What do you wish you knew about your parents? What do your children want to know about you? The following questions, culled from college students, can give tremendous insight into what to include in your own life story writing.
Over the years, Tom has guest-taught some college communications courses. He always asks the students to write down up to three (anonymous) questions they would like to ask their parents. The questions give us a fascinating glimpse into what parents think their children already know about them, what children are curious about, and above all, what adult children wish to learn from their parents (even if it may seem on the surface that the answer to that is: "nothing!")
Quite a few of the questions were common across many of the students, with variations in wording. Here are the five most popular questions:
If you had it to do over, what would you change?
What are your biggest regrets/disappointments/failures?
What have been your greatest achievements?
When you were a child/teenager, what did you want to grow up to be?
What is your fondest memory?
Most of the questions fell into four rough categories: Education/Career, Relationships, Life Philosophy, and Reminiscences. By far the most questions fell into the philosophical realm, which was interesting. These kids were most interested in knowing how their parents felt and thought about things, and even asked for advice. So if you are one of those parents who think your kids aren't interested in what you think, you may want to think again!
Life Philosophy questions:
- What made you happy?
- How did you become such a well-respected man?
- Is anything you still feel or think the same from the past?
- What was the hardest thing you have been through?
- How would you compare your self to famous people in history who made a difference?
- What would you want to pass on to your kids and grandkids?
- What do you wish you could do?
- What did you miss out on in life?
- What were the most life changing errors you made?
- How did you feel about your life and family?
- What to do you enjoy doing most with your free time?
- What is your purpose in life?
- What made you change?
- What experiences do you feel shaped you the most?
- What was the biggest challenge you overcame?
- What was your biggest fear as you started to come to adulthood?
- How were you a good husband and father/grandfather?
- Did you meet any of your goals in life?
- Where would you have liked to grow up?
- Why didn't you follow that dream?
- Did your life turn out how you imagined?
- if you wrote a book on key elements to good communication, how would you go about doing it?
- How do you see the world today?
- What kind of person are you?
- How did your religious conversion come about and what was it like for you?
- Why did you choose a lifestyle different from what you grew up in?
- What was your proudest moment before you became a parent? After?
- What should I not do?
Adult children also seemed to be quite curious about their parents' relationships, especially their marriage.
- What did you picture your future family life to be like when you were young?
- How did you and Mom/Dad meet each other?
- What do you do while you were getting to know each other?
- How did you end up together and stay together?
- When did you decide to marry mom?
- What made you want to marry dad?
- What is your favorite thing/character trait of your spouse?
- Why did you split up?
- How hard was it, raising children as a single parent?
- Who was your idol?
- How do you think you've influenced the people around you in your lifetime?
- Where did you get your people skills?
- How was your relationship with your grandparents?
- What were grandma and grandpa like as parents?
- Where are my ancestors from?
- How do you feel about me, my growing up and my dreams?
- Who was your greatest influence(s) growing up?
- How did you show your love for others?
Education and Career questions:
- What made you decide to attend the college you chose?
- How did you make the decision for your career?
- What gave you the determination to build your own company?
- What did you want to major in college?
- If you could have gone back and finished school, where do you see yourself?
- How did you get to be where you are today?
- How did you improve yourself and your situation?
- What would your dream job be?
- Why didn't you go to college?
- Why did you join the Army?
- Why did you do for your job?
- What would be your favorite thing to do to make a living—Or did you do it?
The students were also very curious about their parents' childhoods. This was the second most popular category.
- What was your childhood like?
- What was it like growing up in your hometown?
- What was the hardest part of your life growing up? What made you happy?
- What are your fondest memories?
- What was a normal day as a kid? Teenager? Before you were married?
- What is your biggest regret from childhood?
- What crazy thing did you do as a child?
- What was your childhood like, moving to the United States?
- When you were younger what did you think about life?
- What's your most exciting memory as a teenager?
- What was your first job?
- Did you ever picture yourself where you are today?
- What was high school like?
- What was one of your childhood imaginations?
- What were the best pranks you pulled?
- What did you love doing when you were my age?
- What crazy story or event did you never tell your parents?
Not all the questions were so general or philosophical. Some were quite specific, such as "How did you get from Laos to Norway?" Some were also extremely thought-provoking:
- What is the most hilarious screw–up that happened?
- Who's your favorite child?
- How did you become so selfish?
- What is the greatest thing to happen to you in your life besides me?
- Why did you not spend more time with our family?
- How in the hell did you put up with me and not kill me?
There you have it. Does this change your idea about what you think your children know about you, and what they might like to know? What would you most like to know about your parents?