This Holiday Season, Deepen the Conversation
“Share some important lessons you’ve learned in life.”
“Did you like going to school? Why or why not?”
“Are there any family jokes, stories or songs you can share with me?”
With Thanksgiving here and other big holidays on the horizon, many families will be spending more time together than they have in a while. This is a great opportunity to learn about extended family members’ lives—their history, education, accomplishments, and more. These conversations can create wonderful memories for the entire family, not to mention the light they may shed on the past. “The sad reality for many of us is that we know far too little about the lived experiences of our grandparents,” said Brittany Wong in an article for HuffPost. “We simply don’t think to ask.”
Asking specific questions about extended family members’ lives has many benefits, including:
- Giving children a richer understanding of their relatives’ lives, especially if they are older or live in another place.
- Allowing older adults to reminisce and share words of wisdom.
- Reinforcing family bonds and traditions.
What’s more, according to the nonprofit Changing the Narrative, these conversations can help end ageism. “Intergenerational conversations can change minds and break down stereotypes. When generations share knowledge and perspectives, people’s attitudes about age improve.”
Starting a conversation with grandparents and other family members can be very simple, and there are plenty of tools available for those who are uncomfortable. Here are a few ideas.
Visit storycorps.org. This nonprofit sponsors “The Great Thanksgiving Listen,” which “encourages young people—and people of all ages—to create an oral history of our times by recording an interview with an elder, mentor, friend, or someone they admire.” Anyone can participate in this program, and you can give permission for your story to be archived with others at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps offers question lists and a free app that helps you record the story.
Find a game or book to help. An online search on the phrase “conversation games” with or without the word “families” will yield a variety of games and books to help you get started. Or search on “grandparents journal” to find journals especially made for grandparents to record their stories and memories.
Record your family’s health history. Did you know that Thanksgiving Day is also National Family Health History Day? Asking family members about their health histories might not be easy—it might be too personal, or it may stir up negative memories. But starting the conversation is important, because the occurrence of some diseases in your family may raise your own chances of getting the same disease. You might want to share the information with your doctor, in case it makes sense to start screening for that condition or taking preventive measures.
Deepening the conversation this holiday season may deepen both our relationships and our family knowledge—both great gifts at any age.