20 Questions to ask your parents…

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. It’s almost two years old, so many of you may not have seen it the first time.

…or your grandparents, if they’re still alive.

That’s my dear grandmother in the photo. She died two years ago, but I know she wouldn’t mind if I used this picture to demonstrate the unconditional love our parents and grandparents have for us.

Because they love us so much, we often don’t know very much about them. Their focus is on us, and until we’re adults, most of the time our focus is on ourselves.

I’ve been thinking about this question of what to ask your parents a lot lately, because I’m fortunate to still have both my parents alive and well. My husband lost his mother in his 20s and his father just before he turned 40. His mom died before he reached that sentimental stage when he might have started asking her what it was like to have 11 siblings, or why she didn’t like cats.

Lately he wishes he could ask her why there was no music in their home, even though there’s a photo of her playing the piano when his older sisters were very small, long before he was born. His father didn’t enjoy music, so he never heard it during his childhood, he didn’t even have a record player. But seeing that photo of his mom makes him want to ask her what kind of music she liked.

Here are some of the questions I’ve been asking my parents (and 91-year-old grandfather) lately. I’ve gotten some very interesting answers, and they seem to enjoy answering them:

1. What was your best ever family vacation?
2. Your favorite pet?
3. Your first love?
4. Your favorite teacher, and why?
5. Your best friend in grade school?
6. How did you meet (mom or dad)?
7. (If they were alive) what do you remember about VE Day?
8. (If they were alive) where were you when JFK was shot?
9. Do you remember watching the moon landing?
10. What’s your favorite movie, and when did you first watch it?
11. Who’s your favorite movie star?
12. What’s your favorite song?
13. What’s your favorite book, and when did you first read it?
14. Did you ever learn to play a musical instrument?
15. Did you ever win a trophy or award?
16. What was your first job, and do you remember your wage?
17. Do you remember the first TV program you ever watched?
18. Who’s your favorite comedian?
19. What’s your favorite childhood memory?
20. Who was your favorite president?

I like asking these questions as part of a conversation, but you can also ask them to write down their answers so you’ll remember them. Another idea is to videotape them if they’re not too self-conscious.

Most people love to answer questions about themselves and to reminisce. So go ahead, start asking questions. At the least, you’ll learn something about your parent or grandparent you never knew before. You may come to understand them better, learn to love them in a different way, and strengthen the bond between you.

Do you ask your parents or grandparents about themselves? What interesting tidbits have you learned in the process? Tell us in the Comments section.


  1. Elaine says

    When my mom was in the nursing home, I learned a lot about her childhood. She couldn’t remember what she ate for lunch, but she did remember her early family life very well. I wrote down everything I could remember about what my parents said about their childhoods, then their adult years, having a family,etc. I wrote their memories, then my own memories. I even wrote about how my mother kept house (a lot of hard work) and my dad’s time in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC, aka Roosevelt’s Tree Army). Then I posted the stories on our family website and got a lot of great responses from my siblings and nieces & nephews.

    Once these stories are lost, they’re lost forever.

    • Angela says

      Elaine, Isn’t it great that we can share these stories with our extended family through websites and blogs. Good for you for taking the time to make that happen! I love the idea. And thanks for commenting.

  2. Jennifer says

    This post is a wonderful reminder of how easy our histories can be lost simply through neglect. I grew up listening to the horror stories of how my Japanese grandmother survived in Toyko during WWII and how she came to be a war bride. Hearing how my (other) grandfather’s boat sank in the Hudson River and that he had to swim to shore has always been a fun story. These stories, told by my grandparents and parents have made me an inquisitive person. I love to hear my family’s stories and they have put real context to history for me. Sadly, my husband also never bothered to ask these questions. He doesn’t even know his mother’s favorite color (which is pink although she wears a TON of pale green and beige) or how his parents met (his father briefly went to a university near his mother’s home town where they met and got married before he transferred to another school). Obviously, I’ve asked them lots of questions and have gained a wealth of rich information about his family. I’ve asked a ton of questions to many people over the years and I’ve found that by simply showing my eagerness, I can ask even personal questions and get an answer (I recently spoke with a friend who generously shared her story about adopting). I think people naturally want to tell their stories, you just need to be willing to listen.

    • Angela says

      Jennifer, I agree that most people want to tell their stories, and just need a listener. I’m sure someday your husband will be very grateful for your curiosity and efforts to obtain some of his parent’s memories and his family history. Thanks for sharing!

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