Weekly Challenge #5

How much do you know about your parents? Obviously, you know the basics, but how often do you really ask them about themselves? Here’s the fifth challenge…

Interview your parents.

Ask about their childhoods. Their hopes and dreams. Exactly how they met and their first impressions of each other. Whether they were nervous to have kids or what they wanted to be when they grew up. What their favorite book is and why. Where they would go on vacation if money were no object.

It’s surprisingly easy to get in a conversation rut with your parents, don’t you think? My mom and I talked ALL the time, but we mostly talk about day-to-day happenings, not bigger picture stuff. My mom could come visit for a week, and we’d chat non-stop, but I wouldn’t think to sit down and ask her real questions. Plus, let’s be honest, with most parent/child relationships, you talk mostly about the child, right? My mom will talk endlessly about whether I like the book I’m reading, or if I should cut my hair one inch or two, or if I’ll choose to get guacamole on my Chipotle burrito. And she really cares. But now I want to turn the tables and know every detail about her.

So this week’s challenge is to interview your parents. Ask them questions that you normally wouldn’t. I bet some answers will be surprising! (We did this with my grandparents once and it was awesome! Apparently when my grandfather asked my grandmother to marry him, she said, “I reckon so”:)

Are you game? Any ideas for good meaty questions?

P.S. Dads are the original hipsters, and you ever pay for your parents?

(Photo of my parents. Graphic design by Rachel for Cup of Jo)

  1. Hi Joanna,

    Just adding my two cents. Looks like I’m a little late to this party. I interviewed my mom and posted on my blog for Mother’s Day. Was a fantastic bonding experience for us and was one of my favorite blogging experiences so far (I feel like it brought me some inspiration on how I want to raise my kids as well). anyway, thanks for the always inspiring posts!

  2. Somewhat in the same vein I have asked for a family tree for my 30th birthday. At first my mom thought it was surprised but within a day she started sending me all sorts of interesting stories as she was building our tree. For example, my great aunt escaped from a burning building in her nightgown and two mismatched shoes. I’m so excited to build out this history and get to know everyone’s stories.

  3. Oh, I love the Andys!

  4. Love seeing ole engagement or wedding images of parents, great to see live from back then. Love the mage, so funny looking. From engagement rings

  5. I really like how your class timings of your blog. I enjoyed reading your blog and it is both instructional and interesting.Thanks!

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  6. great eyebrows and hairdo on your pops! i used to stay with my grandma lil every summer, we used to share a bed and would stay up long into the night talking and talking. i’m so glad as i got to find out lots of stories about her life. we used to look through all the old black and white photos and she’d tell me who everyone was. in a stroke of genius quite untypical of a teenager i WROTE ALL THE NAMES on the backs, yay! you can see some of the photos here;

  7. Wow. I guess I must have been an overly inquisitive child because I know all of that stuff about my parents already!

    I would like my husband to do this with his parents. He doesn’t even know where his father grew up or if his mom has a middle name!

  8. Such a good idea! I just read an article that said that children who knoew their family origins oftentime feel stronger and more confident about themselves.

    xo green gable

  9. I think this is rockin’ idea. After 35 years of life with my folks and being their only child, I feel like it’s my duty to know every last detail about their history to be able to carry it on, and I certainly don’t know enough. Thanks for encouraging this.
    Have a great weekend!

  10. LOVE this challenge! Strangely enough, I just had a conversation with my Mom about what her initial thoughts were on my Dad.
    They were in a Poli Sci class together at Cal State Fullerton and she noticed him watching her. She was afraid and nervous to talk to him because she just knew she was going to marry him, that he was her future. She could feel it. Isn’t that wonderful!?
    There is so much to be learned from our parents. It’s true, we don’t ask about THEM as much as we should. It’s fascinating stuff!

  11. Though my father married my step-mother when I was old enough to know how they met and the details that followed, I really felt the need to know more about his and my mother’s story at the beginning. My mother passed away when I was little and I’ve been collecting their stories ever since. One thing that stands out about their meeting: My mother loved JFK. On the day he was assassinated, my mother was visibly shocked and my father- having just moved into the apartment complex in New York where she had also just moved into the week before- began a conversation with her about the event in the elevator. They fell in love immediately. He proposed to her three months later. I’m told by all family and friends that they were a perfect match. And from my memory of them together, they sure were.

