I have a very small, loose network of people I know, parenting with some kind of disability. This is not on purpose. It reflects the general pattern of my life-- I am a deaf person, living in a hearing world. I do not sign, I did not go to a deaf school (except for one year at The Clarke School for the Deaf) and I was fully mainstreamed in school. And now, I am a deaf person parenting in a hearing world, to hearing children. The deaf parents I know now are people that I've known and been friends with for a long time. I can count them on one hand. I have one other friend with a different physical disability, and while her specific challenges are different from mine, she surely sometimes views her parenting through the lens of her disability, as I do mine.In the beginning, when I first became a parent, I spent a little bit of time sorting out what were "normal" parenting challenges and what challenges were uniquely attributed to my deafness. It's not as clearcut in those infant years, where communication is basic. The older my children get, the more time I spend doing this sorting, but it also becomes easier to differentiate between what is universal and what is unique. When my children talk back, I take that as universal and correct the behavior accordingly. When they do or say something specifically because they assume I can't hear them, it becomes a matter of not only correcting but explaining why that is not fair. That actually does not happen too often at this point, and I can't think of any concrete examples.
What I'm learning at this point is I need to strike a balance between letting them help me when I miss something and actually relying on them to be my "life interpreters," much in the same way that I rely on my husband or my sister to do this for me sometimes. It's an unfair burden, I think, to place on a small child, however easy or naturally it may come for her, because she was born with a helpful, authoritative nature.
One of the neat things about my daughter being nearly five is that I'm really able to begin to understand her, to read her, to recognize behaviors that are familiar to me because I was the same way at her age. In the context of parenting with a disability, my observations of her behavior and personality are even more important because I cannot take our ability to communicate well for granted. I'm more careful to make sure that I'm really hearing what she is telling me, looking for clues in her body language and facial expressions. This is really not much different from how I function in social situations-- I compensate for not always being sure I've caught the proper tone in someone's voice by looking for the other cues that confirm my observation, or lack thereof.
I know that as my children get older, the challenges will evolve. Some of it will come from their own heightened awareness of what it means to have a deaf parent, and some of it will come from my own need to adjust accordingly. This month, for From Left to Write, I signed up to read Raising Cubby, by John Elder Robison. I'd not heard of him before this book sign-up but he is a father with Asperger's, raising a son who also has Asperger's. While our parenting challenges are different, I found parallels in the way his parenting evolved as his son grew older. While the tone of the book very much reflects his Aspergian stream of consciousness, I immediately related to his endless anxiety about becoming a parent, and all the questions he asks himself once he actually becomes a parent.
I think the fear, at some point and at some level, of screwing up your own children is a universal parenting trait and I take some solace in that. The adage "all you need is love" applies just as much to me as it does to any other parent, disability or not.
This post was inspired by Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives by John Elder Robison. Parenting is a challenging job, but what challenges does a parent with Asperger's face? Join From Left to Write on March 12 as we discuss Raising Cubby. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. Links to the book are IndieBound affiliate links.