Questions to Ask Your Parents by Meggin McIntosh, PhD
Regardless of how old you are, you may have already lost a parent. And, chances are that if you haven’t, it won’t be too long before you are faced with that loss.
Note: This was written about a 2 months before my mother died but I’ve left it in, as I had written it.
My mother is currently in a nursing home and is not doing too great due to dementia, so there will not be significant improvement before she dies. Given that, I am having a lot of regrets right now, including wishing that I had asked her a lot of questions when I could (i.e., when she could answer). Unfortunately, it is not an option now – so I can only recommend these for your consideration.
These are just some of the questions I wish I had asked my Mom – instead of some of the meaningless questions I asked that just filled the time (and I hope you learn from these suggestions):
- What do you most regret about your life? What would you have done differently if you could have? Imagine the lessons that someone in their sixties, seventies, or eighties could teach you.
- What strength do you wish you had possessed in earlier parts of your life, such as your teens, twenties, thirties, and so forth? Notice and ask about why certain strengths repeat themselves in your parent’s answer and why other ones change.
- What are you thinking about now…about death? I started thinking about this question soon before my dad died and wish I had asked him. Now, as my mom is relatively close to death, I wish I could ask her this question, too. However, it’s not a bad question to ask someone anytime, particularly as they get older. It would provide insight just knowing different people’s answers.
- What has been your biggest disappointment in life? And, what has been your greatest accomplishment in life – so far? Wow. Especially as your parent ages, you may receive some incredibly honest answers. Why would they need to posture at this point?
- What do you wish you had asked your mother, father, siblings, or others before they died? What are those questions that you really wish you had sought out answers to – before it was too late to do so? If you have a mother like mine, she has thought about things like this. Or, if she hasn’t, your question will prompt some fascinating reflections on her part. Believe me…I wish so much I had asked questions like this instead of just talking about things that flat out didn’t matter.
- Was there someone you almost married instead of dad and sometimes wonder what would have happened “if”? Tell me more about that. Questions like this give you some of your parent’s stories. These are stories that aren’t written anywhere except the person’s heart and you don’t want those stories to die with him/her.
- What advice would you give me about life, about people, about relationships, about work, about home? My guess is that you have gotten PLENTY of unwanted advice from your parents throughout your life. But now, see what you get when you ask for it. It may be the same or it may be very, very different. Either way, it’s worth getting. If you’re smart, you’ll set up a tape recorder (or other recording device!) so that you capture it. Someday, you’ll wish you could have your mom or dad’s voice to listen to.
- What one thing would make you feel better today? Often times we do what we think will help the person feel better but it’s not what they need at all. So ask.
- When did you feel prettiest (or most handsome) in your life? Generally, as we age (past a certain point), we are not looking better. All I need to do is look in the mirror to verify that fact! But with an aging parent, you are helping them bring up a positive, special time in an earlier part of life by asking this question. It’s a gift to help them reflect on such a positive memory.
- What question should I be asking you so that I can live the best life possible? This is not that different from an interviewer asking you this type of question when you are interviewing for a job or a promotion. It’s quite open-ended and will allow your special person to give you a window into a lifetime of living and learning.
As I am writing this, it is too late for me to ask my mother (and my father) these questions. I hope it is not too late for you. Just ask one a day and see what happens with the relationship.
If you like these tips you may be interested in the Get a Plan! Guide® to Codes to Use When You Are Completely Overwhelmed as the Child of Aging Parents. In this special Get a Plan! Guide® that was written to reflect Meggin’s own experiences near the ends of her parents’ lives, you will learn 10 codes to apply to your list of oh-my-gosh-how-can-I-get-everything-done-because-I’m-freaking-out items. These codes, along with Meggin’s suggestions, will help you gain some perspective and will help you approach your list – and your responsibilities – in a different manner.