I’ve written about many of the challenges I face as a deaf parent raising three hearing children. Communication obviously is a challenging aspect particularly in the years from infancy to childhood. Raising hearing children to speak properly and communicate well with their deaf parent(s) takes a bit effort, and support from family members. My children have been well supported in this area, and never needed intervention. My own hyper-awareness of their speech development meant that I was more actively involved in correcting their speech, and now with my toddler, in reinforcing his attempts to say new words.
However, I haven’t written about some of the advantages or positives to being a deaf parent to my hearing children. I am not sure they’d agree there are some advantages, since my deafness has at times created frustration for them. There is always a silver lining in any situation, so certainly there must be a few advantages to being a deaf parent or having a deaf parent?
Silent communication via sign language or lip reading my children across the room has always been a positive aspect. My older two children have always loved being able to sign “I love you” to us, and my daughter definitely likes that her father and I can lipread her from across the room when needed. This is particularly handy when I am not sure I understood something and she can just repeat the words without saying them aloud. Also, I can read their body language and facial expression and gain more information from them that way as well.
For my daughter, it netted her a cell phone at the age of nine, so that she could talk to us via text from her friends’ homes, or when visiting her grandparents. Now, at almost 13, she has an iPhone and is able to talk to all of us via FaceTime, texts, phone calls to her hearing friends and relatives. Lucky girl isn’t she? I’ll admit though, her father and I needed to be able to talk to her, and text was the easiest way rather than through an intermediary. So our daughter having a cell phone benefitted us greatly.
Other positives is that I am often able to get seats closer to the stage so I can lipread at their school presentations at Christmas, awards ceremonies and other similar events. They’re able to see that I am there rather than searching the auditorium for me. It also means that they also get better seats or positioning when we participate in community events where I am able to get us closer. My parents have at times benefitted from that as well, on our travels, while visiting museums, on walking tours, and going to plays or other presentations.
As a parent, the biggest positive I have found is that my older two children became strong readers at an early age. Their constant exposure to closed captioning or subtitles allowed them consistent exposure to text and audio, outside of the bedtime reading sessions or their reading homework.
My daughter was five when she proved that this exposure to closed captioning benefits hearing children as well as deaf children.
She was watching a show one afternoon, and as I was folding laundry I was not particularly paying much attention to the show. She turned to me and said, “the words don’t match the show”. Surprised, I stopped what I was doing and watched with her for a few minutes and sure enough, she was correct. The captions were for an entirely different episode. Then I quickly realized that something amazing had occurred. We had only been actively teaching her to read for about a year, and she was far beyond what we had thought she was at. Her father and I were completely stunned, and naturally proud. Her brother subsequently showed that he as well had benefitted, as like his sister, he began reading chapter books at age 6.5. I have full expectations that my youngest will also do the same.
When my daughter and I recently went to a movie, I used a closed captioning device for the first time. As it turned out, she ended up looking at it as much, if not more than I was through the movie. She commented afterwards it wasn’t the best at captioning the movie, but that it certainly helped her at times follow the actors. She is gaining an understanding of how technology benefits us or doesn’t in some cases.
My daughter has become sensitive to the needs of her classmates who have disabilities, and an awareness of what is right. Her experiences with her father and I, and seeing some of our challenges we face has made her into a better person, and someone who is always looking out for others. I hope my sons will also demonstrate this understanding as they get older.
Clearly it isn’t easy to finding the positives in being a deaf parent, and I am resolved to find more as I raise my children to adulthood and beyond. I hope that they will see that the challenges I have faced will inspire them to persevere through their own challenges. Being a parent is a roller coaster of ups and downs for anyone. Being a deaf parent has it’s own issues. Finding the silver lining in being a deaf parent is absolutely important in being a successful deaf parent and raising my children to being strong, successful, independent adults.