In addition to helping you get to know them better, asking your parents questions about themselves can also help you accept them despite their shortcomings, says licensed marriage and family therapist Christiana Awosan, PhD. After all, none of us are perfect.
“Once you start getting to know your parents, you start realizing that they're also humans who have made mistakes.” —Christiana Awosan, PhD
“Once you start getting to know your parents, you start realizing that they're also humans who have made mistakes,” she says. “They’ve had horrible things happen to them and good things happen to them.” Understanding that your parents, like you, have personal experiences outside of being your caregiver gives you the ability "to really see them as human beings whom you can connect with,” adds Dr. Awosan.
Of course, some behaviors are inexcusable. With this in mind, the exercise of asking your parents questions to get to know them isn't for the purpose of clearing the slate of any trauma, necessarily, but to develop understanding. (And in the case that such trauma does exist in your relationship, it's best to seek the care of a licensed professional to help you work through it.)
Additionally, as children grow up, their relationship with their parents should change. Especially once the child is an adult, a less-hierarchical approach to this relationship is ideal, says counselor Liz Higgins, LMFT, founder of Millennial Life Counseling in Dallas. Asking your parents questions about who they are changes that I-know-best dynamic, because you’re curious about them and not just looking to them when you need something. But before you jump into the line of questioning, the pros have a few tips to keep in mind.
What to keep in mind when asking your parents questions to get to know them as people
First, this certainly isn’t a one-and-done approach. You should aim to have multiple or even ongoing question-asking sessions with your parents if your goal is to know who they are outside of your familial relationship, says Dr. Awosan.
Second, adds Higgins, make sure your questions aren't loaded with feelings you have about other issues. “As much as we're talking about having more peer-level, person-to-person conversations with parents, there can be deeper subconscious drives,” she says. For instance, you might ask your parents why they made certain parenting decisions. If there’s a response you know you want to hear, you might be better off picking a different question.
Last, remember that asking questions is, by nature, intimate because it requires self-disclosure—and people have varying levels of comfort around that. “Your parents might not want to talk about their life. It might be painful for them,” says Dr. Awosan.
With all of this in mind, work to formulate questions that you’re comfortable asking your parents that you also think they’ll be comfortable answering. Or, for some inspiration, check out the following 30 questions to ask your parents (some of which may not be applicable to your specific situation). The questions are categorized as icebreaker, casual, or intimate, to help ensure everyone involved feels comfortable.
30 expert-recommended questions to ask your parents to get to know them better
These questions don’t necessarily hit on the stressful or traumatic details, so asking them is generally a good place to start if you sense your parents might not love talking about more serious issues.
- Where did you learn X, Y, or Z?
- What was life like when you were growing up?
- What did you like to do alone while you were growing up?
- Who were your best friends when you were a kid?
- What did you like to do with your friends when you were younger?
- What would you say your superpower is?
- What do you like to do for fun?
- What are the things that you’re passionate about?
- What was your day like at work?
- What do you enjoy about your job?
To up the intimacy a notch beyond icebreaker-level questions, Dr. Awosan and Higgins recommend asking questions that may help you relate to your parents. Relational questions create a “day-in-the-life” scenario that allow your parents to explain what life is, and has been, like for them. These questions may also inspire thoughts on things that you can do together.
- What was life like when you were my age?
- What was the funniest thing that ever happened with your parenting when I was little?
- How did you meet my other parent and what attracted you to them?
- How did you decide that you were going to have me?
- What activities do you like doing with me?
- What’s your favorite thing about me?
- What would you like us to do for fun?
- How did you manage work and life when you were my age?
- What’s it like to see your children grown up and on their own?
If you know that your parents are comfortable talking about topics close to the heart (or would at least be open to them), the below questions might be a hit. When you’re getting to know your parents on a deeper, even more personal level, you want to hone in on how their experiences have shaped their personality, parenting practices, or worldview.
- How did you become who you are?
- What is your sense of how you were parented?
- What tips did you gain from your parents that inspired you in becoming my parent?
- Do you remember something impactful that happened as a child?
- What’s your favorite thing about yourself?
- What do you feel like you needed from your parents that you didn’t get?
- What was your relationship like with your grandparents?
- What was the most difficult loss you’ve experienced?
- What would you have done differently about X?
- How did you feel the day I was born?
- Is there anything about you parenting me that you would’ve changed?
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