We spend so much of our lives with our parents and yet most of it is devoted to routine and commonplace things. We rarely discuss the profound. Time is short and unfortunately we are all getting older. There may never be a better time than now to have a meaningful conversation with your parent or parents. You sometimes hear people say that they regret missed opportunities while their parents were alive and that there were things they wish they had spoken about. Make sure that you seize the chance while you can. Here are some good questions to ask your parent or parents:
1. Can you tell me a story about your parents or grandparents?
Family history is much more than a family tree and a photo album. It is also a collection of stories which become your family folklore. Be sure to have some stories about your ancestors that you can pass on to your descendants.
2. Can you tell me a story about when you were a child?
Stories about their adventures, hopes, fears and relationships with friends and parents can be fascinating and revealing. Why not record them on video?
3. Can you tell me a story about me as a child?
Your parents will remember funny or embarrassing things about you as a little child. These will be handy when one day your child asks you question 2 above.
4. What is the one piece of advice you would like to share with me?
Your parents have a lifetime of experience and there are still things that you can learn from them. They may share something philosophical, funny or silly. Whatever it is it can pass into the family sayings and mythology.
5. What thing in your life made you the happiest or the proudest?
Let’s talk about the good things in their lives; their achievements, joys and moments of pride. You may yourself feature there.
6. What is your biggest regret? What would you have done differently?
Perhaps this is a sad area that you would rather not explore but sometimes the answer can be revealing and explain things about your parents that you did not realise or understand.
7. What event had the biggest impact on you?
What was it that made a really big impression? Perhaps it was something to do with a war or a disaster. See if you can learn exactly how they felt and reacted at the time. It might put something you had only ever read about into the personal context of your parent.
8. What plans should we make for the future?
Many people feel uncomfortable talking about future plans that include what happens after their parents pass. But these are important issues and it is better to broach them. Where will they live if they can no longer manage where they are? Is there a will? What do they want to do with the heirlooms? What sort of funeral would they want?
The next time your see your aging parents don’t just talk about minor domestic matters. Try raising some of the big questions above and then listen carefully to their answers. You may be surprised at what you learn.
Paul Sloane is the author of How to be a Brilliant Thinker published by Kogan Page. His other articles include:
11 reasons to be cheerful – how many apply to you?
Advice for a teenage daughter – 7 things you should never do