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How Well Do You Really Know Your Parents?

Start the conversation with some key questions you should ask

By Susan Suben

mother and daughterBoth of my parents lived well into their 80s. We were very much a part of each other’s lives but I came to realize that I didn’t know as much about them as they knew about me. We would talk every day but mostly about incidental things. How do you feel? What did you do today? What are you making for dinner? How’s the weather? But who really were they? I know I missed many opportunities to start an open dialogue to find out about their childhood memories, dreams, hopes, accomplishments — what made them happy. Now that they are gone, I will never really be able to recreate their pasts unless it is through secondhand information from a relative or friend.

In this day and age, many people don’t talk to one another anymore. They are too busy texting, Facebooking, tweeting, etc. The art of conversation is becoming a lost art. Yet, it really is the only way to get to know someone.

As I surf the web to find topics of interest to write about, I came across a site called Its title page is “Conversation Starters: 20 Questions to Ask Your Parents.” The questions, compiled by elder care experts and editors, are ones that they would like to ask their parents and in exchange start a dialogue to better get to know one another. In other words, start a conversation.

I actually enjoyed answering the questions for myself and shared my history with my son. Inner reflection is good. It can give you a new perspective on where you have been and where you would still like to go.

Please consider taking these questions with you when you next visit your parents. Pick the ones that you feel will give you the greatest insight to get to know and appreciate them. Try to stay away from the ones that may cause old conflicts or hurt feelings to come to the surface.

1. In what ways do you think I’m like you? Not like you?

2. Who is the person who influenced your life the most?

3. Do you have a lost love?

4. Which new technology have you found the most helpful in your life? Which do you find the most annoying?

5. Is there anything you have always wanted to tell me but never have?

6. Is there anything you regret not asking your parents?

7. Do you wish anything had been different between us, or would you still like to change something?

8. What was the happiest moment of your life?

9. What are you most proud of?

10. How did your experience in the military mold you as a person?

11. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?

12. What is your earliest memory?

13. Did you receive an allowance as a child? How much? Did you save or spend it?

14. Who were your friends growing up?

15. What was your favorite thing to do for fun?

16. What was school like for you as a child? What were your best and worst subjects?

17. What school activities/sports did you participate in?

18. Do you remember any fads from your youth? Popular hairstyles? Clothing? Music?

19. What world events had the most impact on you?

20. How would you like to be remembered?

Being that I am deeply involved in aging issues and care coordination, I have added a few more questions below that could help you understand your parents in the present time as they age.

1. What can I do for you now that will make your life easier?

2. Do you still enjoy living in your home? Your neighborhood?

3. Are you experiencing any medical issues that are causing you concern?

4. Would you like me to come with you to a doctor’s visit?

5. Have you been meaning to do something that you have been procrastinating about?

6. What items are on your bucket list that you would still like to do?

7. Would you like to spend the day together, just the two of us?

8. Can I help you sort through things in your house that you’ve been meaning to organize?

9. Is there anything that you would like to be different between you and your family, grandchildren?

10. Do you have a Power of Attorney? Living Will?

When your parents are gone, their history is gone with them. You may have their pictures or other mementos as a keepsake but not their voice, their feelings — their essence. Take time in the present to enjoy their company. It may shed some light on who you are.

Susan Suben is a senior certified adviser and president of Long Term Care Associates, Inc. and Elder Care Planning. She is a consultant for Canandaigua National Bank & Trust Company. She can be reached at 800-422-2655 or by email at