  12. I talk to my parents ALL the time and I love it!

    I live far away from them but the closeness feels every time I talk to them.

    However, your post made me stop and ponder…

    You are right!! There are little things that I don’t know. I guess we are always talking about myself which may be a little selfish but they’re the ones asking all the time haha

    Anyways, I will ask deeper questions when I have a chance.

    As always, your posts are beautiful!!

  13. Oh such an important goal! I’ve been interviewing my mother and one of my sisters both formally and informally over the past three years. I have found understanding my mother’s journal essential to understanding myself and my own journey into adulthood/wifehood(sp?)
    You learn such interesting things when you get honest!

  14. I’m actually a U.S. History/AP Gov teacher and I’ve done this. I was absolutely fascinated by their accounts of living through the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and the hippie movement of the 70s. Amazing the stuff they’ve lived through and all the changes they’ve experienced. Very cool idea!

  15. I think this is so wonderful. My mother passed away about a year ago, so I think it’s so important to appreciate our parents while we have them. The kind of love that comes from a parent is so special. Luckily, I feel like I know a good amount (I was and am a very nosy curious kid) and was always so curious about their lives growing up in another country, but of course there are so many things I wish I knew more about. I especially loved hearing the stories of how my parents met and what they were like as kids. When I have kids, I’ll definitely be telling them lots of stories about my past, which hopefully they’ll appreciate one day :)

    One thing I loved to do was look at my mom’s old photographs, so I’d sit next to her and ask her questions about them and I learned a lot from those moments.

  16. I’m so onboard with this challenge! So important to know our family stories!

  17. This is such a lovely idea :) Definitely one of your better challenges. Just realized I know very little about my parents – this needs to be rectified.

  18. I love this idea. Having just moved away from my family, this is a great way to stay connected. My mom moved to San Francisco when she was in her early 20’s, stayed for a short time then came back got married had 3 kids in suburbia, divorced and now lives a pretty lonely life. She doesn’t say much about SF, but I can tell there is something there as her gaze softens and I can memories are swarming her. She never traveled again in her life. I want her to share what happened there, and this might be the way to for her to do it. Thanks for this idea.


  19. This just made me cry. I lost my mom 3 years ago to cancer. I feel like I finally have my shit enough together to actually have these types of conversations with her but now she is gone.


    ok, I did a post about my grandmother along this line.

  20. Well, I know lots about my parents; they’re old you see, and I’ve known lots about their childhood since they both were kids during WWII, and they talked about it a lot! I know all about my mom’s disastrous relationship with her dad, I know all about how they met, I know all about my dad’s admiration for his parents, what I knew little about was what really happened during the Algerian war from 1960-1962 where my dad fought as a young man. (we’re French)
    But lately, he has been talking about it a lot, and it’s not prettty, but I’m glad i know.
    I think I know pretty much all there is to know about them, because I’ve been talking so much more about them than about me.
    I think this game should be played the other way around, I think my parents don’t know me at all!! They never ask me anything apart from my health and how my kids are, oh well, that’s how they were raised, and I really don’t mind.

  21. I like this idea. Most of my grandparents have passed away and I don’t know those details. I don’t even think my parents know those details. I should know for my kids so I can tell them one day! LOVE! :)

  22. Great idea! I love the photos you post of your family. I can’t ever get over how beautiful your mom is, such a natural beauty!

  23. A little unrelated, but it made me think of this. I once was looking through an old album of my dads and I found this insanely adorable letter he wrote to my mom before they were married, maybe when they were 22 or so. Its a fake dating service he made up, and wrote the profiles for both himself and my mom :)
    I once uploaded it to my blog, so I am sharing xo
    page 1 –
    page 2 –
    page 3 –
    the cute couple –

    sue’s life motto “i’ll get my man”
    john’s “you got em”


  24. love it! my mom, my brother, and I actually started interviewing my grandmother on video last year just for fun and we got some amazing stories out of her about growing up, dating, getting engaged, and everything that came before she created us! We found that if we asked one question to get her started she would remember a million incredible stories that she could talk about for hours without much prompting :) Plus it will be so special to have the videos of her after she is gone

  25. I have done this all my life with my parents and grandparents and so have my children.
    We have a large extended family although I only have one brother and I had 2 children. But there are dozens of cousins and a history/heritage rich in good adventure stories, life changing stories and best of all, love stories.
    It is a wonderful thing to be able to see your parents in a different light .. your grandparents too .. I love the stories about my mother in law, her flight from European horrors, family stories, happy endings and beginnings.
    Go beyond just asking and talking, write it all down for your children.

