Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Getting Your Parents to Talk

The following is part of a letter I received recently. I thought perhaps it might be helpful to others.

Karen,
I am curious how you...got the old folks talking. It seems like when
I was young and not really interested, my mom had all kinds of stories
to tell. Now that she knows I AM interested, she seems reluctant to talk.
Of course, it doesn't help that we are several thousand miles away from
each other, but even when I visit, it's like pulling teeth to get her to tell
me anything. -Sherrie

Dear Sherrie,
I know what you mean. When I was interviewing my father for what eventually turned into a book, he wasn't real big on talking. Like you, I'd heard his stories many, many times as a child. That said, here are a few ideas;

1. Spend time with your mom on a regular basis and without an agenda. A consistent time, even if it is on the phone is likely to bring you closer to your mom. I think we all want to know that we are important enough for a regular call or visit. Eventually, that time may provide opportunities for stories to be shared. It may seem time-consuming but in the end it's really not that much time at all. And there's something about knowing that someone set aside Wednesdays at 9am every single week, that opens doors to memories.
2. Photos are a great memory-starter. So are memorabilia or even just walking around someone's house and talking about the items contained in it. People keep things for a reason.
3. Talk about your own memories. Share them with no expectation.
4. Ask about memories that are common, yet individual. Ask the "where were you
when...?" questions. For example, "Where were you when JFK was shot?"

Above all, don't give up. It takes time for people to share, but it's worth your
effort and patience.

Thanks for asking! Good luck and let me know what you learn. ~Karen

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