Finding a Way to Better Relate to Your Parents
Have you lost one or both of your parents?
Would you like to record the memories of your parents while they are still alive?
Want to determine which moments were most precious to your parents?
Whether you are a teen or an adult, it can sometimes be challenging to relate to your parents—whether they are biological parents or adoptive parents. Through uncovering the moments most important to your parents, you’ll be able to glean some insight into their formative years and find some common ground to relate.
Think about it. You’ve grown up in different eras with different hardships and different social influences along the way. While you may be dealing with the effects of a highly digitized society, your parents may have been more worried about money, food, and reputation in their younger years. Whatever your differences, there are still plenty of similar aspects of growing up and living life in general that you can use to connect with them.
Finding the Moments That Mattered
When uncovering the moments that were most important to your parents’ journey, it’s essential to think of the process as telling stories. Each item of interest that you uncover can be told as a mini story. Then when you have enough stories collected, you can string them together to complete the picture of your mother’s and/or father’s lives and tell their story—just as it happened and just as they would like it told.
The Story Before the Story
What don’t you know about your parents before they were born? There’s a lot to be said for knowing the history of your family before you came into existence—not just for yourself but for your parents as well.
Is there anyone still alive that may have some recollections of those times? If so, take the time to interview them about your parents. You’ll be amazed at what they might remember. You’ll at least want to take photographs of any documents or mementos they may have from the time period before your parents were born.
If you can’t find any relatives that were alive before your parents were born, you may want to start digging for information. You can find access to birth records, marriage records, and death records as well as the events and social climate of the time. Here are a few good options for historical and family research.
- Local historian
- Town or city hall records
- Newspaper archives
- Records of military service
- Court records
- Tax records
- State archives (census, microfilm, Native American records, and pioneer certificates)
- S. Census Bureau (cities of residence, occupation)
- Nationwide Gravesite Locator
- Department of the Interior
With this information, you can start creating your family tree. Start from as far back as you can go: great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins. Then work your way forward in time until you get to yourself and any of your own descendants. Incidentally, Lastly has a fun and creative option for you to build your family tree online. So, it will be available for anyone you approve to have access. Keep track of all names, dates, and places to start creating your family tree.
If you want to get a little more personal, online companies such as Ancestry.com, 23andMe, and National Geographic offer DNA testing to help you discover your cultural heritage. By mailing a self-collected DNA sample of your saliva, you’ll receive a report detailing where your ancestry hails from (African, European, American Indian, etc.).
The Early Moments
Now that you’ve uncovered some family history before your parents were born, then you’ll want to get started on their early years. Search your home and ask your parents for any scrapbooks, memorabilia boxes or collections of mementos. Gather materials from relatives, if possible. Scrapbooks served as great places to store documents, notes, vital records (birth certificates), school records, diaries, letters, old photographs, and other important information of the time. You may also want to look through the family Bible. Oftentimes, people stored important documents there as well.
Once you have artifacts in your hands, look for the people who may have had a connection to those artifacts. Who knew your parents in their early years? Remember that every picture is a story. Every document has history. And every saved object contains a memory. These items could have been thrown away at one time. But they were saved for a reason. Find the reason and you’ll find your story.
Interviewing Family Members
Your next step will be interviewing your mother and grandmothers, your father and grandfathers, and other family members. Most people like to talk, and most people enjoy telling stories about themselves and the past. Your parents and your relatives will most likely be flattered that you want to know about their history. And they will probably be grateful that you’re taking the time to collect all of their information and stories in one place. What a gift you will be giving!
Create a system for keeping track of the information. Are you more comfortable writing by hand? Or would you rather have an audio recording of each session? The choice is both up to you and the comfort level of your interviewee.
Here are some recommended steps to get started on the interview process.
- Identify the relatives you’d like to interview. You may want to create a folder for each interview that includes photos, documents, and other items of interest as well as a list of questions you want to ask the specific person.
