Join 3,377 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Questions for my mother
December 9, 2013 11:05 AM   Subscribe

As a holiday gift for my mother, a friend of mine suggested buying a nice journal and writing a different question every few pages, so that my mother could fill it out and eventually give it back. I need some help coming up with questions to write.

My friend suggested questions ranging from "What was your favorite food when you were a child?" to "When was the first time you had your heart broken?" Although my mother is a very private person, I think this might inspire her to share some of her thoughts and feelings with me, even if she decides to leave the journal to me in her will. ;)

I'd like to come up with a wide range of questions, some of which she would be willing to answer quickly and some of which would take some extended thought. Please help me come up with questions for this journal.
posted by blurker to Human Relations (26 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Not exactly a direct answer to your question, but you might find Listography Journal interesting.
posted by sageleaf at 11:12 AM on December 9, 2013

My mother-in-law gave her mother a spiral-bound notebook called "Grandma, tell me your memories" that they filled out together in the nursing home. It's super-sweet; my husband says some of those stories were things he'd heard his grandmother tell them about before, and some were completely new to him. This book sits at his parents' house, and is pretty much everything I know about his grandmother, who died before I met him.

The challenge is that some of the questions are kind of irrelevant, and some of the stories were much larger than the 4x6 writing space included, but they just spilled from the good pages onto the boring ones, or taped in extra index cards. I can't think of any of the questions, unfortunately, or I'd suggest them.
posted by aimedwander at 11:12 AM on December 9, 2013

"When was the last time"
"if you could ________"
"What was the best ______" (ie. what was the best piece of pizza you ever ate, what was the best washroom you ever remember visiting)
"Who do you _____" (ie. who do you think would be the best person to be an ambasador to Earth?, who do you most aspire to be like, who do you most want to kick in the shins) questions are good too.

They don't all have to be personal questions, either. Random questions like "What do you think would happen if everyone suddenly only spoke pig latin?" or "if you could make every person in the world read a book, what book would it be?" could be fun.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:13 AM on December 9, 2013

What is your earliest childhood memory?
posted by matty at 11:25 AM on December 9, 2013

Recipes. There's a number of my mom's recipes that she never wrote down, and are now lost. Even recreating them is difficult because the old broad learned them from her mother and the translation from Italian muddles things.
posted by Gungho at 11:28 AM on December 9, 2013

This article from FamilyTree Magazine might give you some ideas.
posted by stampsgal at 11:30 AM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

10 Questions to Ask Your Mother Now

I like how Judith Newman gives some reasons why to ask these particular questions.

The last answer made me tear up a little bit -- the enjoyment and quality of the answers to some of these questions really depends on the kind of mother you have.
posted by peagood at 11:32 AM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

What is the first news event you remember hearing about/experiencing?
posted by troika at 11:46 AM on December 9, 2013

What kind of transportation did you use as a kid?
Did you mean to have me?
What kind of food did I like as a baby?
What sports did you play as a kid?
What contests did you win as a kid?
Tell me the stories behind any scars.
What was it like when you saw your first color tv? (or microwave, or whatever invention showed up when your mom became an adult)
What famous person did you meet?
You named me blurker, but what other names did I almost get named?
posted by cashman at 11:47 AM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Things I'm glad I asked my grandmother a few years ago (she is still alive, but no longer well enough to tell me such long stories):

What was it like growing up on a farm? What do you miss about back then?What did you wear? What did you eat? What were your chores?
What were your parents like? How did they treat you when you were growing up?
How did you meet my grandfather? What was he like when you first met?
Why did you move to California? What was that like?
What was it like for you going to college?
What was your first job like?

Obviously you'd have to adjust for your own case but I found that the most simple daily-life sorts of questions often led into very long and surprising recollections. My grandma's stories about growing up on a farm in the 20s and 30s were amazing, and she enjoyed revisiting that time.
posted by shattersock at 11:49 AM on December 9, 2013

StoryCorps has a great list of questions!
posted by valeries at 11:54 AM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why do you cut the roast in half before you cook it?

Seriously, some of the best family stories I've ever gotten have been the result of discovering some weird family habit and then finding out the reason.

For decades, my mom always cut the roast in half before she cooked it. She didn't know why or what purpose it served, but she just knew that was how her mother cooked roasts. Finally, not long before my grandmother passed away, my mom asked her why she did roasts that way. My grandmother told her that it was because when she first got married they were so poor she only had a small roasting pan. She had to cut the roast in half to get it to fit. After a few decades, it just became habit and she never thought to buy a bigger pan.

So you could ask your mom for habits that she has that are deeply tied to childhood or how she grew up. These things are so much family traditions or family in-jokes but sometimes you can learn a ton about your family from something so small as why the roast gets cut in half.
posted by teleri025 at 11:56 AM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would ask a lot of questions about how she came to make certain decisions, as this reveals so much about a person in a comfortable way.

So... how did you decide to marry dad and why?
how did you choose your job / degree path?
do you feel like your personality changed over time, and how did you change?
is there one that got away?
what do you wish we all knew about you?

