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  • Margaret Gerety

Ask mom about her life this Mother's Day

I remember my mother as one of those infinitely patient parents you see portrayed in kids shows these days (by the way, why do parents never misbehave on TV?!). While there were definitely ways to get my mom’s goat, like touching her face or asking her to proofread something 20 minutes before school, she remains my gold standard for how to patiently encourage individuality and personal growth in a crowded family. I would love to ask her how to approach this shelter-in-place existence we find ourselves in today. How do I keep my kids' interests and friendships going with video calls? What do I do with my sensitive child and his out-of-proportion tantrums about distance learning?


My mother died when I was 22, so I never had “parenting” conversations with her, or even a real adult relationship. What does an adult relationship look like? I think it is fundamentally about asking questions, sharing what’s important, and having open, honest conversations. I wonder, as we face our first Mother’s Day under less than normal circumstances, can we go beyond the obligatory thank yous and breakfasts in bed (but definitely still do those things!)? Especially this year, when it may be impossible to see mom in the flesh, can we be a bit more intentional about that Sunday morning call with mom and ask her some questions about her life?


Asking questions is the best form of flattery.


I have a precocious daughter (who will no doubt read this blog and give me a piece of her mind), who has recently been inserting herself into adult conversations. We try to remind her that asking thoughtful questions helps her learn (even if she thinks she knows everything) and shows the other person she's interested in them. So why not try making mom feel special by turning those obligatory Mother’s Day calls into a special time for her to talk about her life. Even if you feel conflicted about how you were raised, this is an opportunity to hear how your mom experienced life and motherhood, for better or worse. Hell, you don’t even need to bring up the parenting part - just ask her about herself! Here are some ideas for questions (some of these are lifted directly from this great article on HuffPost):


  • Tell me about one of your earliest memories.

  • What’s the most trouble you’ve ever gotten in?

  • What was your relationship with your own parents like?

  • Tell me about what life was like for you at my age.

  • What is one of your most vivid memories of me when I was growing up?

  • What do you think was your biggest parenting fail and why?


Don’t forget, it’s about the relationship. 


These questions should be open ended (i.e., questions your mom can’t answer with a “yes” or “no”) and you should let the conversation flow naturally. This is about getting an authentic version of your mom, yes, but it’s also about making your mom feel good and developing rapport. She may like the formality of being interviewed, but I think the real benefit here is building a base for future conversations. If your questions (like the ones in the HuffPost article) go deeper, into her expectations for getting older or even dying, that's great. But likely you want to broach those topics on a different day. You've taken a step toward those difficult conversations by asking her about her life and feelings. Remember, you’re asking your mom to unveil herself. That will come naturally to many mothers, but maybe not to all, so make sure your questions and the conversation feels good for you and her.


Document it for posterity.


For those of us who've lost parents before the time of camera phones, we may not have much video or audio footage of them. I have neither of my mother, and I have just one short (but fantastic) video of my father that my best friend took during my college graduation (it’s a classic, with my father cackling over his own jokes). I even love watching this video of my grandfather, who died before I turned 10 and whom I have few memories of, when he was recorded talking to his cousin in their thick Boston Brahmin accents. There is something about hearing those voices from your childhood, of your family, that make you feel settled and at home.


My dad laughing at his own joke

So when you’re asking your mom these questions on Mother’s Day, think about hitting record. Turn those Zoom and Skype calls into an opportunity to document your mom's answers to your questions. You can even transcribe the recording (certain Zoom accounts offer transcription services, or go old school and hire someone!). Maybe you use that footage for a future Mother’s Day or birthday gift, or you give it to your kids or relatives later on. Or maybe it’s just something that you pull up occasionally, when your parents are no longer here, just to hear their voice and the stories they told you that crazy Mother’s Day in 2020.


A few words of caution: make sure your recordings are secure (see this article on how to protect your Zoom recordings); and always get your mom’s permission before you record her!

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