Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’
When my first child was born, I wasn’t prepared for the experience of my heart being wrenched out during the moments of learning to “let go.” The first time my husband and I went out for dinner and left the baby with grandparents, I was excited for about twenty minutes. Then I started wondering, “I wonder if he’s crying? (he was going through the colicky stage), did I leave enough breast milk? Will they remember to change his diaper?” and so on.
The first time I let go of my toddler’s hand to take his first steps, he faceplanted hard on the carpet. When the second and third kid came along, I was much more cautious about letting go and waited until I thought they could master the walking thing. Some of that wisdom comes from experience the second time around, and some of it comes from being patient and knowing the time when the kid was ready to master it on his/her own. That’s the fine line of parenting and letting go–figuring out that magic formula and timing.
We live in an era of Helicopter Parenting–parents who hold the reins of parenting so tight that the kid has little opportunity to learn on their own and make mistakes. But here’s the thing, letting go is a vital part of the parenting transition that enables a child to achieve maximum growth in all areas of life.
When my oldest son was around five, we were at a McDonalds (I know, I know) playland and he asked for an ice cream cone. I gave him the cash and he went up to the counter to order his ice cream. Another parent who was with me was flabbergasted.
“You let him order by himself?”
My oldest son is deaf, and from an early age I wanted him to be independent and competent just like any other kid. I stood back and watched as he ordered his own ice cream. He came triumphantly walking back happily devouring his cone. The other parent continued to order for her deaf child for YEARS after that. She just could not let go and allow her kid to struggle with the ordering process. It was far easier for her to speak for her child and do the ordering.
The struggle is part of the process. In fact, it’s probably one of the most valuable aspects of the parenting gig–letting your child navigate the world and the challenges on their own is one of the most valuable gifts you can give your kid. The letting go stuff is hard. It’s so much easier to do for, or hold on–and wait for a better time or more maturity–before letting go. Yet, by letting go, our kids gain skills and experiences that they wouldn’t have if we didn’t hover so darn hard over them.
The first time I let a child take off with the car and a newly-minted driver’s license my heart was in my throat. And no, it did not become easier with each child because I was reliving all my fears, doubts, and scary thoughts with each child. But the only way around the fear of letting go is to…let go.
And the first time they leave home…oh my…that’s the ultimate letting go.
Letting go often means giving up control, and that can be so darned tough at times. Here are some tips for navigating those parenting transitions that involve letting go:
Shift Your Perspective:
Instead of seeing the letting go process as a loss of control, focus on the gain from it: increased independence, learning, and growth. Each time you “let go” and allow your child to experience something new and unknown, both of you grow in the process. Yes, your child may make mistakes or chose poor outcomes as a result, but the lessons learned can strengthen both of you. You can actually stunt your child’s growth by holding back instead of letting go.
Connect with Other Parents:
One of the easiest ways to handle the letting go process is to connect and talk with other parents who have been there or are going through the same process. You will often find that “hindsight advice” is spot on and this will help ease the parenting transition. Knowing that you aren’t alone in the “letting go” process can be comforting.
Connect with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Adults:
When you’re early in the parenting journey with your Deaf/Hard of hearing child, it can be difficult to see into the future years because you’re just trying to get through the day to day stuff. Take the opportunity to meet Deaf/Hard of hearing adults. This is a wonderful way to get questions answered, to see different perspectives and experiences, and to gain knowledge that would otherwise be difficult to find on your own. Take some time to scour the web for stories of Deaf/Hard of Hearing adults in various professions and activities and share them with your child.
Karen Putz is the mom of Dave, Ren, and Steven. She is the Co-Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infusion at Hands & Voices. For fun, she walks on water.
Rachel Kolb is a Stanford graduate and Rhodes scholar who is currently pursuing a PhD in English literature at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Rachel was born profoundly deaf to hearing parents and grew up bilingual, using both sign language and spoken English. In this guest blog post, Rachel and her parents, Irene and Bill Kolb, give their respective perspectives on how their family navigated the complexities of communication, education, and personal development, especially during the early years of Rachel’s life.
