Almost a decade ago, I crafted a list of questions for my kids to ask relatives at family gatherings. My children were in grade school and I wanted to give them a sense of their family history and help them see themselves as a part of something larger than themselves—which research suggests could make them more resilient, better adjusted, and more successful in school.
My children are grown now, and Mother’s Day has taken on a new meaning. What I want most now is to know my mom as an adult. She’s a woman who’s often been behind the camera recording our family history, but has rarely stood in front of it. So I’ve re-written the original 20 questions for kids to ask their mothers or grandmothers—perfect if you’re planning a multigenerational Mother’s Day gathering. And I’ve also written a second question set for middle-aged children like me to ask their mothers. I tried them with my own mother and, although I thought she wouldn’t want to be the center of attention, it turns out that she was delighted that we were so interested in her.
For kids to ask their mothers and grandmothers:
1. What do you remember about the houses you lived in as a kid? Which one did you like the best?
2. What did you have as a child that kids today don’t have?
3. Has anything ever happened at a family wedding that you’ll never forget?
4. Think of some relatives who passed away in the last few years. What would they be doing right now if they were with you?
5. Who has been your greatest coach in life? How have they coached you? What made them good at it?
6. When you were a teenager and young adult, whom did you go to for advice? Looking back, was it good advice?
7. What was your favorite movie or book when you were my age?
8. Tell me a story about a family reunion or family party that you remember attending as a child.
9. What was the hardest thing you went through as a child? How did you overcome it?
10. What are your favorite stories that grandpa/grandma told (or still tells)?
11. If you could know anything about our family history or about a relative who passed away, what would you want to know?
12. What is the most embarrassing thing your mother or father ever did to you?
13. What are your best memories of holidays or family gatherings as a child?
14. What three adjectives would your mother use to describe you? What about your grandmother?
15. Did your parents or grandparents ever lose their jobs? What happened? How did they start over?
16. What is the best thing that your grandmother ever cooked? What about your parents?
17. How did your parents change after they retired?
18. If you could go back to one day in your childhood, which day would that be? Why?
19. How are you most different from your mother? Your grandmother? How are you the same?
20. What did your grandmother(s) do with you that you loved? What did they do that you didn’t enjoy so much?
For adult children to ask their mothers and grandmothers:
1. What is your favorite scent? What scent makes you feel nostalgic?
2. What is your favorite song? What music makes you feel happiest?
3. What is your all-time favorite meal?
4. If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
5. What was the most unexpected compliment you ever received?
6. What’s something you used to (or still) make too big a deal about?
7. If you could change one thing about the way that you were raised, what would it be?
8. If you could change one thing about the way you raised me, what would it be?
9. What’s always been something that is hard for you to say no to?
10. Tell me about an event in your life that changed you, that you were never the same after.
11. What’s a secret that you always kept from your own mother?
12. What activity makes you feel the most peaceful, or the most free?
13. Tell me about a challenge you’ve overcome.
14. What do you have the most trouble accepting?
15. What’s a conversation you’ve been meaning to have?
16. Tell me about an important object that you lost. Do you wish you still had it?
17. What’s a rule you secretly love to break?
18. What’s something your friends know about you that I don’t?
19. What’s the thing that worries you the most?
20. What’s one day that you’ll never forget?
(These questions were inspired by Ester Perel’s game “Where Should We Begin?”)
Happy Mother’s Day to all those great moms and grandmothers out there (especially our own Nonie, Nana, and Oma)!