- Schedule a convenient time to interview each relative. You have a busy life, as do they. You’ll want to schedule a time where you won’t feel rushed. If it is overwhelming for either you or your family member to have a long interview session, you may want to break it up into smaller sessions. That way, your interview subject is likely to remember additional details in between each meeting. Allow plenty of time because it will mostly likely take longer than you think. Once someone starts talking, the time will pass quickly. We suggest at least a one-hour session each time you interview someone.
Also, let your family member know what you will be doing with the information you collect. This will prepare them, so they know what to expect and they can feel comfortable in sharing their personal stories.
- Prepare and practice your questions. While you’ve been discovering your family tree and discovering saved documents and mementos, you’ve likely had questions along the way. Go back to your list of questions and determine the best people to ask. Some questions may be specific to a single person or could be asked of several family members.
- Gather your supplies: folders, mementos, documents, paper, pen, pencil, tape recorder, etc. Keep everything in one place so you don’t forget something when you’re walking out the door.
- Set up for the interview. Find a comfortable spot to sit: perhaps outside or by a window will work. Or maybe you’d rather sit in a special room of the house that holds lots of memories. Be sure that all of your necessary tools are at hand so that you’re not digging for something or disturbing your interview subject’s train of thought.
- Hold the interview. Be comfortable, casual, and honest. You also want to be aware of your interviewee’s comfort level. If they are not comfortable talking about a subject matter, then switch gears to something else. Take the time to listen without interruption. The best stories often rise to the surface when the person can freely talk and express themselves. If you think of a question while they are talking, jot it down and save it for when they’ve finished their thought or story.
- Finish the interview. Respect your family member’s time. If you planned on an hour together, keep your word. You can always schedule another visit. Thank the person for their time and input, even if you didn’t get all of your questions answered. Ask them if you can follow up at a later time to see if they have anything else to add to their story. Once you start compiling the information and comparing the interview to other interviews, you may have a few additional questions too.
- Follow up. As promised, follow up with each individual. Give them the opportunity to expand upon any shared stories as well as share any additional stories they may have remembered since your last visit. Ask any further questions you may have.
Uncovering Lost Memories
Unearthing repressed memories or lost memories can require a bit of patience and skill. Save but a few rare people in this world, such as Marilu Henner, no one has a photographic memory. Our brains are wired to remember what’s important and forget what is inconsequential. In addition, different people have different levels of memory recall. While one person may be able to tell one long story after another, someone else may struggle with recalling the details of the past. However, we really do retain much of our past details. Memories can go dormant, but they often find a way to rise to the surface. And there are ways to jog those long-term memories.
Tailor your questions to the person you are asking. If you know them well enough in advance, then you may know how to change your approach. If not, you may have to change your questioning mid-interview. And that’s OK. If you’re not able to gather the information you want from one person, you may be able to ask someone else. Or they may remember at another time when they’re not feeling as much pressure.
One great way to trigger forgotten memories is to have photographs and items or mementos on hand. Sometimes viewing a photo or handling an object can be enough to uncover a lost memory. Then during the telling of a story, the person may remember something they thought they had forgotten. It is during these moments of discovery that the best stories often unfold.
If you have few or no photos or mementos, you may want to describe the time period in order to jog someone’s memory. What was going on during that golden age? Talk about who was president, what was happening at the time, what life could have been like, who was alive in the family at the time, etc. Take the time to set the scene, then let your family member take the story from there.
Discovering the Moments that Changed Them
As you have experienced many milestones in your life, your parents also experienced numerous milestones in their lives. These moments likely shaped them and helped form their legacy. They likely had different hardships than you did growing up… different challenges and different successes. These highs and lows of life were also times of trial and tribulation and times of high, low, and extreme emotion. Let your parents tell these stories in their own way. Be respectful of how you interpret these events in their lives. These are the moments that shaped their lives, and the memories they may find most valuable in terms of how they became the person they are today.
