child-directed inquires and desires that we might not fully understand but should respect and address. Kids’ interests, their outlooks and their learning styles are as varied as ours, and knowing and responding to them individually is a good thing.

I remember feeling equal to and respected by my Mom when she took time to answer my “How does it feel to be 40?” question so seriously. I think I raised my sons with respect, but in my Monday-morning-quarterbacking-mode, I know I could have spent a great deal more time listening to rather than guiding them, and could still improve my listening skills, today. (Note to self: remember this!)

I love the idea of mothering from day one with the “future equal” concept. I think seeing our children as uniquely themselves, and not simply reflections of us is a great way to go. When we look into their sweet little eyes in the hospital we should be asking, “Who are you going to be?” rather than holding them close and deciding for them.

And last but not least, I think Davis and Nakamura’s sixth mentoring principle “informality” has a role in mothering, too. Even though the mother-child relationship is formal and legal, and those of us who are mothers might have felt the need to verbally reinforce that relationship on occasion: “I am your Mother, that’s who I am.”, I think it is probably a good idea to put formality on the back burner now and then. I did, and still do, my best mothering when I keep in mind what an honor and privilege it is to have and to raise children, and then act accordingly.

So what do you think? Were you mentored or mothered? Are you mentoring or mothering? Or, are you combining the approaches?  

I would love to hear your thoughts. As Davis notes in his article, reflecting allows us to improve and to develop self-awareness and may allow us to integrate and apply old and new knowledge, skills, and attitudes in new ways. I like that. 

If you are celebrating Mother’s Day this weekend, I wish you an absolutely wonderful day.


One comment

  1. Loved thiswriting abut motherring and mentoring. Seeing your sons now as adults, I can see how your mentoring and mothering was successful.Your sons are so caring and and are such wonderful adults–responnsible, fun,and great to be with.
    I know you’are a wonderful Nana too. Your sons and gransons are so lucky to have you. Although I never experienced Motherhood, I know that if I had chidren, I hope that I wold have been as caring and loving as you have been.
    I particularly liked the part of your writing that talks about being emotionally safe. That struck a cord. Although I don’t remember talking to my own mother about feelings, I was fortunate to have a sister in whom I could confide . And, however my mother raised me, I always felt emotionallysecure that I was loved and would have been accepted no matter what.! And that was so important to me.


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