Parents as Partners: We’re All In This Together
At Big Brothers Big Sisters, the spotlight is often on the relationship between a Big and a Little. The role that parents and guardians play in facilitating successful mentoring relationships is explored less often, but is equally essential.
“Our work at BBBS involves building relationships between strangers,” says Diana Hernandez, Director of Match Support, “and communication is central to successful relationships. Strong, mutual communication between Bigs and parents generally leads to a match that meets more often and lasts longer.”
Because parents and mentors will need to collaborate in pursuit of the child’s best interests, this focus on communication is emphasized from the very beginning of their involvement with BBBS. Before the match begins, BBBS’ Customer Relations and Enrollment staff work together to help all parties understand the importance of regular communication and to ensure that they feel comfortable and committed to talking with each other on a regular basis.
Once a Big and Little have been matched, communication remains a priority. Our Match Support staff facilitates further communication when the participants meet for the first time. Meeting at the Little’s home allows Bigs to meet parents or guardians as well as their new Little Brother or Sister.
“Communication is always essential between the mentor and parent,” says Zelda Botha, mother of two daughters who participated in BBBS from the first grade through the high school years. “It helps the Big serve and support the Little in their particular areas of need. Every one of my kids’ mentors forever touched their lives for the better.”
Ellen Harsch, mother of a current Little Brother agrees. “Communication between parents and Bigs gets everybody on the same page,” she says. “It’s definitely in the best interest of the child.”
At times parents and Bigs need to collaborate on logistical issues, such as determining when, where and how often a match will meet. It’s also essential for Bigs to confirm with parents that they approve of all suggested activities and outings, and for both parties to let each other know right away about any changes in their contact information or other changes that may affect the mentoring relationship. Communicating about, and coordinating, these practical considerations helps to provide the consistency and stability that children need, and that is so important to the growth of a trusting relationship.
“My biggest piece of advice for a new Big is to have open communications with the parent through many different channels – phone, text, email, etc.,” says Hector Perez, Central Texas’ Big Brother of the Year for 2014. “As a Big, you want to make sure that you and the parent are on the same page with simple things such as pick up and drop off times when visiting your Little. Sometimes for a parent, one day of the week may work better than others, so make sure you can be flexible at times. Showing up and dropping off your Little on time is key to fostering trust with the parent and further enhancing good communications about other areas of the Little’s life.”
At other times, communication may address more interpersonal issues. On these occasions, parents and Bigs agree to share their concerns about the Little when they are not present to avoid his or her embarrassment or discomfort.
“The parent can share with you how your Little is doing in school and other activities around the home,” says Hector. “I use the information shared with me to help talk through issues my Little may be having in school or other areas. This kind of tight communication with the parent allows you to focus in on areas where you can make an impact on your Little’s life.”
For new parents in the program, Zelda emphasizes the importance of voicing what you would and would not like to see in a match. “For example, I wanted my daughters to have Bigs who were Christian and non-smokers, and I had topics that I did not want the Bigs to talk to my children about. At the beginning of the match, you can politely mention such points to the new Big.”
“My recommendation to new parents in the program is to make yourself available to answer questions,” says Ellen, “It’s important to be open and honest and to be patient.”
To help facilitate strong match relationships, our professionally trained Match Support Specialists complete regularly-scheduled check-ins with parents, Bigs and Littles in addition to being available for guidance, feedback or mediation as needed. They work hard to promote healthy communication between and among everyone involved in the match, addressing potential challenges before they become stumbling blocks.
“When parents and Bigs reach out to each other offering mutual support and appreciation, they build a more trusting relationship” says Diana. Children benefit as parents and Bigs become even stronger allies and partners in supporting their well-being.
When they enroll their child in BBBS, families invite us into their lives and trust us to make their child’s well-being a priority. Their invitation is a privilege and their trust is humbling. And because they know their child best, we understand that parents and guardians are essential partners in establishing and maintaining a successful mentoring match.
After all, when it comes to the well-being of our kids, we’re all in this together.