Here are some moments that you may want to talk about when reviewing life:
- Witnessing an important moment in history
- Getting their first paycheck
- Driving alone for the first time
- Their best read ever
- Former pets
- Relating to your parents as an adult / having an adult conversation
- Getting engaged
- Getting married
- Having children
- Becoming a grandparent
- Favorite foods
- Special trips
- Falling in love
- Heartbreak and emotional pain
- Something spontaneous
- Awards and achievements
- Doing something she / he didn’t think they could do
- Family vacations
- Attending the event of your dreams
- Work / career
- Military service
- Giving to others / volunteering
- Watching your parents interact with your child
- Making someone else’s dream come true
- Appreciating a moment
- Important things that have changed over time
- Goals achieved or not reached
- And more!
If your parent is not sure where to begin, ask them about what life lessons were most valuable to them. When were the times that they faced a fork in the road? What are their biggest regrets regarding the choices they made, their words and actions, and perhaps the road not taken in life?
This is also a great opportunity for great introspection on your own life. What can you learn from your parents’ successes, failures, and regrets? Is there something you need to change in your own life? A different choice to consider? Someone who should know how much they mean to you? Or perhaps a wrong that you can make right?
Getting Other Opinions
If you’re interviewing both parents, you have a great opportunity to discover what they think of each other. If your parents aren’t married, you may want to avoid this topic. However, if your parents are still together, arrange a time to speak to them separately. Find out why they chose the other person as their spouse. Find out what they’ve learned together, what they’ve taught each other, and why they are still happy today. Do they wish they had done anything differently? What are the truly important things they have discovered throughout their time together?
If you plan to interview other family members or friends, try to get their opinions of your parents as well. Your parents’ siblings and your own siblings may have a different perspective. What might your parents’ friends have to say about what is most important to them? What important memories do you or your siblings have that your parents have forgotten?
Your Parents as Parents
Becoming a parent is perhaps one of the biggest life experiences one can have. Once your first child is born, you must quickly transition from only having to care for yourself to being required to care for and fully support another human life.
This is where you can start telling your part of the family history. What do you remember about being born? What is your earliest memory? What values and responsibilities did your parent teach you and your siblings?
You may want to write this part of the story from both your adult perspective and your perspective as a child. Writing history from a child’s perspective can be a challenge, but it can also give you a different, more honest, and more pure view of events that took place.
Think about the connections that both you and your parents have to previous generations in your family. What are some similarities and differences in life experiences, values, and societal influences? What are some memories that have been passed down about older generations?
Parent-child relationships are among the most important in our lives. As babies, we were completely reliant upon our parents for every need. Our parents were our first teachers. And as we grew older, we paid attention (more than our parents would have liked) to every little detail, every word said, every action taken. And then we blossomed into mother-child and father-child relationships. We learned to relate to the opposite sex by how our parents related to one another.
What did it take for your parents to become authentic leaders to their children? Did they have any moments of self-discovery along the way? What were your school years like… doing homework and taking part in extra-curricular activities and sports? How did your life change as you grew and how did your relationship with your parents change?
Write about raising your own children. Talk about how the experience of being a parent has emotionally changed you. Were there any moments when you discovered the importance of being a parent? How did you make time for your children? What was it like raising young children, young athletes, and teenagers? And what was it like for your parents to do the same? What were the blind spots that you all encountered? And how did you grow from those discoveries?
Discover the Real Reason Why You’re Uncovering These Most Important Moments
During this process of uncovering your parents’ history, you’ve likely discovered much of your own history. By uncovering the moments that mattered most to your parents, you may have been able to reprioritize what matters most to you. Learning your family history can be a therapeutic way to take stock of your own life and accomplishments.
Memories get fuzzy over time, so a written family history is a wonderful gift for all family members to use. If you have any family members who may suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or just long-term memory loss as they grow older, your family history will be a wonderful tool to help them remember.
Further, you can help preserve the memories of the women in your family. Women tend to get forgotten in history. Their names often change as they marry and their contributions may have been viewed as less important in years past. So, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. You’ve created something that cannot be taken away.
As a final note, we recommend that you keep several separate copies of your research and family history. You may want to scan some copies and store them digitally, keep a set of copies in a safety deposit box or give copies to multiple family members. That way, if you suffer a disaster or other event, all will not be lost. Another option is to open a Lastly.com account and upload your memories to our secure, cloud-based website. We’ll be happy to help you create a beautiful representation of your family history.