They’re your parents — the people you should know better than anyone else. But you may be surprised at how much you don’t know about the people you’ve known the longest.
In advance of his mother Peggy’s 80th birthday, Mike Wallace purchased a memory book and encouraged his mom to get her life story down on paper. As he read through her notes, Mike found that he was astounded by the wealth of life experiences he never knew she and his father Gene had been part of.
“I decided I really wanted to share these revelations with the whole family,” Mike said. So, when the Wallace clan held a big weekend retreat to celebrate Peggy’s birthday, Mike took cues from his mother’s memory book to host a variation on 20 Questions that got the entire family involved.
“It was a great way to tap into the vault of my parents’ lives,” Mike said. “I made up some notecards with a numbered question on each. Mom and Dad sat in the living room and the rest of us gathered around, each of us with one of the notecards, and when our number was called, we got to ask our question.”
And the result? “I think all of us were shocked at the things we never knew about Mom and Dad.”
The stories Peggy and Gene told that night ran the gamut from first-hand historical experiences (keeping warm in the winter before central heating, for example) to remembrances of events that might have seemed minor at the time, but which spoke volumes to their family.
“One question we asked was, ‘What was your favorite food when you were a kid?’” Mike said. “Dad said his was bananas. He grew up during the Depression, and apparently, when he was 10 or 11, he would ride his bike down to the produce market on the day when the produce truck would come pick up the overripe bananas to get rid of them. They would give him these big bunches of bananas. That had to be a pretty terrific treat growing up in those days.”
The game lasted 2 hours, but Mike says it could have gone on much longer. “I only wish we’d started it earlier in the evening, because it went so well. It was just such a special night for all of us.” The Wallaces built a new piece of their family legacy that night; each person present went home the following afternoon with a better sense of who they are and where they came from.
Want that for your own family? What better time than the Christmas season to hold your own 20 Questions Night? The questions Mike used for his mother’s birthday party are below, but feel free to modify them to suit your own unique family!
Questions for Mom and Dad
- When and where were you born? What was going on in the world?
- Tell us about your parents and grandparents.
- Who was your favorite aunt or uncle and why?
- What is an accomplishment of which you are the most proud?
- Where were you on these important dates in history?
- Pearl Harbor, End of World War II, John F. Kennedy being shot, 9-11. What do you remember about those days?
- What was church like when you were young?
- What are some funny things that your children have said or done?
- What are inventions you remember seeing or using for the first time?
- Tell us about the early years of driving a car.
- What were winters like when you were young?
- Describe your school days.
- What are your memories of these holidays? Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, or others.
- What Presidents are most memorable to you and why?
- Tell us about animals in your life: dogs, cats, horses, or others.
- What family traditions do you remember as a child? As a parent?
- Have you had encounters with famous people?
- Describe your house when you were young.
- What are some memories of trips you have taken?
- What was your favorite food as a child?
- What are the first jobs you had?
Learn more about facilitating family conversations by watching our Education Series Video on Having Difficult Conversations.