We spend so much of our lives with our family that it’s easy to take them for granted. We assume we’ll always be in touch, but that’s not always the case.
Reconnecting with your parents, grandparents, siblings and other relatives later in life can be challenging. But these conversations are often immensely rewarding and helpful as we get older.
Reconnecting with family can be challenging. Your family members are different people with different personalities, needs, and perspectives. They’ve all had their own experiences that may have affected their ability to connect with each other. Where do you start?
It is so important to have conversations with older members of your family while you still can. As they get older, the context of their memories may change, and it will be challenging to track down details later on.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s OK if they don’t remember everything or if they don’t know the answers to all of your questions; these are opportunities for them to share more about what they do remember. You can also offer up some things from your own life that might jog their memory or help them make connections between past events and current ones. If nothing else, asking about an old photo album is a great way to start.
Here are some questions to get you going. And remember, be patient with any and all rambling!
1. “What is something you’re proud of that I don’t know about?”
Everyone should be proud of themselves for something, but how often do we get to hear about it? This question is a great way to show your family that you’re interested in them and the things that make up their lives. You can start by asking about accomplishments, hobbies, or passions. For example: “What was your favorite project at work last year?” Or, “How long have you been playing basketball?” Or, “I bet having [a child] around makes you really happy.”
This is also an opportunity to learn more about yourself — by showing an interest in what matters most to them, they’ll likely share some details that might not have come up otherwise. And if there are questions on your mind (like whether one of them had an embarrassing childhood nickname), now’s the time to ask.
2. “What is your best memory?”
Be specific. Don’t be afraid to share something that was special for you, and don’t hesitate to ask your family about their best memories, too.
Don’t forget the bad stuff. Some of my best memories with family are also some of our saddest moments together — and vice versa. The whole point is to open up and share all of it, so don’t shy away from talking about the things that might make you feel vulnerable or uncomfortable.
3. “Can you tell me about the time when you were most afraid?”
“I’m sure you can think of many moments when you were afraid, but I would like to hear about one in particular. Can you tell me about the time when you were most afraid?”
- What was the situation?
- How did you overcome it?
- How did you feel about it at the time and how does it make you feel now, looking back on it?
- How does this relate to your life today [and your children’s lives] today?”
4. “What was your school experience like?”
What do you remember about your school days? If you’re estranged from a family member, this can be a good springboard to get started discussing key events and feelings. It can be fun for a person to rifle back through their childhood memories. Plus, it can reveal cool cultural and historical parts of your family’s history.
5. “What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?”
The advice we receive and the people who give it to us shape us in many ways. Older generations may have a wealth of tried and true advice that could be really useful to hear. There is something special about the advice of a loved one that resonates with you for years to come. Hearing about the best piece of advice someone has ever gotten can often be a goldmine — but it also usually reveals something intricate about that person and how the advice is or was applied to their lives.
Don’t be afraid to write these conversations down or record them in some way.
It can be intimidating to ask these questions at first, but once you get into the rhythm of things, it will become second nature. And don’t be afraid to write these conversations down or record them in some way — it will help you remember them and also allow you to share them with other family members. You can even use recordings as a tool for learning more about family history.
Include younger and older generations alike in these conversations.
By including both the younger and older generations in these conversations, you can learn from each other and build bonds with your family. Ask a grandparent about their childhood experiences and spend time talking about what it was like when they were a child.
Similarly, asking the younger generation about their lives gives them an opportunity to share their stories with those who have gone before them. You may be surprised at how much they know or how much their lives are similar to those of previous generations.
Be open, honest, and loving.
Being open, honest, and loving is the most important thing you can do.
When it comes to reconnecting with family, we all want our relationships to be filled with kindness and patience. We want to be present and listen carefully when someone is speaking. We want people in our lives who care about us enough not to judge what we say or how we feel. And above all else: We need each other’s love!
We can start this process by being open and honest ourselves and then asking questions that help us learn more about each other as individuals — “Tell me about your favorite memory growing up?” for instance. This will encourage those around us who may have been hesitant because they weren’t sure how much personal information would be too much for someone else’s comfort level — but now feel comfortable sharing as well.
Treasure the time you have with family.
Family is important to our wellbeing. Family can be a source of love, support, and connection. Family can also be a source of conflict and disconnection. Family can provide you with many memories, stories, experiences, and history that shape who you are today. And family members can teach us valuable lessons about how to live life well by how they lead their own lives today.
Family relationships are important because they help us feel valued and cared for — this helps build our confidence as an adult in the world today.
Reconnecting with family can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be difficult. It’s natural to feel trepidation when approaching older relatives who mean so much to you and want to share meaningful interactions with them. But don’t let those fears stop you from reaching out. With these questions as a guide, get started on the path toward more connection.