Q: Briefly describe your family’s journey with deafness and with communication. How did you, as parents or as a family, make the decisions you did?
Irene: The day after we received Rachel’s diagnosis of having a bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, we went to the main library and checked out every book available on sign language and deafness. I learned that the biggest window of opportunity for language acquisition is from birth to three years. We started using signs that same day and within a few months, Rachel was communicating to us with baby signs.
This was the year that cochlear implants were approved for children by the FDA and we were told she was a candidate. We did not know if Rachel would grow up to self-identify as Deaf. We chose not to pursue cochlear implant surgery for her because we were sensitive to the message it may send, that she was not okay being deaf. The most profound book I read was Deaf Like Me. With that book, we came to the early realization that Rachel may never learn to hear or speak, even with a cochlear implant, but we could learn to sign. And who wouldn’t want to have open communication with their child? The journey continued to unfold, but we didn’t really know where it would lead or how we would get there.
We as parents continually learned new things and let Rachel try new things. We enabled Rachel’s interests and passions, and we made educational decisions on Rachel’s behalf. That’s what parents do: set the path. We chose to send her to a preschool for the deaf and then mainstream her with an interpreter in elementary school. She attended a private school, with an interpreter and as the only deaf student, from sixth through twelfth grade. We never considered sending her to a residential deaf school because we felt children need to live with their families. Rachel being deaf is not more heavily weighted than her identity of being part of our family. Going to college was simply an accepted family conviction, not an option or a mere possibility. By that time, it was Rachel’s choice on where to apply for college and what she wanted to study. We had set the path; the rest was all up to her.
Bill: We have two lovely girls that we are truly blessed with. I believe Irene is the one who set the path forward for Rachel’s journey. Irene is the one who would read everything available on a topic and then ask me for my input. After that, we would march forward with a new plan. She is a remarkable individual who helped shape not only Rachel’s future but helped me make informed decisions.
Right after Rachel was diagnosed, we were placed into a New Mexico state-sponsored program called Step-Hi. People from this program would visit our home regularly and give us important information and services. The initial visits were very basic, and taught us things such as how to clean ear molds, change hearing aid batteries, and so forth. Then during one visit the individual brought a record that gave me, as a hearing person, an insight to what different levels of hearing loss sounded like. The record repeated a story over and over again, and each time the narrator would drop certain frequencies until the recording lost all frequencies – that is, let me hear what it sounded like to be profoundly deaf. This recording really hit home with me. Going forward, I decided I would learn as much as I could about how to communicate with my precious daughter.
We enrolled in sign language classes that were offered over lunch at our workplace. We went to the local university and enrolled in continued education sign language classes. We obtained as many sign language books and videos as we could and practiced with each other and with Rachel. We also decided we would not only communicate by sign but also with voice. If you were part of the family, signing was not an option. It was a way of life. Written language was also a way of life. We used 3”x5” cards to label most things in the house with their names. We also sat at night and signed (read) books to Rachel. Before long she was reading better and faster than I could, and she soon told me (in not so many words), “Get lost, you’re too slow.”
I believe that if a person is going to be born deaf, this time is much better than any other time in history due to the evolution of assistive devices such as hearing aids, text messages, closed captioning, Skype, and so forth. When Rachel was diagnosed, hearing aids were worn on the chest and the batteries were the size of a car battery – well, not really, but they were enormous. Technology was rapidly changing, which made it hard and expensive to keep up with. But we made an early decision as parents that we would try to keep up with the latest in technologies for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. We investigated and pursued options for hearing aids and other technologies to best meet Rachel’s needs, and I believe that also made a difference.
Rachel: As I’ve gotten older, I have appreciated more and more the effort my parents put into getting the right information and into making decisions on my behalf. Most important, for me, is the decision they made to learn sign language and to enable my bilingual communication access. I have met too many deaf individuals who feel like they cannot communicate with their hearing family members because their family does not sign. Having a family that signed and that worked to provide language access for me gave me a sense of confidence in myself, even when things got challenging. With my family, I was never just deaf; I was a fully contributing member of the family, and my parents’ high expectations enabled me to learn and to succeed in the ways I wanted.