Plus the simple ones
what vacations did you go on before having us? what adventures did you have?
what childhood pets did you have?
any special things to share about my aunts / uncles that I might not know?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:57 AM on December 9, 2013

Start with this book
posted by craven_morhead at 11:59 AM on December 9, 2013

Well I asked a great aunt who lived to be 100 (born in 1910) what the most amazing development was during her lifetime. I expected her to say something like airplanes or man on the moon or medical advances, but she said the toaster oven. She said it simplified her life. So there is the be ready for any answer answer.

Who was your best friend growing up? Why? Did you two ever get caught doing something you should not have?

Was Dad your first love? (Last love?)

What was the most amazing development during your lifetime?

Who do you think will win the world series next year? (I asked this of the previously mentioned great aunt almost once a year and she never wavered saying the Mets. SHe lived in Queens always the optimist.)

When was the last time you...[fill in the blank]? Turned out my great aunt had not driven a car since 1957 when she moved into her apartment in Queens.

Which relative do you respect the most and why? Which do you despise and why?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:04 PM on December 9, 2013

people gave me a bunch of great questions to ask on here previously.
posted by koroshiya at 12:12 PM on December 9, 2013

My mom remembers things about my childhood that I have forgotten. I'd ask what she remembers about events that were significant to you.

Also advice. "What's the secret to your deviled eggs?"

And her childhood. What did she want to be when she grew up? What did she think of her parents and grandparents?
posted by bunderful at 12:17 PM on December 9, 2013

Favorite gift you ever received?

What thing(s) do/did you feel most proud of?

What are/were your biggest regrets?

Tell me a story about your mother!

What are your predictions for 2050?

If you could go on an adventure right now, what would you do?
posted by travelwithcats at 12:21 PM on December 9, 2013

You might find this book useful as well.
posted by ersatzkat at 12:23 PM on December 9, 2013

Seconding @cashman's "What kind of transportation did you use as a kid?"

I asked my grandmother (b. 1922, Iowa) this same question as part of a school project when I was 10. For some reason, her answer blew my mind (and still does) - she rode to school in a horse-drawn buggy. They would put a hot brick wrapped in a blanket under their shared lap blanket to stay warm.

Those mundane questions about everyday life can reveal some really interesting, memorable answers.
posted by hush at 12:38 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

We did this with my grandfather, some of the questions that had the most charming/interesting answers included:

*Family Christmas traditions and what presents you particularly remember as a child
*A funny story about each of your children when they were young (one time, my uncle accidentally stole a marching band when he was about four. A whole band. For real.)
*Your first car, and what gas for it cost
*Jobs you had as a young person (i.e., before going out on your own)
*What you did for fun as a preschooler, elementary schooler, high schooler (there were burlesque clubs mentioned. Also stickball.)
*What book read for school made the biggest impression on you and why?
*What's different about parenting young children today than when you had small children? When you yourself were a small child?
*What behaviors that used to be common are now taboo? (spitting in public, child abuse) What behaviors that used to be taboo are now common? (women swearing, being openly gay)
*What did you wear for dressy occasions as a small child? As a teenager? As a young adult? Now?
*Tell us about a time, when you were young, that you or someone in your family was very ill, and what the medical treatment was like
*Who was the oldest member of your family you met? What is the oldest family story you've heard? (This is how we learned that my grandfather knew one of HIS great-grandfathers who'd fought in the Civil War and used to go listen to Civil War stories at the Veteran's home!)
*What jobs did your parents have? Did you want to do similar work? Did your parents want you to do similar work?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:37 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great answers here! We did a similar project with my grandfather using photo albums and a voice recorder. So maybe include some old photos of different points in her life as well? You can mount them nicely in the journal.
posted by snickerdoodle at 2:54 PM on December 9, 2013

What is your favorite poem? Song?
posted by Houstonian at 4:03 PM on December 9, 2013

I don't know how old your mother is, but my father and I have spent the last few visits with my (cranky, unlikable) grandfather asking him about his experience in the war--he was in WWII, and it turns out that he's actually really happy to talk about it at great length, but you have to prod him into doing so. If your mother has similar experiences, this might be worth exploring.

Questions about her experience as a mother might be good, too--how did you feel when you found out you were pregnant? What do you think your life might have been like if it weren't for the restrictions of motherhood? Did you ever want more/fewer children? What's the biggest change you see in parenting between the generations? Etc.
posted by MeghanC at 4:07 PM on December 9, 2013

"What's your favorite guilty pleasure/tiny happy common moment/little source of joy?"

I ask people this in chitchat when I need a topic, and the variety of answers is amazing.

Does your mother have siblings? I always loved talking to my great-aunt about what my grandmother was like as a child and teenager. You could ask something like "What was the best thing your sister/brother ever gave you?" or "What was the worst trick you ever played on your sister/brother?"
posted by kostia at 5:25 PM on December 10, 2013

Thanks for all the great ideas. I tried to balance things I really wanted to know with things that I thought she would be willing to tell me. The list I made was: I think I will make one of these for a few more relatives, especially for my mother's older sister, who I think would really enjoy answering many of these questions. Thanks again for all the help!
posted by blurker at 9:20 AM on December 21, 2013

« Older I am traveling to California f...   |  I broke up with my LDR signifi... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments