Deaf Parenting Laid Bare – By Gary Kerridge

kidBefore I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories. ~John Wilmot

I am a parent of three robust lads. They are great lads too. We are all best mates, most of the time anyway. I pity my poor wife sometimes because we lads are all sport nuts. The footies on we watch, the soccer is on we watch – particularly so if it’s the English Premier League (EPL). The lads and I sit awake into the wee hours of the morning watching EPL. Sometimes Fin is upstairs watching Manchester United on a crap and probably pirated media stream. Fin made the mistake of supporting them while I and the other two are rabid West Ham supporters. Three against one – There is only one team that we will watch on Fox. The mother? In bed long ago.

And the poor mother. Some sop romantic thing comes on and there are automatically groans of despair all round as she claims the TV to watch it. No matter, there is the Playstation. Of course the game of choice is FIFA 14. Sometimes we play alone and sometimes we play together. Usually it is alone so that we are all arguing about whose turn it is.

“But daaaaaad you’ve been on it for three hours!!!!!!”

“But kiiiiiiiddds I only play Fifa from start to finish once a year.!!! –

“But daaaaaaaad it takes you 12 months to do that!!!”

Meanwhile on the TV, or in the bedroom and most often in the bath, the mother is watching PS I Love you for the 5 000th time. Or it might be Phantom of the Opera or Les Misérables . No there isn’t a TV in the bathroom, she watches it on her laptop. It’s not all bad, the eldest and the youngest are great fans of Dr Who, as is the mother. It keeps them together.

Of course our kids are all CODA’s – Children of Deaf Adults. There are some advantages of being a Child of a Deaf Adult. All three abuse these advantages at will. I mean they will get up after they should be in bed to watch stuff on TV, late at night, knowing that we cannot hear them or the TV. Or the eldest will pretend to go to bed and sneak out and spend another four hours on the Playstation and go to bed around 4am in the morning. They will swear knowing we wont hear it and one will dob the other in. The dobbee will then claim that they didn’t and that the dobber was trying to get them in trouble . God knows what else they do. They naively think that we don’t know about their little secrets, but of course we do. The looks of profound innocence and the lame excuses they come up with when found out are things of great amusement. They are ratbags, the three of them.

It is interesting being a parent who is deaf. Particularly when the kids first start to realise what it means to be deaf. Most CODA’s will tell you stories of when they had to ‘rescue’ their deaf parents from sticky situations. It’s hard for the kids when they see their parents struggling in communication situations. Around the ages of 6 and 7 my kids seemed to have this great need to ‘save’ me or their mother.

Now I am a lazy communicator. I am one of those deafies that faced with a communication difficulty at a place like McDonalds or a shopping line will just nod in the vain hope that a nod is what is required. Of course this is fraught with danger. You may be asked if you want sugar in your coffee, which I hate, and you will end up with sugar in your coffee. Or more commonly you are asked if you have a Rewards Card, which I don’t, and the poor assistant waits with a bemused look for you to provide it when you have wrongly confirmed that you have a Rewards Card. Most deafies are guilty of this and I am sure a fair few reading this are cringing at the memory.

CODA’s observe this over a period of years. At some point in their development it twigs that mum or dad have not heard properly and they feel the need to hop in and save them. What will happen is that at a place like McDonalds they will answer the question before the parent has had a chance to. The conversation will go something like this:

“ Do you want sugar with that?”

“No, he doesn’t have sugar”

The parent, not having heard any of the exchange, invariably nods. The poor assistant then looks bemused. The CODA then rolls his eyes at the parent and signs or exegerrates their lip movements – “They asked if you want sugar and you don’t have sugar.” The CODA then looks to the assistant and then to the heavens as if to say – “Sorry my dad’s such an idiot.”

And of course, if your kids are ratbags like mine, they will find an opportunity to abuse these situations no end. Another conversation at McDonalds will go like this:

Assistant: “Do you want to upsize that?”

CODA: “Yes Please”

Of course in this particular situation the deaf parent has actually been able to lipread the question and answers just after the Coda has said “Yes please” with a “No thank you.” Naturally the McDonalds assistant is totally confused and they are usually left looking from child to parent in a desperate attempt to work out what is wanted. The deaf parent then looks to the child to work out what has happened and the child is usually beetroot red and staring down at their shoe laces. CODA’s can be cunning. Deaf parents are well advised to tell them early that the parent and only the parent answers the questions, rightly or wrongly.

“But you always answer wrong dad!!!!”

“Well that’s my problem isn’t it!!!”

The trick is to just keep reminding them that it isn’t their problem that mum and dad have problems communicating and that it is not the CODA’s responsibility to fix it. You have to be quite firm with this otherwise the CODA is forced to take on responsibilities that are way beyond their tender years and way too early. And of course the ratbags, like mine, will try to take advantage from time to time. That said, it cannot be easy for the CODA to watch their parents struggling sometimes. As deaf parents we need to understand that.

Being a parent is the best and most rewarding thing that a person can do. I firmly believe that. It can be tough to be firm but a child needs a firm hand, particularly in adolescence.

Adolescence is where your kids begin to find their way in the world. They begin to experiment. Relationships, sex, alcohol and pushing the boundaries as far as they can are the norm. But still you must be firm and love them just the same. Even when they burn a hole in your decking, or you find a beer in their bag or even when more recently a taxi driver ends up at your front door demanding payment cos your kid couldn’t get out of bed in the morning and was running late for an excursion that they didn’t want to miss. Yup, its exasperating, rewarding and quite often very funny all at the same time.

And it’s all worth it – I think! 😀

The trouble with learning to parent on the job is that your child is the teacher. ~Robert Brault,

 

 

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