I also appreciate that my parents recognized that it was important for me to have access to the deaf community, even if I was mainstreamed. I went to a deaf camp in Aspen, Colorado every summer for many years (and went for several winters, too). Although most of my friends are (and have always been) hearing, I’ve been able to find and keep in touch with deaf friends from many different places. Trying to be involved in both deaf and hearing worlds is not always easy, but I think my parents recognized this early on and tried to give me as many tools and as much access as they could to both.
Q: What was the most important thing you learned along the way?
Irene: I learned and was empowered by the fact that no one, not even the professionals, knows what is best for a particular family or child. Listening to the advice and reading up on how to raise a deaf child was just part of the critical thinking that led us to decisions, and we never felt we had to go along with what one side or the other said. We could make our own decisions, based on our family situation and our values. We certainly chose a different approach than many families, and that is okay. One size does not fit all.
Bill: I learned that family is the most important thing. Through thick and thin, family will always be there for each other. If you put a little effort into something, the rewards will surround you tenfold. I also learned to let my children explore the world and follow their heart. Rachel has mastered her passions through following her desires.
Rachel: I learned how to enable and advocate for myself, definitely not as something that happened overnight but as a result of my parents’ decisions and the expectations they had for me. They made it clear they would always be there for me, but also made it clear that there were some things I could only do or decide for myself. Learning how to take control over my own decisions and become my own best advocate has been a process that has taken years, but thanks to my family’s involvement I feel like I’ve gotten there.
Q: Were there any parts of the journey where you disagreed about one thing or another? What parts were the most challenging?
Irene: I can’t think of a time when we disagreed. I do think that at times Rachel wondered why we chose a mainstream situation instead of putting her into a school with other deaf students. A very challenging aspect for me was the grief I felt. It’s not that I didn’t love and appreciate Rachel. Having a deaf child was not what I had expected. A new, difficult situation would arise for Rachel, and I would grieve. Bill helped me realize that not every difficult situation was related to her deafness. Over time grief cropped up less and less, but it was a very tough emotion to process, especially at the beginning. Bill and I usually took turns being in a grief funk and luckily it was not often that we were in a funk at the same time. The emotional toll of having a deaf or other special needs child is something I don’t think people talk about enough, or one that the professionals appreciate from a personal standpoint.
Bill: I also can’t think of a situation where we disagreed. I think the most challenging aspect for me was being concerned about Rachel’s emotional wellbeing. When she was a young child we would attend social gatherings where all the other kids would be playing and talking. Rachel would end up in an isolated part of the house reading a book. This just wrenched my heart and there was nothing we could do about the situation. Nothing could be said or done that would make others accept and include her in their games and time together. When faced with groups of people, we would try to sign or at a minimum explain what was happening, but often we failed to keep Rachel current with the situation. I am not sure what I would change or how I could make it better for her if I had to do it again. Sometimes we would visit deaf individuals to give her the opportunities to be with other deaf people, but that then put me in a situation where I often could not understand the conversations.
Rachel: I’ve come across stories of deaf and hard-of-hearing people who resent the decisions (especially communication-related decisions) their parents made on their behalf. I don’t feel like this has happened to me, maybe because I’ve never felt like my parents dropped me in completely over my head, or did not understand the repercussions of their decisions, or did not empathize with what I was going through. Some things along the way, such as being mainstreamed or going to speech therapy, were certainly frustrating and difficult. I’ll be honest, I did not always enjoy being surrounded by hearing peers, many of whom did not make the same effort to communicate with me as my family did. But my parents gave me their full support, and I also was conscious that their choices gave me benefits I would not have gotten otherwise, such as access to an incredible education. Growing up, my family was my refuge: they were the ones who enabled me, who were always there, and who let me be fully myself. I won’t deny that it was very difficult at times to grow up in a hearing world, but with where I am right now I also can’t say I would have changed very many of those tangible decisions, based on the options we had.
Q: Who was your most valuable mentor?