  26. I love this. And what a wonderful photo of your parents.

    For Christmas, I got my dad this book:

    and will cherish it forever. It’s so wonderful to have so many of his stories written down in this own handwritting and flow of thought, I can never read it with out tearing up.

    I’m going to get my Mom this one for Mother’s Day:

  27. “I reckon so” ha! that is an awesome response :)

  28. great idea. Now…i really need questions b/c I’m pretty sure I would go off tangent talking to my mom. need to stick to script & film it for my kids.

  29. I asked my mother questions about how she and Dad handled moving in together after the wedding. For example, did he just show up at the house with a suitcase? When? It turns out that he didn’t actually move in until after the honeymoon.

    My mother, in somewhat typical fashion, was paranoid about why I was asking the questions. She’s not all that introspective!

    • What a good question! I have no idea if my parents lived together before their wedding or how they moved in together. Definitely going to ask this now!

  30. I love these challenges, especially this one, thanks Joanna! I was on a long car drive with my Dad a few months ago and it was the first time, probably in years, that we had so much time together – just the two of us. We got to talking about what things were like when he was growing up, where he traveled, who his friends were – it was just so much fun to get to know him as a boy and not just as my Dad. And I realised, he’s actually a pretty cool guy! I’m going to try out this challenge the next time we hang out – such a beautiful idea.

  31. Hi Joanna! I absolutely love this. Inspired by a recent fascinating article in the Times, I sent out an email to every member of my immediate and extended family, asking basic questions like “Where did you meet your spouse?” and “Which cities have you lived in?” to make sure I’m gathering and documenting all this family info for generations to come. With family spread out all over the world, I’ve gotten to a point where I sometimes feel like I don’t really “know” them, and I’m old enough to really value these stories.
    Anyway, the article is all about research that shows that kids who know their family’s stories are more confident, have higher self esteem, and are more successful in life. It’s here:

    Glad you’re encouraging so many others to take on this challenge!

  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week. My mom passed away on Friday – we talked ALL the time but it was mostly about the day-to-day stuff. This week as we remembered her, we heard so many great stories from her past from all of her friends and family.
    I told my dad that he needs to start writing all of his stories down – everything he remembers about my mom and his relationship and their childhoods and families.
    I wish I had asked my mom more sooner!

    • jm says...

      So sorry about your mom.

  34. This was one of my new years resolutions! So many people in my family have terrific ‘famous’ stories they tell – I want to capture they way they tell these stories on video so future generations can hear the epic family tales from the legends themselves. Such a fun challenge!

  35. Such a beautiful idea! I am currently going through a book with my dad called: “My Dad: His Stories, His Words” which has been a really wonderful way to get to know so much more about who he was, is and wants to be! The idea of the book is to actually give it to your dad to fill out and give back…but in my case, that poor little book would die a sad, empty death in the back of his closet! :) Plus it’s a great excuse to call once a week and talk. I just found the “My Mom: Her Stories, Her Words” and am excited to start that one too! Blessings!

  36. jm says...

    This is a great idea. I wished I had interviewed by parents (who have both died). It would be awesome to know the people they were. I am sure all parents have interesting stories, hopes and dreams. Great post. Love your blog.

  37. i’d love to know more about my parents, sometimes, it’s like their these celebrities and i feel like we’re not supposed to ask. but if not us, then who? it’s probably just me being awkward and nervous about nothing:)

  38. Interesting challenge. Should have done it years ago with my grand-pa, before he passed away. So yes, I’ll definitely will do it with my parents!

