Do you fall in that common trap of talking about the weather and health problems every time you talk to Mom or Dad on the phone or in person? Or do you slide with them into worrying about family finances, today's headlines, and when Aunt Martha is going to get her knee replacement? If you are a daily caregiver for your mom or dad, do you think regularly that there is nothing left to talk about--and if you hear that "same old story" you're going to scream? If your mother or father lives in a nursing home or retirement community, are you a clock watcher and can't wait to end your visit after just 10 minutes?
Well, you're not alone. If any of these situations fits you, then it's time to step back and make some changes so conversations can be more meaningful for both you and your parent or parents. After all, there's no sense wasting time, and they still have much to give and share.
The next time you see your parents, it's time to empower them to reminisce in a new way, with a bit more structure. You see, it's important for you to take the lead on this and ask them questions that typically don't come up in normal conversation. Most will be happy to answer if you can genuinely show you're interested. I know it may be hard to believe, but it might even be fun for you to transport them to a different time and place through the questions you pose. These are things that you may have never discussed before, or maybe you have but you'd like to hear the story again and maybe actually record and preserve it this time.
The key thing is to realize that their stories are an incredible gift to you, and it's important for parents or grandparents to know that you actually want that gift badly. Okay, so you might be thinking you don't want the gift of their stories right now because you've heard it so many times or you're busy (or that you'll always remember that story so there is no need to write it down). But too many people regret not capturing the stories while they had a chance and they find it difficult to remember the details later. Many people tell me, "If only I would have written some of those stories down."
Before I give you some ideas of questions to ask, let's stop for a moment and think about the importance of our mothers and fathers. Many of these men and women have been called the Greatest Generation. We all know they have lived through extraordinary times--the Great Depression, World War II (only 18% of these veterans still remain with us), and massive changes of the 20th and 21st centuries. They were inventors of the incredible technologies we use today. They raised 77 million baby boomers, for goodness sake! So they certainly have a life story to tell. How will you capture the essence of who they are while you have the chance? Wouldn't it be great to have their words of wisdom to share with the grandchildren?
Here are a few sample questions to get you started. Have a pad of paper and pen or a tape recorder handy, and if your parent is willing, give it a try:
1. What is the greatest invention that has come along in your lifetime so far? Why was this invention important to you?
2. When you were a child or teen, what were your dreams and plans for the future? What did you want to be when you grew up?
3. Remember a memorable or funny experience you had on a date.
4. Where was your favorite place to live and what made that place special?
5. It's been said, "The best things in life are free." Is this true?
6. What is your favorite memory of Christmas or Hanukkah or your other favorite holidays?
7. What was the best gift you ever received and why?
8. What does it take to succeed in life?
9. What has life taught you?
When it comes to helping our parents' record their life stories, there's no time like the present--and no better gift to the future.