Irene: Rachel’s very first speech language pathologist was very instrumental in helping us through those early days. Beginning at six months old, Rachel started going to speech therapy twice a week for years, and continued going once a week in middle school through high school. I would often talk to the SLP after the sessions. That was therapeutic for me and helped shape my ideas of how to educate a deaf child to function in a hearing world, even though we did not choose the cochlear implant route, which must have seemed odd, especially since this SLP was the director of the cochlear implant program. She supported our choices. And she helped me to formulate the ethos of never putting limits on Rachel just because of her deafness.
Bill: I had several mentors at work and church who guided me with family concerns. There is one individual who was, and still is, inspiring when it came to guidance about deaf life. My friend Roger is a man with a progressive hearing loss who became immersed in the deaf community later in his life, and who offered sign language classes to many people. We often met for coffee on Saturday morning to catch up on life and to support each other. He taught me so much about deafness, deaf culture, and service to others, and not only offered advice but would also lend an ear when needed.
Rachel: I can’t pinpoint one mentor, but I do remember a number of counselors and staff members I met at deaf camp when I was young who gave me a positive image of how to be deaf in the world. I think it’s very important for young deaf and hard-of-hearing children to have access to older deaf role models. I’m still meeting deaf role models in a variety of places as I move into adulthood, and their influence on me is huge. (I say this, even if I would add that I have had many positive hearing role models, too.)
Q: What piece of advice would you most like to give to hearing families with deaf or hard-of-hearing children?
Irene: It’s important to be mindful and intentional about communication with a deaf or hard-of-hearing child. They receive limited incidental learning by overhearing what’s going on around them. So do take time to fill them in, even when it means explaining things that seem like they should be obvious. And be as inclusive as possible so the incidental becomes the intentional.
Bill: Treat them as you would any other family member and include them in everything and anything. Learn as many communication skills as you can, and apply them as early as possible. The first few years of your child’s life are the ones in which they learn the most. And last but most important: love them daily, and it will be rewarded in many ways.
Rachel: Communication is key, and so is being inclusive and intentional. Find out all the information you can, not only from professionals but also from people who have lived it. Engage with a variety of communities and give your child options, based on what works best for that child and for the family. Discover your child’s passions, the things that light his/her imagination on fire, and enable them.
Rachel speaking at a TEDx event:
From the moment our kids are born, our parenting journey is one of letting go.
Do you remember the first time you let go of your wobbly toddler for that first step? The first time you let someone babysit your child? The first time you let your teenager drive alone?
Letting go is hard. Letting go means we’re no longer in control of the parenting stuff.
When my daughter called me earlier in the spring, she informed me she was no longer going to pursue the college path. Her heart was set on acting and she wanted to find a way to pursue her passion.
“Ok, so what’s your plan?” I asked.
She didn’t really have one. She was going to come home after the semester ended and figure it out. She might move to New York City and live with her cousin. She might try and get a job in Los Angeles and live with a friend. She just knew she wasn’t going to go back to college. Acting school, maybe.
As a parent, I wrestled with a whole range of emotions. The parent side of me screamed, “oh-my-gosh-she’s-gonna-have-a-tough-life-without-a-degree!” The Passion Coach side of me calmly whispered, “let her have her journey, she’ll figure it out.”
My conversations with my daughter showcased the whole range of those emotions and thoughts. During one conversation, I was calm and rational, even positive. During other conversations, I brought out the “play it safe” cards and the “get your degree first–after that you can do whatever you want” rationality. I think I said some not-so-nice things.
“How can you tell others to follow their passions if you won’t let your own daughter follow her heart?” she asked me.
Yes, she called me on it.
And she was right. I had to let go. This was her journey. Even if I pulled the parenting card and insisted she stay in college, I knew it would create the biggest thorn between us. She had been miserable with school since fourth grade and we had plenty of battles over it.
As the end of summer rolled around, the plan was still unclear. My daughter even had moments of self-doubt, of wondering what direction to go in next.
Then out of the blue, she found an audition for Spring Awakening on Broadway. Without a single bit of hesitation, she booked a flight.
The moment she FaceTimed me to tell me the news, a swing role on Broadway, I suddenly understood why this process of letting go is so important: it’s the only way to grow.
