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Author Topic: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)  (Read 17889 times)

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No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« on: March 28, 2011, 01:07:08 AM »
Greetings all! This one's a doozy but if you can push through all the reading I'm sure you'll enjoy my display of spine not to mention, hopefully appreciate and empathise for a kid doing his best in a bad situation. And no, it's not me.
Over the past couple years I've taken part in a mentor system for young guys (usually from about twelve to fifteen years old) using older guys (late teens, early to mid twenties) as a buddy. From pop culture references I think there is a "Big Brother" organisation in America that is similar. Basically I take an younger guy under my wing and provide a good example, someone to talk to, someone to mentor him in good behaviour and becoming a responsible adult.

Most of the buddies are encouraged (sometimes as an alternative to pretty hefty punishments) to come to us as they are underprivileged or have had problems with the police but we also get kids who don't have are fatherless for whatever reason or even kids who just generally want a cool older guy to hang out with and teach them stuff. It's run by a pretty small organisation and only really relevant for my local region but it's fairly well known where it does operate. I'm guessing there are organisations like this all over the place, and if there isn't there should be!

So one of the things we are supposed to do is discuss ethical and moral questions with our Buddies. We 'teach' very strictly nonspecific public responsibility. No religious topics or anything serious (think big political issues - same sex marriage, pro choice/pro life etc) are allowed to be discussed. The main purpose of the buddy is to show an example of how to live as a good member of society. It's about respecting others, yourself and pretty heavily about respecting the authorities like the police.

A lot of them have trouble with the police but a lot of that trouble is about their attitude towards police. One of our main goals is to change that attitude from "Cops are (expletive) pigs" to respect and it's uncanny how when these kids start treating the police with respect they are treated with respect in return, and their criminal records stop getting longer almost instantly. That same attitude carries over to other authority figures like teachers, bosses, parents etc and all of a sudden with a bit of mutual respect they don't need a mentor anymore, heck, they're ready to mentor a buddy of their own!

Obviously I'm a bit passionate about all this so I'll get back to the point. We try to help them become better citizens. Nothing else. Except for my last buddy, who regretfully left the program over this incident. His name for this thread is Billy and his mother we'll call Julie.

Billy was raised in a one parent environment by his mother after his father left when he was five. He doesn't see his father often (once a year, if he's lucky) so when Julie heard about us through a friend she booked in a meeting with the organisation because she thought Billy could use a positive male role model. From what she told us later Billy had been acting up recently and she had seen on TV that it was common for boys who were raised without a Dad.

I had been on a bit of a hiatus after my last buddy abut eight months ago for work reasons but I had sorted out my schedule and had time to mentor again. So they got me to tag along for the interview and everything went great. Billy and I established rapport over a game we both play and Julie was quite impressed by the details of our program that the organisation rep was explaining to her. Billy and I scheduled to meet up later that week and I exchanged contact details with Julie.
End BG

So for about five weeks I mentor Billy. He and I would hang out once a week and go over the "script" (a guideline provided to us by the organisation, things to talk about, lessons for that week etc. That week's part of the curriculum, for want of a better word) then spend an hour or so doing an activity (ice skating, hiking, seeing a movie, whatever) and just generally discussing his life and how things were going for him. Any big events or big dramas he needs to talk to someone about.

The personal connection you develop is pretty intense and it really is like having a little brother for a little while. Even by week three Billy and I were pretty close, we've got personal jokes by that point and he's opening up to me on lots of different aspects of his life; his relationship with his mother, girls, his non-relationship with his dad, friends, school and everything in between.

Just after the fifth 'lesson' I got an email from Julie asking for details on what we had been discussing lately. She is "curious and concerned about what we have discussed due to some odd behaviours lately". This is pretty common around that time because by now Billy is (hopefully) putting into effect the strategies we are teaching him to help him treat other people, and himself, with respect.

But! Mentors are instructed, trained, indoctrinated, brainwashed to never, ever discuss in details our discussions with a buddy especially with a parent. Unless it is a matter of a crime being committed or the buddy being in danger. Trust has to be maintained for the program to work and that means discussions between Billy and myself are confidential. She was told this at the first meeting and vehemently agreed that she would respect the privacy of those conversations. Some of them, a lot of them, were about her which is only natural. Teens whinge about their parents all.the.time and naturally parents want to know what they are saying. At least, that's what I thought.

