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The Mentor Time Matrix

Making the most of your limited time with your son or mentee.

Growing up, I didn’t realize how lucky I was.  I grew up with a mom and dad who lived in the same house.  Even way back then, some of my friends came from broken homes, but today, especially in low income areas, it is an epidemic.  In 2014, there were roughly 12 million single parent homes.  Eighty-three percent of those were homes in which the father was not present.  There were 17.4 million children being raised without a father, and about 21% of those live in poverty.  Nearly half of the single parent families in this country live in poverty.

When I was raised, both of my parents spent a lot of time with me.  In that time, they were able to ask me questions, teach me lessons, and give me plenty of static about the things I wasn’t doing right.  My parents could quiz me about the status of my homework, beat me over the head about my grades, discuss college goals, and enjoy a football game together all in one day.

Single parents have a tougher problem, and those fathers who may live apart from their children have an especially hard problem.  They may not have the opportunity to spend nice long days with their kids where a variety of topics can be comfortably covered.  Mentors have similar issues, as they may spend only a few hours a week with their mentees.Father find cigarettes in son's  school bag. Family scandal.

A few years ago, I mentored a young man who was struggling with his grades.  In my mind, his grades were paramount, and since I did not live with him, I felt the time I had with him needed to be focused on this, what I believed was the highest priority issue.  Since the grades never substantially changed, this resulted in me continually beating this poor kid over his head daily about his grades.  In my mind, how could I possibly spend time talking about lower priority issues when the most important one wasn’t resolved?  It’s a faulty thought process which I attribute to lack of experience.  But it’s potentially an easy trap to fall into when we feel we have to hit the most important topics with the limited time that we have.

How can we as mentors and non-resident fathers better compartmentalize, the way my father was able to throughout a typical day or week, while still communicating the important life lessons to the young men we are responsible to help raise?

The now famous Eisenhower Matrix, made popular by Stephen Covey, is a way of prioritizing tasks throughout your day and life:


Similarly, we can categorize the things that we need to communicate to our children as fathers and father figures.  We, as fathers, understand that there are some things that we need to communicate to our children that are positive, and some that will have more negative connotations for our kids.  We also know that there are some things that need immediate attention, while others can be addressed over a longer period of time:

Mentor Time Matrix


Quadrant 1: Negative and Immediate

Topics in this quadrant may include things that may be putting your child in immediate danger or harm.  It may be physical harm, but it may also include things that could irreparably affect the child’s future.

Quadrant 2: Negative and Long Term

In this quadrant a father might address things like grades or bad decisions that might have a longer term effect on the child’s life, but that could be corrected over time.Man helping young boy with homework.  Horizontally framed shot.

Quadrant 3: Positive and Long Term

Positive and long term topics might include thoughts about higher education, athletic training, or discussions about careers.  Some children may not view these conversations as positive because they may not be ready to discuss them, or they may feel they are discussed too much.  But they are necessary to construct positive goals and plans for the future.

Quadrant 4: Positive and Immediate

Topics in this quadrant is time spent together not tackling tough issues.  These are recreation and fun things a father and son can do together.

Unlike the Eisenhower Matrix, the most important thing to remember about the Mentor Time Matrix is that none of the quadrants is more important than the other.  They are all equally important and necessary in order to develop a strong bond and healthy relationship between father and son.

ThiStock_000069183537_Double-1e main mistake I made with my first big mentoring responsibility was that it felt to me like Quadrant 1 was the most important thing that had to be addressed in the limited time I had with my mentee.  Had I invested as much time in the other three quadrants, I would have fostered a stronger relationship with my mentee, and would have made his time with me much less stressful.  A balanced approach will yield a balanced relationship where the mentee understands that there is more to the relationship than correction and discipline, and that all aspects of his life and future are worth investing in.

Fathers and mentors can keep this matrix in mind and make a concentrated effort to make sure life with your son or mentee happens in all quadrants.  There are times now when I am mentoring, and I know I have been harping on some behavior that I believe needs to be corrected.  Before bringing up the topic again, I think about the other quadrants first, and evaluate whether I have spent enough time in them.  There are times when I feel like I am delaying an important but difficult conversation, but I remind myself that it is a long term process, and behaviors can’t be fixed overnight.  I also know that if I focus too long on one topic I will get tuned out.  I like to make sure that when he gets a call or text from me, he won’t automatically assume it will be a difficult conversation.

But what if you are the son or mentee, and you find your time with dad is not quality?  Here are a three ways to help improve your relationship in the role of son or mentee:

  1. Listen! If your father is spending a lot of time in one of the negative quadrants, first take some time to really consider what is being said.  Obviously, it is a big concern for the man who you look up to and who loves you so, even though it may not be pleasant.  Consider taking his advice.
  2. Get Specific! If there are topics or activities your mentor hasn’t introduced because he is focusing hard on one quadrant, ask him outright to help you with a college search, meet with your coach, or come to a game.  Let him know you’re not ignoring his concerns, but that you don’t want to ignore other aspects of your life.
  3. Educate! Share this matrix with your mentor, and explain to your mentor that there are other aspects of your life that are important and that you want him involved in.  Ask if he may be able to invest time in you developing other important aspects of your relationship.  Just presenting the concern in that way will potentially get his attention and open his eyes to seeing his relationship with you in a whole new light.iStock_000073745207_Double-3

Incidentally, harping on my mentee about his grades as though they were a Quadrant 1 problem was also a mistake.  This young man never spend any time with Quadrant 1 concerns.  I moved Quadrant 2 concerns to Quadrant 1 instead of celebrating the fact that there were no Quadrant 1 concerns. Don’t forget to celebrate the successes.

In today’s complex family structures, father-son time is limited.  It takes more planning and thought to make certain that the time you spend with your son or mentee not only provides the right information, but builds a positive and well-rounded relationship that will show him you are interested in all aspects of his life.


February 25, 2016 | News | 0

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