I’m all too aware it could have gone the other way and the journey would have taken another twist and turn. That’s how it works, that’s how life unfolds.
Karen Putz is a mom to three deaf and hard of hearing kids. She resides in the Chicago area and is the Co-coordinator of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infusion at Hands & Voices.
More about Spring Awakening on Broadway:
Last weekend my husband and I hosted a couple friends for dinner and an evening at our house. The wife in this couple is deaf and her husband is a sign language interpreter. As we sat down at the table to eat an ease fell over me. There was no need to feel like I needed to fake understanding with nods or smiles. I have a moderate severe hearing loss and I usually feel anxious before a meeting like this one. That night was wonderful we had something in common, lack of hearing and knowledge of lack of hearing.
We need to find where we belong. We need to find a community or a group where we all get each other. If that group is about sports, animals, children, or in this case hearing loss. Having a group or even a few individuals that understand is a comforting thing. It doesn’t turn into an embarrassment when you ask for something to be repeated or reworded. You don’t get the dreaded “never mind.”
I grew up in Minnesota in the metro area. I was a child with an ear infection every other day it seemed. Ear tubes put my ears more times than I care to count. I know I grew up with a hearing loss now that I think back on my childhood. I never understood how people could understand a whisper. Someone putting their mouth to my ear was just hot air I could feel. Was that how everyone experienced this? Being at a friend’s house and having them all talk at once or talk with music playing, none of this I could understand. I wondered why this seemed so easy for other people. Why did whispering between girlfriends seem fun not an anxiety filled moment. As I grew up and went to college (majored in Communicative Disorders) I realized more and more that yes I had a hearing loss. I just had to get to the point of acceptance.
The past couple years I have come out of my shell and embraced hearing loss as best I could. Hearing aids were purchased. My secret was out. I joined a couple groups that deal with hearing loss and being hard of hearing. I started to put my feelings on to paper or a computer in today’s vernacular. I started my blog Musings of a Momma. I started this blog as a stress reliever–writing in the evenings. When my hearing took another dive down, I decided to write more and focus more on being a hard of hearing mom. My writing got notice by the HearStrong Foundation where I was named a HearStrong Champion. This has to be one of my proudest days behind the birth of my children.
One thing I wanted for my children was to make sure their hearing is on track. I remembering taking my daughter to an audiologist and she tested around a -10db across the board. I guess she is hearing fine! My son came along five years later. He didn’t babble much or start talking till three years old. I had some people telling me autism and some telling me he couldn’t hear. We pursued both paths with him. He was found to be on the autism spectrum high functioning. When we went forward on his hearing we found out he had a mild conductive hearing loss. We continue to have his hearing checked every six months. It has dropped at times and we have done tubes, and adenoids and tonsils out. I just took him to the audiologist last week and his hearing has dropped another 10db. We are off to the doctor this week to see if something medically can be done. He has had no ear infections or fluid in his ears so I am stumped. Then we head back to the audiologist. Just a wait and see with him. He does use the FM system at school where he is in 1st grade.
A great resource we were told about was MN Hands and Voices. Our family attended a family event last spring. Our whole drive my husband and I wondered if we would fit in, our son only has a mild loss. What we found was open arms of acceptance and a wealth of information. We learned a mild loss is a loss and it does affect a child at school. We had some IEP questions answered and found some new friends in the process. It was like the dinner we had last weekend we found that place we belonged. We found a place that understands our questions, doesn’t get annoyed with the What?? If you didn’t hear something right away, they got it. I want my son to know there is a place that we belong and people that understand. MN hands and voices has been that place for our family with our son this past year.
Sara B Lundquist
I couldn’t shake the feeling there was something “wrong” with my daughter throughout my entire pregnancy. The ultrasounds and tests came back normal, but I still felt a nagging dread. In my last trimester, I had repeated bouts of preterm labor that lasted hours and hours and I was certain she just needed to come out…that she would be much safer in the world than in my womb. So when Ruby was born and repeatedly failed the newborn hearing screen, I was actually relieved. Hearing loss? That was it? We could handle that. She was healthy and beautiful and we could do everything in our power to arm her with all the tools she needed to be successful in spite of ears that weren’t fully functional. Once we had confirmation of the hearing loss we already knew in our hearts she had, we set out to prepare to help her in every way we could. We worked with the local school system and were matched with an incredible deaf educator who was an absolute gift in helping us navigate everything. We started learning and using sign language. We pursued amplification options. And she was thriving. By six months, she had started signing herself, and watching her communication flourish made my heart swell with pride. By a year, she was stringing several signs together.
