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From Bystander to Believer: My journey as a Hearing Mother

I am a hearing wife of a Deaf man and a hearing mother of 4 children, three of whom are Deaf. I was born in a hearing family with all hearing siblings. Although I learned a bit of sign language, and even performed a song in sign at my 8th grade graduation, I had never met a deaf person.

When I was fourteen, my sister, who was just two years older then I, was losing her hearing. She saw an audiologist, who gave her hearing aids, but my wise mother knew that there was something more, something better for her. She found a program for the deaf and my sister switched schools, started learning ASL, and using an interpreter. I didn’t want to be left behind! I started learning and my sister would ‘help’ me by not using her hearing aids on weekends and forcing me to sign with her.

Learning ASL led me to involvement in the ASL community; however I was reluctant to become fully involved. In college, I was a little bit involved with the deaf community and decided that I wanted to teach deaf children.  I became a huge advocate for Bi-lingual/ Bi-cultural education and looked forward to teaching. In my naiveté, I said I believed deaf people could do anything hearing people do. I was convinced that I really believed it too.

In my senior year of college, I met my husband who was the ASL lab instructor. We started dating and just after graduating, married. When he felt moments of discouragement regarding his success in life, I encouraged him. I believed he could do anything he wanted to. . . except run a business of his own. His experience was in construction and that’s where he wanted to start out. Eventually he wanted to do something big that would inspire deaf youth to succeed.

The first few years of marriage were rocky as I finished my degree and started teaching and he ran into difficulties finding a steady job in construction. After much thought, he decided to go back to school, major in history and become a teacher.  I was secretly relieved that the big talk of starting a business had stopped. I knew he would be a wonderful teacher, and he had a passion for that. It would also provide us with a steady income. That’s what I needed.

Our first child was born and I worked full time while my husband attended school. My son was hearing and began signing at 6 months of age. We were a happy family.

Then, my second son was born deaf. No big deal, I thought. I still thought I believed that deaf children, and deaf adults, could succeed and do whatever they wanted. I had no idea how it (his birth) would shake my beliefs and my marriage.

My mind filled with questions and doubt. What if he doesn’t want me as his mom because I’m hearing? What if I don’t know how to teach him to read? What if he never learns to read above the 4th grade reading level? What if he says he wants to be a fireman? How do I best support him? Should he get hearing aids? Should I make sure he has speech? If he can talk, won’t he have a better chance at success in the future?

Only a parent understands the dreams and desires her or she has for her children. Only a parent can understand the gravity of having those dreams crushed. It’s natural for someone who gives birth to a child who is different than herself to grieve. But I was the hearing wife of a Deaf man! The hearing sister of a Deaf adult! The teacher of d/hh children! What was my problem? Didn’t I believe my child could do anything he wanted to?

I realized that as much as I had thought I ‘believed’ in the Deaf individual, it just wasn’t true. As much as I thought I had been truly accepted and enculturated into the Deaf community, I felt alienated. I was only a bystander after all.

After going through the grief and seeing a counselor who understood Deaf culture; making decisions and moving forward as a hearing mom of a Deaf child, I had nagging thoughts. Nagging, negative thoughts that would come to me as my little boy grew. They didn’t disappear as my 3rd child was born: a Deaf girl. In fact, they probably became a little worse.

I remember my son telling me, “I want to be a fireman someday.”  That was a moment when I put on a face without expression and said, “Ok! That’s awesome.” However, inside, my nagging mind was posing questions the whole time: They won’t let him be a fireman! He’s deaf! He can’t hear! How can he become a fireman? You are feeding him false hope! STOP! He also said he wanted to become a policeman or a soldier. I felt all of these jobs were impossible.

It was during this time that my husband began to dream again. He was in his Master’s program and doing a research project on Deaf Culture and History. He wanted to develop a poster that would show the world that Deaf individuals can and DO succeed, in many different careers. He finished that poster, (link “that poster” to www.deafsense.com/store)  featuring 48 deaf individuals in 48 different career pathways. To my amazement I saw on the poster a Deaf fireman, a Deaf police officer, and a Deaf ROTC participant. What? My mind went into shock. It couldn’t be. My husband must be wrong.