So I responded warmly but skated around the actual nature of the topics, EG " we've been discussing how things are at home and at school, we're talking about how to improve relations with his friends and family as well." I also included some info on what the script had included last week. That much I can tell her, if not what Billy said in regards to the topics in the script that week.

But she didn't actually care about what Billy was saying about her, in her reply she clarified she wanted to know how I was going with teaching Billy about living as a member of their religion! At first I was confused and tried to think of any instance where we had said we were working for (codename: Blue) religion. I immediately let my handler know and she contacted Julie to clarify the situation.

Turns out Julie learnt about our program through a friend at church and made the mental leap that obviously we were therefore sponsored, run by and owned by the Blue church. We aren't, it's a completely religion-neutral environment. Uh-oh, that doesn't sit well with Julie. Somehow, some way, she convinces my handler at the organisation to let her sit in the next time Billy and I were scheduled to meet up. This is usually a big no-no, I have no idea how she accomplished that. She apparently said she had "serious concerns" about my lack of "faith inspired morals". Again, we don't teach faith inspired morals. We teach civic responsibility, how to be respectful to yourself and others.

Week six was an incredibly awkward meeting. Week five had a lesson in the script about getting along with parents, week six is usually a continuation of that and introduces some talking points that are intended to guide the buddy into acknowledging what he is doing that makes life difficult for his parents and has questions like "what can he do to improve things?". Obviously I was not going to discuss that in front of his mother.

Originally we had planned to meet up, grab some lunch and go for a bike ride but we couldn't do that with his mother so we went to a cafe afterwards instead. I explained that we wouldn't be using the week six materials because they weren't appropriate with a parent present (cue angry face from Julie) but hastily mentioned they involved interaction with parents and that it wouldn't be comfortable for Billy to open up about that in front of her. She was placated by that but did make a snide remark about how Billy "should never have anything to fear about discussing things with me". From what Billy and I have discussed, and the look on his face as she said that, it was most definitely not the case!

So I skipped to the week seven lesson which moves from interacting with parents to interacting with friends and extended family, how to maintain respect throughout. Julie sat  and watched and made approving or disapproving noises at Billy's answers, at my questions, at stories from my early teens and actually anything that was said. It was aggravating, unsettling and annoying.

Needless to say Billy did not open up and by fifteen minutes in I was already deciding we'd have to revisit this script again. Julie, exasperated, asks me when I am going to start teaching Billy the morals he needs to live by as a Blue, she is completely unhappy with the religion neutral, mutual respect tone I am taking in these discussions. I reiterate that I won't be teaching Billy and blue teachings, I am not in fact a Blue and therefore not qualified to do so at the very least. Julie gets very visibly upset and asks to speak with me privately. I agree, and we step away for a bit. Conversation is pretty much as follows. Picture me trying to be calm and her getting angrier by the second:

Julie: I'm not sure it would be good for Billy to stay. He needs to be raised as a Blue and your program isn't offering him that.
Me: I think the program is very beneficial to young guys, regardless of faith. Billy has really started to make progress. If you pull him out now he might go back to acting up like he did before.
Julie: Well that's just it! It's worse now because now he wants to discuss things and work out an agreement. Before he was sullen and badly behaved but he usually just did what I said, when I said it! Blue's are taught to respect their parents wishes and I don't think you are teaching him that here at all!
Me: (bewildered, realising this is a losing battle) I'm not sure what you want me to do here. I can't teach him to be a Blue when I'm not one myself. And discussing things with parents instead of complaining or acting up is a key part of the program.
Julie: Can't you just...pretend you're blue too? If you research us I'm sure you can put that into your mentoring as well.
Me: I'm sorry, that won't be possible. I don't think it's particularly respectful of me to impersonate a blue. Not to the Blue church, not to myself.

At that, I was floored. She wants me to impersonate a member of her faith? How does that help Billy trust me if I LIE to him?? Julie took Billy and left after that, and by the time I got home I already had an email advising me that she had requested a new mentor, someone who was Blue. She didn't get that, so she pulled Billy out of the program entirely.