A few months after her first birthday, she would seem agitated and start looking around and signing “helicopter.” A few months after that, she started to frantically sign “helicopter ouch” and “helicopter out.” Desperate for an answer to what was troubling her, we took her to various audiologists and ENTs. Finally, when she was two-and-a-half, we learned a name for the sound she insisted she heard, but no one else did: tinnitus. We also learned that there was nothing we could do but distract her from it. A cochlear implant could also provide relief, but insurance would not provide coverage in her case. Around the same time, I clicked a link I saw on the Hands & Voices Facebook page I’d recently liked. It was a video of two young girls beautifully signing the lyrics of One Direction’s song “Story of my Life.” We’d just gotten an iPad and I pulled up the video to show Ruby. She was immediately enthralled. Ruby has never been one to sit still for long, but before the song had even fully ended, she signed “again.” She probably watched it ten times in a row. We soon realized it was exactly the distraction she needed when her ears were bothering her. And then she started asking for it on her own when the tinnitus was upsetting her.
A couple months later, on a whim, I emailed the publishers of the video – two young girls named Ren and Keely – to thank them for making and posting what had become such a wonderful distraction for our daughter. Half-jokingly, I mentioned Ruby’s obsession with the song “Let It Go” from Frozen, and that she would love to see an ASL translation of that if they were ever looking for ideas. I was completely floored when I received a response back – just days before Ruby’s third birthday – that they loved the idea and planned to make a video. I still can’t quite believe that two teen girls would take the time to make a video in the freezing cold for a toddler they’d never met. Ruby has watched all of Ren and Keely’s videos more times than I can count. I joke that she’s probably responsible for at least a third of their nearly 200,000 views on the “Let It Go” video. As we’ve watched them together over and over (and over), it’s occurred to me that these videos are invaluable not just because they offer such a wonderful distraction for our daughter. I’ve noticed my little girl lighting up and excitedly pointing out the girls’ hearing aids and eagerly showing off the new signs she’s picked up. And I’ve realized that the videos showcase something I hadn’t thought of when I was preparing her toolkit: positive role models. Ren and Keely (and the umpteen other ASL song translators we’ve since found and watched repeatedly on youtube) have helped Ruby find beauty in what makes her “different.” They’ve made her proud of who she is. She looks up to them, and while she’s never met them, she considers them her friends. I knew it was important for Ruby to meet peers who were deaf and hard of hearing, but I hadn’t considered the impact connecting her to deaf and hard of hearing teens and adults would have.
I’m so thankful for Hands and Voices and for all the incredible role models who serve as such wonderful inspiration for our family without ever knowing it. Jess Jacobsen-Buckley
We’re parents and families with children who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH). Most of us are hearing ourselves (95% of us, according to the statistics) and our DHH child might be the first person with hearing loss we’ve ever met (not counting Great Aunt Louise).
Wherever you are in your parent journey with your child…whether you’re talking, signing, cueing or combining, or even if you have no idea yet what the best communication mode will be, you’re welcome here. Whether you’re child is newly identified with a hearing loss or a senior in high school, you’re welcome here.
This is Hands & Voices…we’re parents who are trying to make the best decisions we can for our children from birth until they leave the nest. It helps to share with each other so we started this blog.
If you want to know more about our organization, please visit the official website at www.handsandvoices.org
Welcome to this parent community. Please be nice. We’re all trying the best we can and would never hurt anybody’s feelings intentionally, so thank you for being sensitive with your remarks to the diverse perspectives shared on this blog. We reserve the right to moderate comments and will not publish anything that gives offense. If we have missed the mark for you, please let us know and we’ll try harder the next time.