How do you get your parent to stop telling the same story every year.
This past holiday season, my wife and I do our yearly “family road trip” in which we attempt to somehow see all of our extended family in about a week by driving around Ohio. This trip has enough stress to push us to eat nothing but peanut butter cups for a week afterward to unwind. Luckily, our families supply us with them so we don’t need to spend any more of our post-holiday budget on fatness.
All of this is to say that we actually enjoy this trip very much. So much that we’ve done it for every year we’ve been married. (This past year was year 4). And despite the fact that we’re still relatively fresh in our understanding of each other’s families, it’s become apparent that there exists a social script where after the initial hellos and catch-ups from the past year, the same old stories inevitably arise. There’s one story in particular that my dad always likes to share in the presence of my wife.
“Danny, let me tell you about the first time I held you after you were born. You were just looking around taking the world in — you didn’t make a sound. But THEN they gave you the Vitamin-K shot and you started crying and it was all over.”
While I do find this story endearing, there’s only so many times you can hear this before it becomes rote. I’m sure that everyone has these stories that their parents and in-laws share, stories that are so well-rehearsed and strong in their minds that they eclipse any other stories just by sheer repetition. And this also becomes a roadblock to uncovering other stories, because why would they talk about anything else? This is the story that defines their character or relationship to you.
I think what we learned was that we had to ask the uncomfortable prodding questions, but were at a loss for how. I wanted to know how my dad started his business this year, because I was planning on starting my own. He’s been doing his work for 30 years, he must be doing something right. So I asked my mom “how did you start your business?” After the initial “he left his old job, and started this one.” I prodded further and she then tells me that my dad went door-to-door looking for clients for weeks. I never heard that before! My parents knew I was starting a business for the previous few months, but they never shared that piece of information until I asked the question. Even still, I want to know more, I want to know how he went door to door — how he decided who he was going to ask. I want to hear the stories of the failures and successes that occurred in those first few months and years. It made me realize something: we never have a moment to ask these questions because we’re so distracted by the pattern of holiday visits that we never actually sit down and talk like adults.
All this is to say: You can’t get your parents to stop telling the same stories, and they wouldn’t be your parents if they didn’t. But if you want to know more than the same-old, same-old, you’re going to have to ask the right questions and be intentional about it. Don’t wait until it’s too late to hear about their favorite chocolate bar growing up or a date that went poorly. These are great memories you won’t forget.