The Mentor’s Field Guide; Question 36
We hope you are not thinking of ending your relationship in its early stages unless it is absolutely necessary. As we have noted, this can have unintended but none the less harmful consequences for your mentee.
If you are feeling challenged or discouraged, there may be ways to address the issues that make you think you need to terminate the relationship. Your program coordinator can help.
There are many reasons why mentoring relationships end, but in the final analysis, the reason is less important than how the ending is handled.
Like most mentors, you take your relationship seriously and want to conclude it in a way that does not harm your mentee.
Sometimes, because a mentor feels guilty or sad, she puts off telling her program coordinator and/or mentee.
Instead, allow as much time as possible for planning and managing the transition. If you handle the termination well, it can be a learning experience for your mentee.
If it comes as a last minute surprise with little or no explanation, your mentee may well conclude that there is something wrong with him. Further, it may impair his ability to trust adults in the future.
One exception is mentoring a relationship that is set up from the start to be time-limited, with an expectation on both sides that it will stop at a designated point. Examples include a career mentoring program or some school-based programs.
Care still should be taken in these situations, and there will still be feelings of loss. But if it is anticipated, the end of the relationship is less likely to have harmful effects.
Although your mentee will undoubtedly be disappointed, there are ways to help her through the process such that she develops further life skills and does not lose trust in other adults.
Adolescents may have a harder time letting go of mentoring relationships than younger children and the longer you have been together, the stronger the feelings of loss will be. Don’t be offended if your mentee seems angry or acts in ways that show she is rejecting you.
These may be defense mechanisms to help her cope, especially if she has had prior disappointments with important adults or if she has vulnerabilities that the termination triggers. If this happens, tell your mentee what you are observing and encourage her to talk about how she is feeling. Tell her how much you care for her and how disappointed you feel too.
Allow time, if at all possible, for a transition phase to prepare your mentee for the end of the relationship. During this phase you can take the following actions:
- Share your own feelings of loss and disappointment, telling your mentee how important she has been in your life.
- Encourage your mentee to talk about how she feels, letting her know that all her feelings are normal and okay.
- Reminisce about the things you have done together and ask your mentee what she liked about and learned from these experiences.
- Tell your mentee how much you like her and reiterate your belief in her and your confidence in her strengths and capabilities; express positive aspirations for her future.
- Be concrete in setting a last get-together date, and plan a special last activity together that your mentee chooses.
- Do a project to help you remember each other, such as creating a photo album or memory book.
Reprinted with permission from The Mentor’s Field guide: Answers You Need to Help Kids Succeed by Gail Manza and Susan K. Patrick; Questions about the Mentoring Relationship, Question 36. Reprinted with permission from Search Institute®, Copyright © 2012 Search Institute, Minneapolis, MN ; 877-240-7251, ext. 1; http://www.search-institute.org. All rights reserved.