  39. I absolutely love this idea. I got my mother a book for Christmas that asked her questions and had prompts, a book for mothers to gift to their children. She has yet to fill it out. So I think I will just interview her and record it so I can transcribe it. My dad has Parkinson’s and his memory is not the best but I am still going to do this with him too!! The sooner the better for both of my parents just to try and learn more about THEM.


    • Dyan –

      Do you know what the name of the book is that you got for your mother? That’s a great idea!!

  40. Your parents are your first friends. Something I didn’t really understand until I had my own child. Sure, after a time they must also become the disciplinarian and mentor, but before that they’re not only caregiver; they are most definitely friend.

    I would love to interview my mother. We’ve always been really close, and I know a lot about her, but I bet there are things I don’t yet know! I’d enjoy doing this with my grandfather as well; he has led the most amazing life.

  41. My grandmother filled out a book answering prompt questions like this….apparently her response to my grandfather asking her if she wanted to get married was “now why would you want to ruin a perfectly good friendship?” I always thought it was so sweet!

  42. I find this curious because I am a believer that parents and their children are not friends – regardless of their age. There is something different/special between them. If I asked my mother one of these questions I would get an answer but it would always be peppered with her perception of me as her child. I would think that it would be more interesting if you had one of their friends ask them these questions and see how the answers they give them would differ from the answers they give their own child.

  43. I did the same with my grandfather (87) and his older brother (97): I interviewed them about their childhood: how their family was like, the food they ate, the games they played, their school experiences, how they celebrated important things, taboos that were still around, any mischief they got into (a lot apparently) and how they experienced World War 2 (I’m from Belgium, crazy to know that my grandfather’s brother lived through 2 world wars).
    My father taped the whole thing and I then made a documentary of it, including some old photographs of the family, including one of my greatgreatgrandmother. It was a lot of work but so inspiring to catch a glimpse of my family’s past.
    So I’d highly recommend to make some physical memory of those stories you hear when talking to (grand)parents!

  44. I absolutely adore this idea – it’s been one of those things on my to-do list along with scanning all of my grandma’s old photographs. I want to create a photo book complete with the stories that they tell me about their memories <3

  45. Cool topic! I like these weekly challenges! I actually did my first interview with my mom a couple years ago when I was 26 and struggling with a “quarter life crisis”. I bought the book “20 Something, 20 Everything” to help me, and it suggested interviewing women you look up to about their experiences in their 20s. It was so interesting to hear what my mom would’ve done differently. I had never asked her that kind of thing and I’m so glad I did! I also loved interviewing other women of my mom’s generation and hearing the crazy stuff they went through in their twenties, too!

  46. Awesome idea. Cannot wait to find out the answers. :-)

  47. What a great idea! I’m going to ask those questions to my parents aswell as my grandfather!

  48. I’ve been doing this since elementary school! Several years ago my dad bought a book with a prompt a day for 365 days! He answered every prompt (working ahead a bit) and bound his answers in a book for me and my sister. Now, I write a story every year to
    give to my kids at Christmas (they are 2 and 6 months so I will have to trust they will appreciate it one day.) :)

  49. What an intriguing idea! I think sometimes we keep our parents in their little “parents” box and forget they are their own people too, with their own dreams and goals, sometimes entirely separate to their kids. I think I would most want to know more about each of them as young and spirited teens with the world at their feet and endless possibilities. Inspired idea though, perhaps we will better understand ourselves too!

  50. What a hilarious challenge for this week, as my boyfriend (who hosts his own podcast) chose to interview my dad and posted it today! He’s a comic and typically interviews other comics, but this week he wanted to do something special and interview someone he really admires. What a keeper, right?

    • What’s the podcast? Always looking for funny podcasts!

    • It’s called “Slam Pig Podcast with Josh Accardo.” Just be forewarned: his humor is on the raunchy side, but for a nice family-friendly episode look for “Coach Chuck” which is what he calls my dad :) It’s a really sweet conversation between two men who are in very different stages in their lives.

  51. I totally want to do this with them! Actually, what I’d like to do is request that they do a StoryCorps interview with me for my birthday this year. :) My dad especially tends to be somewhat taciturn but I’m hoping to find a way to talk…

    • …so that he replies more openly. He has to be in a certain mood to talk about his childhood. An interview seems like a good way to get to know your parents as people and not just your mother and father.