Do you know if your mother was popular when she was in high school? What about your father? Did he love athletics or did he work on cars after school?

What were your parents lives like when you were born? Were they excited or terrified or both? How long were they together before they had any children? How did you change their lives? How did your parents get along with their parents?

Family gatherings at holiday times are sometimes uncomfortable because family members don‘t necessarily know what to say after they have said hello and caught up on the latest news. If you would like something different to talk about, asking your parents these or any other similar questions is likely to start an interesting conversation.

My parents died many years ago, and one of my treasures is a cassette tape of a family history interview I did with them on a holiday visit almost thirty years ago.

I remember feeling a little nervous about the process. As a fairly new psychotherapist, I had been asking my clients about their family histories as a way of understanding how their earliest experiences influenced their lives. I wanted some answers from my parents in order to understand myself better, and I was afraid they would feel as if I was invading their privacy.

My mother actually was reluctant to answer my questions, but only because she couldn‘t imagine why I would be interested in her early life.

I remember how shocked I felt when I commented that she had worked in the family business as a small child, and she replied, “All immigrant families worked.“

Up until that conversation, I had not realized the impact that growing up with Russian immigrant parents had on her, although I certainly knew that my grandparents came from Russia. No wonder she taught me to concentrate so hard on being productive.

My father was quite happy to answer my questions.

He shared stories about how much mischief he had gotten into as a boy and a young man. He also shared how he had managed to keep his own mother in the dark about some of his escapades. Years later I discovered that my own son had used similar techniques to keep me from knowing what he was up to.

In learning about my parents, I did learn about myself. However there was an unexpected side effect of the conversation. Somehow, by trying to understand their lives, my anger and impatience with them for not being perfect parents evaporated. I found myself able to appreciate them for who they were instead of being unhappy about who they weren‘t. Naturally, our relationship improved.

Take your tape recorder and a list of your own questions to your family gathering. Ask your relatives to tell the stories you have never heard and collect the familiar stories as well. Ask your children to talk about their favorite family experiences too. Create your own treasure, and have a wonderful holiday season.

[tags]Parents, Personal Growth, Relationships,Aging Parents[/tags]