While many of us look forward to upcoming family meals that are part of the Christmas holidays, they often disappoint our expectations. We love the idea of the generations coming together, but sometimes when we actually come together, our dinners are full of awkward silences and bored young people paying more attention to the devices in their pockets than the aunt or grandfather sitting across the table from them.
Last night, Dave and I got a great idea about how to liven up family dinners from a couple who have been mentoring us over the years. Roger and Lilli are a big deal to us, and they continue to inspire the way we live and interact with each other. More than twenty years ago when Dave and I were engaged, we asked Roger and Lilli to do pre-marriage counseling with us. As we were planning our marriage ceremony, we asked Roger to be one of the pastors we had involved. At each of our kid’s baby dedications, we asked Roger to be the officiant. When Dave and I started an intergenerational small group, we asked Roger and Lilli to join us.
Over soup and salad last night, I gained yet another great idea from Roger and Lilli. For his 75th birthday, Roger told his kids and grandkids that he didn’t want any “typical” gifts. Instead, over their customary birthday dinner, he wanted them to give him the gift of asking him questions about his life.
As Roger explained to the five Powells, “When my parents died, I realized how much I didn’t know about them. What were they like as children? What trouble did they cause as teenagers? What were some of the highs and lows of their life together as a young married couple? I regret not knowing that and I don’t want my kids or grandkids to have the same regret.”
So over Roger’s birthday dinner, his family asked him a bunch of questions:
What was junior high like for you?
Who did you date before Oma and why did you choose each other?
What qualities did you appreciate and not appreciate in your Mom and Dad?
What was the hardest thing to deal with as the oldest child growing up in your family?
Who was your “first love” and who did you kiss first?
Who was your all-time favorite school teacher and why?
I’m not 75, but my parents are near that age, and I share Roger’s hope that their experiences will be passed to my children. Engaging these questions as a family strengthens not only the intergenerational relationships that are key to my kids’ faith, but also the intergenerational warmth that helps a church grow young. I want Dave and I, and our three kids, to ask our parents questions like these over Christmas dinner.
I want to know…
Their biggest fears when they were younger.
Their biggest career and academic dreams, and how their real life has (or has not) matched those dreams.
Their biggest career accomplishment and disappointment.
Seasons in their life when they felt close to God.
Seasons in their life when they wondered if God existed.
How their high school and college friends have shaped them.
How they might have shaped their high school and college friends.
What was hardest, and best, about becoming a parent.
What they love the most about retirement.
What they wish they could change about retirement.
This is an experiment Dave and I want to try this Christmas, and we hope you will, too. Let’s bring generations together and honor a parent or grandparent by asking them a few meaningful questions that deepen our Christmas meal conversations.
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