Many people think of Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer, a last chance to relish barbecue and the outdoors. However, the origin of Labor Day goes back to 1885 when the day was first observed to honor the achievements of America’s workers. So in addition to firing up the grill this holiday weekend, why not spend some time celebrating your parent’s or grandparent’s professional achievements? Whether he or she was a teacher, soldier, or homemaker, asking questions and creating a life story can provide a meaningful and memorable way to spend time together.
Have a Conversation
After making sure your parent or grandparent is open to it, set aside some time to sit together and ask about his or her career. There are a number of ways to do this. You might give a curious grandchild the assignment to act as a “reporter” for the day, coming up with questions to ask Grandma or Grandpa about education and work. Or, you might simply gather the family around for a casual conversation.
Here are a few sample questions to get you started:
- How did you come to choose your career? What sort of education/training did you have to go through for your job?
- What was a typical day like at your job?
- Did you have any favorite friends at work?
- Did you have fun at work?
- What about the little things? How did you get to work? What did you eat for lunch? What was your workspace like?
- Did you make any big career changes? What was that like? Was it scary or exciting?
- How did your field/industry change over the years?
- Do you have any wisdom or advice for today’s workers?
In order to make this a positive experience for all, make sure to tailor your questions and approach to be sensitive to your parent’s needs. For instance, a long list of in-depth questions won’t suit a senior with cognitive impairment. Further, some war veterans may shy away from discussing their experience in detail: monitor their reactions throughout the conversation and gently guide topics to suit.
Create a Life Story
Capturing your conversation in a life story creates a memento you can save forever. It also provides a tangible way to honor your parent’s career and reflect his or her accomplishments back to him or her. There are a number of formats or mediums you can try for this:
- Ask a younger family member to record the initial conversation with your parent and edit it into a homemade radio show or TV news segment.
- Type the interview up into an article, like you would see in a magazine. Embellish this with head shots and other old photos that capture your parent at work.
- Compile a scrapbook using short quotes and longer passages from your conversation. Mix in photos, licenses, certificates, letters, business cards—whatever materials you can find with your parent.
- Create a timeline on poster board that maps your parent’s career history.
When the life story is complete, spend some time looking over it with your parent. The exact timing of this is flexible: you might have the initial conversation on Labor Day and present the life story later, or you could have the conversation in advance and present the life story on Labor Day. However you plan it, think of this as an opportunity to learn more about your loved one and show them that the work they’ve done is important and appreciated.