So I did my own research. I found that not only was he correct, but that these men weren’t the only ones who were changing the career field for my son. There were 50 documented firemen who were d/hh. There were other d/hh men who were serving on a police force. The ROTC participant is still lobbying to change the laws to where d/hh people could serve in non- combat positions.

At this same time, I began to go through a personal transformation. I began to see that I, with my bystander beliefs, was holding my husband, and my children, back from succeeding. It wasn’t his deafness that was holding him back; it was his insecurities coupled with my insecurities and beliefs that we couldn’t succeed in achieving our dreams.

The world today teaches us to settle for less than what we might want to achieve. The world says go to school, get a job, settle down, the end. Our hearts, deaf or hearing, tell us differently. They tell us to set our expectations high and go for them through whatever challenges beset us.

The truth is, we all have challenges we must overcome. As parents, as spouses, we have a huge impact on what our loved ones will attempt to achieve in their lives. Will we stand by, allowing ourselves to be bystanders because we are hearing? Will we give into the nagging thoughts and beliefs that life is hard, and that there are only certain jobs a deaf person can do, and our children just won’t be able to achieve their dreams?

Or can we reach into our hearts and find true belief? Can we open our minds to the possibility that others are changing the dynamics in the career world and that what may not have been possible only years before, just might be as our children grow? Can we begin to see that, in reality, it has always been possible?

Can we see that we can become believers? And through believing, inspire those around us to become believers too?

First published on the Hands & Voices Blog:

From Bystander to Believer: My journey as a Hearing Mother

Four ‘Hero Moms’ of Deaf Children

Hero Moms

Do you remember that day when you first found out your child was deaf? I still remember the look in the audiologist’s eyes, the tone of his voice, the feeling of sympathy and sadness, “It’s a severe to profound hearing loss,” he said.

The journey that followed was filled with visits to the medical professionals, early interventionists; an information overload dumped on us as parents of a deaf child. There are pressures from the audiologist to make choices for listening devices. Maybe your family has an opinion to chime in as well.  Not to mention the stress of everyday life and trying to connect to a child who is different than you.  It’s not hard to understand why we are overwhelmed.

In my journey I have met some mothers who have become heroes in my eyes. They have done their best to communicate with their children, make sacrifices for their child’s success and SO MUCH MORE.  Although there are many more like them, I will share four stories today. Know that for each story shared here there are many more stories that go untold everyday. I know you are out there Hero Moms and I salute you!


My Mom

When my sister lost her hearing at age 16, the audiologists fitted her with hearing aids and sent her back to the classroom with no further support. My quiet but determined mother always put her daughters first and was not satisfied with this arrangement, especially when she saw my sister continuing to struggle.  Finally, after asking everyone she knew about education for the deaf in the area, she found a program that used ASL. She contacted the school officials and soon my sister was attending a new school across town with other students who were deaf. My willing grandma with wavy gray hair, my nervous but dedicated mother and I began taking classes at the local community college with my sister. She passed us up quickly, but I was close behind. I always look up to my mother and grandmother for attending that class with us. My Hero Mom made sure my sister had the support she needed, even though it meant opening our world up to a new world that was in many ways overwhelming to her.

April Giauque

This little brunette fireball is one of my Heroes. You can read her blog here. I met April after learning her daughter was the same age as mine, to the very day! We met up at a McDonald’s. While her oldest 3 children, all who have autism, played in the playground, we chatted for over an hour. It was the first time we had met in person, but we had so much in common it felt like we had always known each other. Her sixth child, the baby at the time, was her first Deaf child and April was just learning ASL. She now holds an ASL endorsement for her special Education teaching degree and is teaching at a school for the Deaf. When her second Deaf child was born, she knew what to do. Pieced together in a beautiful family, this mother has tackled every challenge and is breaking through barriers for ALL of her children, as well as for others.

Tricia Feik

I remember when I met outgoing, friendly Tricia. We attended her church on a visit to her town. Her Deaf daughter was the same age as my Deaf son.  They played together. Later she would relate to me, “From that day that she met your son she has been a different child. Something clicked for her that day.” It is so important for children to meet others like them! Tricia, truly a Hero Mom, understood that.

