Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Letters From My Parents

At different times in my adult life I have wanted to feel closer to both my mother and my father.

I spent a lot of time angry at my mom before I became a mother myself.

Once, in an effort to make things better, she flew here from Seattle and arranged a family therapy visit for the two of us.

I was skeptical and irritated.

What could a therapist do for us in one session?


What the therapist suggested was that I write down a list of questions for my mother.

I was allowed to make them as difficult or personal as I wanted.

I was instructed to give the list to my mother when I finished composing it.

My mother's job was to write her answers to each question at the rate of one per week.

She was asked to send me one answer per week in writing.

We then had to set up a standing weekly phone date to discuss the most recently answered question.

The therapist asked my mother to answer questions for as many weeks as it took to answer them all.

This process was hard, but ultimately helpful.

Discussing the things that I thought were difficult subjects made me more open towards her and then ready for the way that the damn broke after my children were born.

Once I became a mother myself, I began to see what my mother's perspective might be (or might have been) on so many of the issues that previously filled me with rage.

Our relationship softened and improved.

These days I would even call it good... healthy.

[Though I should really call her more often. I blame the children.]

More recently, I found myself digging in an old box of saved letters where I found mountains from my Father.

He used to write me long letters.

Some of them were funny, some sad and some were stories from his childhood.

I loved these letters and realized he hadn't sent me any in a while.

I asked him if he would start writing to me again and he asked for a list of topics.

[No problem.]
  1. When did you first understand death or what is your first memory of death?
  2. Tell me the story of my birth from your perspective.
  3. Your first memories of your children telling you they loved you (or something else sweet).
  4. How you coped/adjusted with your children growing up and becoming independent of you – what is the transition like – from being their everything when they are little – to them having families of their own and being far away?
  5. What family rituals or traditions did you love – either in your parents house, in the family that you made or both? What do you miss?
  6. Who was your best friend in school? What happened to him/her? What stories can you tell about your escapades with him? (or her.)
  7. What irrational fears do you have?
  8. What is a story that reveals something about whatever you think is your own greatest weakness?
  9. How would you characterize your relationship with your mother? Your father?
  10. What special memories do you have about your grandparents? What were they like? How did they meet? What did they do? How did they die? What was your life arc with them like?
  11. What do you remember about being a new parent?
  12. How would you describe and define your relationship to faith? What were your experiences of faith as a child and how have the shaped the adult you have become?
  13. What defines you? What things, experiences, or whatever make you feel like you and why?
  14. We love our individual children differently. How did that play out for you?
  15. What do you remember about the emergence of civil rights having grown up / come of age in the 1960’s?
  16. Vietnam? Same as above.
  17. Tales from the campground…
  18. Foibles of the Family Vacation…
  19. Greatest disappointments…
  20. Greatest achievements…
  21. What is the life trajectory of your relationship with your sister?
  22. What were your experiences of becoming integrated with your in laws?
  23. Favorite birthday memories…
  24. What do you remember about bedtime routines?
My Dad started writing to me again.

[Though he is only on his eighth question or something and has taken a bit of a hiatus. Get crackin', Dad!]

I remembered all this writing that I have asked of my parents to do when I read Jen's post called Tick Tock that she posted on One Plus Two recently.

Jen's experiences and mine aren't the same but I understood her sentiment. Communicating with parents can sometimes feel so hard.

Jen is someone I know and love in real life.

I wish I knew what path would lead her through her own struggle.

My friendship will have to do.


I nominated Jen's post Tick Tock for a Perfect Post Award this month.

The Original Perfect Post Awards 09.08

Next month make sure you recognize a post you found perfect with this award...

All you need to do is e-mail Mamma K -- Petroville(at)gmail(dot)com -- and ask her to put you on the Perfect Post mailing list.

She'll e-mail you every month when it's time to send in your Perfect Post pick.

See all the Perfect Posts at Petroville or Suburban Turmoil.


Don Mills Diva said...

I absolutely love the idae of sending questions to parents - I wonder if mine would go for it?

Off to read Jen's post...

furiousBall said...

I can't stand it, I've left nice comments too long... here's an addition to my questions for my folks...

1) Have you ever shaken it like a polaroid picture?

PunditMom said...

Thanks for this list. I so need to do something like this in my own life.

nutmeg said...

Oh how I struggle with communicating with my mother.

Also jumping over to Jen...

QT said...

Great list. There is a book called "My Life Story" - or something like that -that I am going to give to one of my aunt's to fill out. She is the last one that remembers meeting family members of mine that still live outside the US.

Kyla said...

Great choice. I loved that post of hers.

Magpie said...

Oh - this almost makes me weep. I've never had much of an open relationship with my mother - she's too...difficult? And now she's kind of beyond having a conversation with. I'm glad that you found a way to work through your issues with your mom.

Jen's post was good, and hard, too - and deserving.

Anissa Mayhew said...

I think it's one of the reasons I started to blog anyways. I wanted to leave more of myself for my children, WHEN I was still in the moment than my parents did for me. I hope that they can go back and read and remember. It's a wonderful idea for you to build that bond with your mom. I hope it brings you closer with every word.

anna said...

Great post--I totally identify with the fact that you started to understand your Mom a bit more once you became a mother. I still totally have resentments for my mother, but becoming a mom certainly gives you a new perspective, and I like the idea of having a list of questions, too.

t said...

My mom and I haven't spoken since February. I see no end in sight. I am happier now, and I would wager she is happier as well.

My only job is to break the cycle with my own daughter.

Some days are more successful than others.

Patois said...

Beautiful idea, marvelous and compelling questions, and Jen's post is damn, damn good.

Joy Leftow said...

Great story about the creativity of the therapist. I like how you explain how you and your mom got closer and how this moved you to another step in examining parental ties, thus bringing you even further in your quest to examine your relation with your parents and compare what that means to you as a parent.

Expatriate Chef said...

I can only wish this would heal the rift with my stepmom, think that one is out of the question. But it would be interesting with my real mom I had not seen in 30 years. Going to have to think about this. Thanks for sharing it.

tarable said...

I hope it's okay that I *totally* copied this idea from you, down to the same exact questions. It's a wonderful thing to do before I become a parent and while I still have both of mine around. There's just so much I don't know about my parents and there is no time like the present to change that.

Thanks for the inspiration.