How to Save Your
Download your free set of interview questions to help you save your parents' legacy.
Your parents spent their lives acquiring knowledge and experience. Yet it’s unlikely they made plans for how to pass down that information. All the stories, experiences, value system, knowledge about family history… GONE, unless it is somehow recorded. It’s done for financial matters, why not for memories and life stories?
Getting that information out of one’s mind and onto paper (or audio/video) is an incredibly meaningful project. People find the process of reflecting on one’s life surprisingly fulfilling. There is a lot of joy in remember family members, roots, and life experiences. Sharing that with the people we love is a worthwhile goal.
Not just that, but people who do commit to saving their life’s stories are intentionally taking control of how their life is remembered. They choose what to say and how to say it. That control is very appealing.
And let’s face it, it’s fun to talk about yourself! The cherry on the cake is that there are several studies which show that this kind of activity is actually good for seniors. It’s even commonplace in retirement communities to offer storytelling activities for residents.
Even though there is plenty of evidence that writing memoirs or telling one’s story is a no-brainer, people are often hesitant to do it. If you tried to get your parents to tell their story, these excuses might sound familiar.
My life isn’t that interesting.
It’s not my style to focus on myself / this sounds like a silly ego trip.
The kids don’t care / they already know this stuff
Let's take a quick look at how to tackle those objections.
1) My life isn't that interesting.
False! Everybody has a story! You don’t need to have invented sliced bread for your life story to be interesting. You don't need to be rich and famous.
People forget that their family will love their story because their family loves them as people. It really is that simple. Their story is interesting because they’re loved, and becomes all the more meaningful when they’re gone.
2) It's not my style to focus on myself / sounds like an ego trip
This objection comes up because of the discomfort or pressure people feel at the idea of talking about themselves. The reality is that most people love to talk about themselves once they get going! Especially if it is presented in the right way: as a legacy gift for the kids to read when they are old enough to appreciate it.
3) The kids don’t care / they already know this stuff
It’s rare to find anyone under twenty who really wants to hear their grandparent go on about their life. So this excuse rings true. But when they are older and have their own children they will care a lot. They will find themselves thinking about and telling stories from their own childhood. They will turn to you to ask about family. And in many cases, the grandparents will be gone. This is just a timing issue. It’s no one’s fault kids are focused more on themselves than others. It’s perfectly normal. Instead, urge a grandparent to think ahead to what they would want their grandkids to know when they’re not around anymore.
Encouraging someone to write their life story
If you would like your parent(s) to write their life story but you’re facing some resistance, try asking them to do it as a gift for you. “This year, instead of a birthday present, I’d like you to write a few pages about your childhood.” It’s an easy ask on your part, and when stated like that makes it seem like an easy thing to do—and a hard thing to say no to.
If that doesn’t work, make them see your point of view. “Would you enjoy reading something your parents or grandparents had written for you?” Again, the answer is obvious. Even better, it turns the table on them and makes them think about their point of view as the child.
Support your request by letting them know that this kind of activity has become common practice. You can refer them to StoryCorps, The Veterans Project, Shoah Foundation, and the exploding field of self-publishing.
If they still need motivation, remind them that their recollections can be shared with whoever they want. Cousins, nieces, nephews, etc., can all benefit from knowing about family history.
How to start a life story project
Once your parents are on board, the question is where to start. You will need to do some prep work, like thinking of what questions to ask and figuring out how to record your subject. Download my free guide to get a list of questions and tips on how to get started.
There are other ways you can help them. You can get your kids to participate. We’ve all heard of grade school homework assignments where a grandchild interviews a grandparent. This is no different. The answers may be self-edited to make it audience appropriate, but it is a great learning experience for both of them.
Older kids may also be able to help with the technology, like scanning or finding the right recording software. Going through pictures, scanning the pictures and saying “Grandma tell me what’s going on in this photo,” is a great way to elicit stories. And you can read a few tips on scanning right here.
Time is of the essence
Just ask a friend whose parents are gone if they wish they had a document filled with their parents’ life stories. Or think of how you’ve watched your parents’ memory get a little less sharp with age. Now is the time to act.
The process of writing or recording one’s life story is an act of love in and of itself. That’s what will be remembered. If you want to be involved in the process, use this free life story handout to get started.
I hope you’ll let me know how it goes! If you need some help, please email or call me. I love hearing about these projects. And if you’re struggling to make it happen, I can help with that too. Memoirs is what I do. Check out some testimonials to see how other clients feel about my work. Or just give me a call to chat. I’m always happy to give you some tips or answer questions.
Good luck with your project!