After that meeting we kept in touch. In efforts to connect her daughter to a larger Deaf peer group, Tricia’s family moved to a different state just as we moved to the North West. As always, Tricia has been involved in the school’s parent organization and stayed active in her daughter’s education. I admire the effort by the entire family to learn and use ASL. They make sure all are included and have what they need, even when it meant moving to a different state.

Tricia has written about her family’s journey here.

Audrey Devan

I have enjoyed meeting and becoming friends with the reserved Audrey Devan. When Audrey, a member of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe  with long dark hair and large dark eyes, found out her daughter was Deaf, she immediately started learning ASL and becoming active in the community where she lived. She was supportive of other families in her same situation but quickly realized there were few families of Deaf children near her. When it became clear that her daughter would not be getting the education she needed where she was, she left everything she knew behind, including a close and loving family, and moved to another state for the greater good of her daughter’s education. The road has not been easy but the rewards for her daughter have been amazing. The changes I have seen in her and her language have been so fun to watch. A Hero mom makes sacrifices for her child.

Becoming a Hero Mom

Being a mother is hard. Being a mother of someone who is different than you is harder. Making sacrifices in order to make sure your child has every chance to succeed is invaluable.

I know what you are thinking, “I don’t think I’d call myself a ‘Hero Mom’.”

I remember thinking the same thing. I’d think of moving or pursuing my own career while being a mom and I’d be filled with fear. I’d ask myself, “Am I doing enough?” “Am I being the mother my children need so that they can truly succeed?” “Are my kids in the right place?” “How do I take care of my hearing and deaf children? “How do I ensure everyone feels accepted and loved?”

Becoming a ‘Hero Mom’ doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes. It doesn’t mean your house is spotless and your kids are perfect angels. That isn’t realistic. No one is that kind of mom.

Being a ‘Hero Mom’ means you do your best to connect to your child, to let him know you love him no matter what. It means setting up your home for a safe place for all of your children. And a real Hero Mom will teach her child that anything is possible with the right tools, determination, sacrifice and dedication.

Are you ready to become a ‘Hero Mom?’ Are you already doing many things and just need a little push and support?

I’d love to help you pinpoint your areas of concern and provide tools that will support you on your journey. There are answers, and those answers look a little different for each family. There is hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Ever Thought YOU were a Bad Mother? Think Again.

How long is your To do list today? Let’s see, I need to go to the store, call the Dr., start the laundry, do the dishes, etc. etc. The list goes on and on doesn’t it?

As Mothers, we have a full time job. Many of us work and have our full time job as mothers! And it seems if we don’t perform at top notch in any of these jobs, there must be something wrong with us.

Sometimes it’s really easy to see all the things we are not doing. You look back on your list and realize you didn’t accomplish everything, or all the things we are doing that we think are just not right.

The kids complain; the house is messy .

It’s easy to look at another Mom and think they have it altogether.  You think, “I should be that way.” It’s easy to focus on the negative and start criticizing yourself.

We forget that we are not the only ones that feel this way.

Think again:

So, let me be a messenger of TRUTH for you today.

You are a beautiful, amazing mother. You are doing an wonderful job.  In your child(ren)’s eyes you are the most beautiful woman alive. You are everything to them.

Sometimes they may not think to say thank you. So let me be the one to tell them for you, “Thank you.” I am grateful for you. You are vital not just to your child, but to your family, to your community, to our society. We need you. Your child needs you.

And so I want to invite each of you mothers today to look at yourself in the mirror and say to yourself: “You are amazing! You are beautiful! You are a wonderful, caring mother, and I love you!”

Today, maybe you don’t look at that list. Give your child a hug and sit down and do something fun. You are a mother! Celebrate! Cherish your role. No one is perfect.

We are all on this journey together. I hope you will tune in every month for our parenting tips and check out our blog for support in your journey. You see. I have felt just like you and I have learned it’s just not true. I’m not perfect, but I am important. I am amazing!

I love you! You are amazing!

It’s Deaf History Month… Why Should I Care?

It’s Deaf History Month!

As a parent of Deaf children…. Why should I care?

What is the value of Deaf History for deaf youth? Huge. It’s so huge, I had to divide this post into TWO! Watch for Part 2 coming next week!

