No one wants to think about their parents one day no longer being there for a phone call or a Sunday lunch. When you start seeing mom or dad slowing down and getting up there in years, you may want to begin having deep and meaningful conversations with them centered on learning more about their life stories.
It’s unlikely you know everything about your parents, so opening up to them and having them open up to you and tell you their stories can be enlightening and interesting. You may get pieces of your own history, or they may remember something funny you did when you were a child that you have no recollection of. They likely know things about your grandparents or your great grandparents, and possibly even further back that you never heard about!
Everyone should try to learn their story through their parent’s eyes. It’s likely you’ll find out things that are interesting, heartbreaking, romantic, bittersweet, and then some. Stories passed from generation to generation are the glue that keep people and their families together, and they help you learn who you are and where you came from. Below are some ideas on how to get your parent’s stories, as well as a few sample questions to ask.
1. Ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer.
Questions such as “How did you and mom/dad meet?” “What is your favorite childhood memory?” or “What is the best decision you ever made?” are some great open-ended questions to get the juices flowing and uncover some family history. Introducing photos you may want to know more about can also be a good ice breaker that can lead into any number of questions and discovering your roots.
2. Film it!
A great idea for getting your parent’s history is to film the interviews. Filming allows more emotion to be portrayed and will give you a way to always see your parents. Starting as soon as possible is ideal. The older your parents get, the more difficult it may be for them to remember details. However, telling their story can also be a great brain activity for parents who suffer from slight memory loss or dementia.
3. Consider interviewing your parents separately.
Your parents may have been married for 50+ years and experienced most of their lives together, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still their own individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, and stories that they may not have told each other. You might be able to capture more of who they are as individuals if you interview them separately instead of together. After you’ve talked with them separately, asking questions about their wedding or how they met may be more interesting if you interview them together so you can hear both perspectives.
4. Keep a notepad with you.
Sometimes questions you want to ask or may want to know the answers to come as a result of another topic your parents bring up. Having a notebook with you lets you takes notes and can help if you think of a question that you may not have initially asked, so you can write it down for the next session.
5. Be respectful of their wishes and boundaries.
Encourage answers to difficult questions or challenging times in their lives, but avoid certain topics if they are triggering or caused so much trauma it would derail your efforts and cause more pain than it’s worth. Know your boundaries and respect theirs.
6. Have an outline or a general plan for your interview.
Your plan could look like asking five questions about the same subject or event, or dedicating a certain amount of time to discussing photos or objects that have sentimental value for your parents. Group your questions so you can stay on topic and focused on obtaining that story.
7. Spread out your interviews.
Don’t try to do it all in one day! This could cause undue stress for both of you. Group your questions into bite sized pieces so no one gets overwhelmed, and you can organize your thoughts and questions into groups and focus on them one at a time.
8. LISTEN, have an open mind, have fun, keep your expectations realistic, and be patient.
There may be some questions that your parents will need to take time to think about, so don’t expect a complicated question to be answered in a day. Gently re-direct your loved ones if they begin to stray off topic or seem to be having a challenging time processing what you’re asking.
Many people talk and talk without ever listening and instead inject their own thoughts and experiences into something that is supposed to be for someone else. Stay quiet, calm, and patient and realize that there may be some answers to certain questions that may be shocking to you or make you uncomfortable learning the answer to.
We hope this inspired you to get your parent’s story! For more resources on getting your parents’ stories, visit Modern Heirloom Books and Desktop Documentaries. Both of these sites will provide you with some good ideas and helpful information for permanently recording your parents’ stories.