Published on March 9th, 2023 | by Dawn Colclasure0
Do My Kids Wish Their Deaf Parents Could Hear?
When I became pregnant with my first child, I was thrilled. I didn’t even think about how being deaf would affect my journey through parenthood. Years later, it’s become clear that my deafness is not just something to think about from my side of the equation.
When my kids were little, they both expressed to me that they wished I could hear their voices. As deaf parents, my husband and I taught our kids from an early age how to communicate with us using sign language. While they do hear our voices when we communicate, since we talk and sign, we do not hear theirs. I never knew until they were much older just how important that voice communication was to them.
My husband and I have been deaf for most of our lives, so my kids came into this world only knowing deaf parents. We thought that this would give them the opportunity, as individuals who could hear, to grow up in an environment where they are aware of what life is like for people who are deaf. Learning sign language was just one advantage they had in being raised by deaf parents. They also were aware of the discrimination we faced as people who can’t hear, as well as the struggles we have with many things hearing people take for granted, such as social gatherings, trying to get a job and the difficulties of communicating with people who are not able to lipread.
Although my kids grew up with these advantages, there were some downsides too. Playdates were a struggle; their friends’ moms liked to chatter away while our kids played, and since this never went well, my kids were usually dropped off at a friend’s house instead. The moms would text me when it was time to pick them up. There were also times when I would bow out from social events my kids were invited to, mainly because I would not be able to participate since I wouldn’t be able to keep up. If I attended, I mutely sat alone while the parents chatted with each other. It was like I was just another piece of furniture in the room. I often used my social anxiety or my introversion as an excuse not to attend, but mostly it was because I knew I would not do well in social events that required people attending to be able to hear.
The biggest issue I’ve faced as a deaf parent, though, has been being unable to hear my kids’ voices. I never forgot when my oldest once told me, as a young child, that he wished I could hear his voice. Kid Number Two also expressed the same desire. When I had the opportunity to receive financial assistance for a cochlear implant, my kids were overjoyed by the prospect of having a parent who would be able to finally hear them. It wouldn’t be the same as normal hearing, of course, but pretty darn close to it. Then the opportunity was yanked away from us, and we all silently mourned the loss of not only having that barrier knocked down but possibly receiving a better advantage in life.
Since then, I have noticed how things have not exactly gone “back to normal” with my hearing kids. There is always going to be that huge “What if?” cloud hanging over us about what life could have been like if I had received a cochlear implant (known as a CI in the Deaf Community). Would communication between us have been more “normal” and similar to what they experience with the parents of their hearing friends? Would they have been less stressed about adequately communicating with their deaf parents without words being missed or misunderstandings taking place? Would life be easier for them since they wouldn’t have to use their hands to communicate with us and could chatter away as they do things in another room?
These questions linger, and I can’t help but question whether the disappointment over Mom not getting a CI to make life easier has run too deep with them. Both of my kids regularly see a therapist, and I often wonder if they have shared their disappointments or frustrations over the whole thing. My oldest has told me that they often wished I could hear even for just a brief period of time, enough for them to tell me “I love you.” But they don’t tell me much else about it. I wonder if they share more with their friends or relatives than with us.
There is a chance I am just overthinking this whole thing. Perhaps I am reading too much into it. I dealt with my own disappointment over not getting a CI, because in my more than 30 years of being deaf, I have experienced so much discrimination, struggled with getting and keeping a job, and missed out on social events or coffee dates with friends. The possibility of all of that being a thing of the past gave me hope that maybe life would get easier. (Spoiler alert: It really doesn’t.) I was in tears when I no longer had that opportunity, but I have faced many disappointments in life and do what I know best to do: Suck it up and move on.
I know I cannot expect the same kind of attitude from my kids. After all, having at least one parent who was able to “hear like hearing people” would have very likely brought their lives one step closer to how their friends experience life with their own parents. For example, my kids can’t share stories of talking with a parent about something during a drive somewhere, because their deaf parent can’t take their eyes off the road while driving in order to read their lips as they talk. But with the CI, that’s just one of the things that they would finally be able to experience, just like their hearing peers.
As a person who is deaf, I have become very familiar with the standards espoused in the Deaf Community, in which a CI is seen as “evil” and being deaf is glorified. I can’t help wondering if this whole issue with “what would have been” keeps the kids from seeing my side of the story. Do they understand that, on a basic level, I accept being deaf? I have survived being deaf for this long, and can survive longer. I said goodbye to being able to hear peoples’ voices a very long time ago. I got over my depression after I lost my hearing. Instead, I decided to embrace being deaf and recognize that it’s just one of the things that make me unique.
After I became a parent, I made peace with the fact that I won’t be able to hear my kids’ voices. The thought of that changing with the help of a CI was a nice fantasy, but like all good fantasies, it’s now just a memory. While I want my kids to be able to readjust to the status quo post “Mom will be able to get a CI,” I feel that it’s wrong of me to expect as much from them. I have to see this from their side, but I want them to consider my side too.
In the end, I just want my kids to be happy with the parents they were given. Hopefully, growing up with deaf parents will benefit their lives in the long term. Whether or not one of their parents gets a CI or miraculously gets our hearing back, it should not change our core family dynamics. We still love and appreciate each other and want to be in each other’s lives. Above all, I just want my kids to know that their parents love them no matter what, even if we can’t hear their voices.