Which makes me sad for Billy's sake, he did have some legitimate problems he needed to sort out and I was pretty sure he would have by the end of the program. He had no issue that I wasn't a Blue, in fact it rarely came up that he was. Julie had a big issue with it, and that's her right as a parent, but I think asking me to fake it was just beyond the pale.

ETA: Reading this makes me realise how long it really is, and if you made it this far Good Job! I wish it was shorter but I just couldn't find a way to leave any info out without making things confusing
« Last Edit: March 28, 2011, 01:08:45 AM by tallone »


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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2011, 01:18:21 AM »
This story makes me so sad for Billy. I had a flatmate who had a mother very much like this. Flatmate managed to conform to the Purple ideals but I saw her heart break over and over as her desire to be herself conflicted with the Purple teachings and her mother got harsh on her (think: "you're going to a burny place" type harsh). Her brother was just never able to be perfect enough and so ended up completely off the rails - living on the streets, taking drugs - because he had no strategies to deal with the real world. His options were presented to him his whole life as "Perfect Purple" or "Total Failure" so when he couldn't achieve "Perfect Purple" he couldn't see another way. I'm certaily not saying that all religious parents are like this, far from it.

In terms of the etiquette of the situation Julie was completely disrespectful both to you and to her religion. I really don't see any other way you could have handled it but I still feel bad for Billy, and for you. The program sounds great, and your "little brothers" are lucky to have you!
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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2011, 01:42:35 AM »
I think your answer was very polite and respectful.

Why wouldn't she want to instruct her kid in her religion? Maybe you could say, "At [Buddy Organization], we believe that religious instruction is best left to the parents" if she brings it up again?

What a strange interaction.
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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #3 on: March 28, 2011, 03:13:05 AM »
Oh, that poor kid.  He's probably at least twice as confused now as he was before he met you.

Well, Tallone, at least he got to meet you and spend time with you, and you can be sure that some of what you talked about with him will stick.  What he got out of it won't be completely erased, I have to believe that. 

But... "It's worse now because now he wants to discuss things and work out an agreement," is just twenty-five kinds of wrong.   :(

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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #4 on: March 28, 2011, 12:55:38 PM »
If you really want to reach out to Billy, could you talk to a pastor of the blue persuasion, tell him how your program works, and tell the pastor to talk to Julie how your program fits in with blue beliefs?


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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2011, 01:10:35 PM »
She didn't want you to help him be a better man, she wanted to you make him a silent, obedient child. Poor Billy. :(
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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2011, 01:48:24 PM »
I think you handled yourself very well.  Perhaps in the future it would be helpful to make sure the initial interview includes acknowledgement that your program is non-religious.

I'm saddened that his mother yanked him out of the program.  He probably needs someone like you now more than ever.  Of course, it would be wrong to circumvent the mother.  However, does Billy know how to reach you if he ever needed to?  If not, is there a way to pass that information on to him?  I don't suggest trying to meet up with him without his mother's permission or knowledge.  I do think it would be good for him to know you are available if he ever wants/needs to reach out though.


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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2011, 02:54:41 PM »
Julie: I'm not sure it would be good for Billy to stay. He needs to be raised as a Blue and your program isn't offering him that.

Well, then, woman, RAISE HIM THAT WAY. He's not tallone's child; HE'S YOURS. Don't expect a volunteer to do your work.
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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2011, 07:24:19 PM »
A couple of things...

First, you're doing a wonderful thing.  I do work with "at risk" youth (not on a 1:1 basis like you) and I know how important what you're doing is.

Second, I think that your response was polite and appropriate.  I find it ironic that she wants her son to be brought up in the Blue faith, which presumably includes honesty among its tenets, but wants you to lie to accomplish that.  In those circumstances I could never say "The Blue faith says 'don't lie'" without choking.

It's very sad that Julie is so focused on her religion as the sole legitimate source of morality that she wasn't able to see the value in what you were doing.
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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2011, 01:55:52 AM »
Hey all,

thanks for the comments of support, this almost went into the "I Need a Hug" thread because I've been pretty bummed about the whole thing. Kinda hard to deal with getting involved in helping someone, caring about what they're going through and then get made to stop and know that nothing is going to change for that poor kid.

