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Rose E. Bender, my mother.

My Mother, My Mentor

Mom 9-2012Mother’s Day 2016, I found myself thinking about my mother, who passed away two years ago, this week. I miss talking with her. For more than 25 years, we used to talk once a week. After my dad passed (they share more than 65 years of marriage), we talked every single day for five years and saw each other every day for the last nine months of her life. She was smart, observant, and caustically funny. She was also my mentor.

In her prime, my mother, Rose E. Bender, owned and ran a millinery shop for 12 years. After she closed the store, she worked as a receptionist in the busiest beauty salon in town for five years. Then she became a travel agent, the benefits of which opened the world to us. She did that for another 15 years before she retired. She was an astute businesswoman and a role model for my sister and me.

As a child, I thought she hung the moon. As a teenager, I resisted her with everything I had. As an adult, I began to appreciate her wisdom and the depth of her love and support.

I can hear her Long Island accent, now. She’d start with, “You listen to me…” and her pearls of wisdom would flow.

  • Always get the BEST! You deserve it and it’ll last longer.
  • Be on time!
  • When you look your best, you feel your best.
  • Ask for exactly what you want and need.

Her advice works in just about any situation. She lived by those words. But as a teenager and well into my 20’s, I couldn’t see that she was on my side, no matter what. From my perspective, she lived to stop me from doing what I wanted to do. I believed she wanted to keep me a child and not let me grow up. Maybe you can relate.

I always wished life could have been easier on both of us. If we’d had better communication skills and tools to help us, we could have enjoyed each other so much sooner. That’s why I’m excited to share the work I’ve been doing with one of my clients, Unlocking Futures in New York.

It’s About Us Mentoring Program for Middle School Students & Their Parents

In March, we launched a three-month-long mentoring program for gifted middle school students and their parents. Though gifted, some of these students come from difficult family circumstances or live in rough neighborhoods. They face the same doubts and social pressures that all teens face. This program is giving them the communication skills and tools my mom and I never had,plus a mentor to support them in integrating what they learn in the workshops so they can become mentoring partners. The goal is to help them succeed in middle school, graduate from high school, and go on to college.

Research shows that high school dropouts begin in middle school. Success in high school can begin in middle school!  The young people and their parents attended two half-day workshops per month for three months. Each pair also worked with a coach, a volunteer, who facilitated their home projects. I served as the Coaches’ Coach.

One of the first projects they did was to create a list called Conditions for Living Together as partners: chores, homework, respect, and more. It’s amazing how the young people took ownership of their roles at home because they and their parents worked on it together. We are seeing less arguing, chores getting done, and more time spent having meaningful conversations. The young people and their parents are enjoying each other’s company and becoming true partners.

Imagine having that kind of partnership as early as middle school!

Susan Bender Phelps. founder and lead trainer for Odyssey Mentoring & Leadership, works with companies, who want to maximize employee engagement, build leaders, increase profits and productivity, in other words, have employees who want to come to work. Susan is a corporate trainer, speaker and author –