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

To start off, let’s go back to something you should have learned in Psychology or a child development class. It’s called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It looks like this:

The idea behind the picture of a pyramid is that we need each level of needs fulfilled before we can really move on to the next level. Self Actualization (living out your personal potential, being successful and teaching others to be successful) is where we all want our youth to end up someday. This requires that the other levels are in place! Now, as a parent, I am busy everyday focusing on the first and second level, Physiological and Safety. We work to provide food, shelter, water, etc. for our kids. But how much emphasis do we put on the third level: Belonging? Do our kids belong in our family? Does each one feel that love and acceptance; that connection with the other members that will tell them: “You Belong Here!” I think this is a place we all can improve. Stay tuned – I include some tips on this soon!

Belonging

One way I have discovered belonging in my family is learning our history as a family. Looking at scrap books from the past, reading stories of grandmas and grandpas and how they grew up, connecting with these people in real life. All of these experiences help me feel connected and give me the sense that I belong to my family.

So… what does this have to do with Deaf History Month? Everything! Youth that grow up with deafness in the family often struggle with belonging. Whether it’s a deaf child with hearing parents and siblings, a hearing child with deaf parents and siblings, or a mix, belonging in a family that has such differences can present a challenge.

I remember when my 3rd child was born and was found to be Deaf. My oldest, then 5 years old, looked at me, his face filled with sadness, “Mommy,” he said, “the Deaf team is bigger than the Hearing team.” I looked at him and said. “No honey, we are all ONE team!”

The Power of Deaf History

One way I have found to bring that team together, is to teach and celebrate the deaf culture and history in our home. As we have come together as a family to learn about the many successful deaf individuals and the story of American Sign Language, belonging has increased. My hearing son is connecting more with his Deaf father as he learns who he is and why he values his language and history. My Deaf son is encouraged to succeed in whatever he does as he finds role models in the many successful deaf people throughout history. There is understanding on both sides; understanding of the challenges and the need for both hearing and deaf individuals in our society. They are learning to see that by working together, we can all thrive.

A Message for Hearing Parents!

I know what you are thinking! I remember feeling the fear that because I was hearing, I wouldn’t be able to fully understand my Deaf child. I was afraid that he wouldn’t want me to read to him, to do things with him. I was afraid he wouldn’t confide in me and just push me aside because I was hearing. After all, this is how other youth had treated me as a hearing adult in the Deaf community. Why would my child be any different?

It was learning about the deaf community, Deaf history and American Sign Language that helped change my perspective and gave me confidence in myself as his mother. As I opened myself up to see the things that other Deaf individuals had achieved, I realized my son could do the same. As I began to believe in him, I began to relax and enjoy him for who he was. As I allowed him to choose his path, I also found my place in his.

Parents, your children need you.

No one can take your place. You may be hearing, but you are still their parents. Imagine what you might see in their eyes as you show them the things you are learning about in Deaf History. Imagine their eyes light up seeing you sign, “He’s deaf like you.” Can you feel the gratitude for the acceptance they will feel? It will be amazing.

Be willing to open up to Deaf Culture and Deaf history no matter what education pathway or language pathway you have chosen. To know that others who have faced similar challenges as your child faces, and succeeded, is powerful. It allows YOU to dream and teach your child to dream and to achieve. It allows you to accept your child for who he or she is; to inspire your child to thrive as the person you want him or her to become.

I invite you to join us at Deaf Sense! We are here to support you on your journey as a parent of a deaf child!

  • Like us on Facebook and share our posts! We have monthly parenting tips, share success stories and success tips as well as information on Deaf Culture and History.
  • Get products and fill your home with a “Deaf Sense”: A Deaf History Time Line and We Succeed Because We Can posters are a great way to start! Watch for the release of an all new Children’s eBook later this month!
  • Connect with the local Deaf community, parent organization or Hands & Voices chapter. Get your to have experiences with other deaf children and adults.
  • Encourage a focus of Deaf History at school and at home.
  • Mentor with me or Deaf Sense??! Mentoring services coming soon…contact us for more information!

The Fast Food Rule: Communication With a Toddler.

The Fast Food Rule: Communication With a Toddler.