I might clarify that Billy is himself very committed to his faith and I think that is by choice rather than being forced on him by his mother. He did tell me once he almost left the church because he felt like it wasn't his choice, but after thinking about it he realised he really did want to be a Blue and that it was the right faith for him. I used that a couple times as an example to show him how he can think things through and come up with a positive solution and he really did relate to that example quite well.

I am a little annoyed however, on a personal level, that Julie does seem to believe that her church has a monopoly on being a good person since it does imply that since I'm not a blue myself I'm therefore not a good person. She obviously decided I was not a good person for her son to be using a role model and that stings.

Billy did have a lot of good things to say about his pastor and church friends so I hope they can provide him with an outlet. Almost all of the issues he brought up are by his own admission related to his parents: father isn't there and mother is there too much. I thought that the strategies for working with his mother that we were talking about would help them both get along; obviously it didn't.

Such a blooming shame. But the sheer audacity of her request is what gets me - I need to lie to pretend I've got a higher standard of morals in order to be good enough to help her son? Since when does lying give anyone the moral high ground?!


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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #10 on: March 29, 2011, 02:48:16 AM »
Such a blooming shame. But the sheer audacity of her request is what gets me - I need to lie to pretend I've got a higher standard of morals in order to be good enough to help her son? Since when does lying give anyone the moral high ground?!

Tallone, you've fallen victim to one of the classic blunders!  You're trying to apply logic where there is none.  You'll drive yourself crazy doing that.  She either wanted you Blue, or she wanted you gone.  She was never going to settle for anything else. 

There was nothing you could do about it, and it stinks, for you and Billy both. 

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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #11 on: March 31, 2011, 05:58:54 PM »
Tallone, you've fallen victim to one of the classic blunders!

Number 3?  (After "never get involved in a landwar in Asia" and "Never trust a Sicilian when death is on the line"  ;)  )

Sorry for the Princess Bride digression.

But seriously, Tallone, I think you have helped the boy, if he has any idea what's going on (and he probably does) you're showing him that other people, besides just Blue people, also stand up for what they believe in, or don't believe in, as the case may be.


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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #12 on: March 31, 2011, 06:12:29 PM »
I feel sorry for that boy because of his mother's attitude, and it's too bad that your mentoring of him got cut short because of her narrow minded attitude.   It's hard to learn to show people respect when you're not shown any.  That she's objecting to him thinking for himself and learning to talk things over sensibly is incredibly sad to me. 

From the time you did spend with him, it sounds like you did some  good and it's nice to know that the blue church is a place he feels safe so maybe that will help him.   

The sinister side of me says it would be just awesome if he learns from the blue church that his mother's not acting very blue at all. :)
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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #13 on: March 31, 2011, 07:41:48 PM »
Tallone, first, I want to say, thank you for doing this program.  It sounds like, not only are you actually getting out there and doing something really useful, but from your description it sounds like you also do it really well!  I'm impressed, and it's great to have people out there working hard and making a difference.

I feel so bad for Billy as well.  There's probably a pretty good chance that I'm a Blue, too, if my guess is right, and Julie's methods still make me shudder.  Talk about being a hypocrite on the lying thing!  And, honestly, if I were a Blue mother, and you weren't Blue, I would be really, really uncomfortable with you talking to my child about being Blue since you probably wouldn't know much about it.  It's such a strange request.  Totally POD Juana la Loca... if she wants him to learn about his religion, she needs to get off her butt and teach him about it.  Which it sounds like she isn't doing, since she wants him to obey without asking questions or getting into discussions.  Which, yes, has a place, because you do sometimes need your child to obey immediately without asking questions.  But if your child doesn't have opportunities at other times to ask questions, they'll never learn anything, and as soon as they don't have somebody to tell them what to do, everything will fall apart.
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Re: No, I won't fake belief when mentoring your child (long)
« Reply #14 on: April 01, 2011, 11:06:08 AM »
So you were supposed to lie to Billy- to teach him morals.


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