There are times when I mention in casual conversation that both my parents are deaf. This always generates mixed responses. People are curious, as I guess anyone would be when they encounter someone with this different perspective. They run the gambit on crazy questions though. From: ‘How do you know how to talk?’ to: ‘Can they drive?’ The worst reaction though is: ‘I’m sorry’. No offense, but 1. you’re an asshole & 2. I’m not sorry at all. Frankly, I’m sorry that you would even have the perspective that this is a bad thing. Having deaf parents had a huge impact on my life and my upbringing. Today, I’m going to go over the ways that having deaf parents prepared me for life much more than you prepared your kids, or your parents prepared you.
I recently read The Coddling of the American Mind, which very quickly became one of my favorite books. The book discusses safety culture and the dependence on authority figures to solve all issues. It discusses how we’ve largely failed to prepare a generation of people for the real world. It also does a great job of discussing all this without turning it political (although at the end they disclose their political affiliations which also surprised me). Reading this book led me to reflect on my upbringing and how different it was from the one they discuss in the book. Get the book reserved today at your library, or buy it from Amazon at the link above. I really can’t recommend it enough. Anyway, onto my experience with deaf parents.
Having deaf parents prepared me for life in many unusual ways. Unquestionably, having deaf parents affected how I, and my family, communicate. But how was it beneficial? My sisters and I are all loud, outspoken, and outgoing. I believe that this is primarily an effect of nurture and not so much nature. If the three of us are together without someone to police us, you aren’t going to get a word in. The good news with this is that we don’t have a hard time explaining how we feel, or what we mean. Also, we are all pretty blunt…almost to a fault. However, this helps tremendously when I manage other people as well as manage our real estate. Hard conversations are never fun. Yet, if you’ve had them all your life, they aren’t nearly as hard.
Sign language can be pretty fast, and if you aren’t paying attention you can miss entire words pretty quickly. As a result, if you want to effectively communicate, you have to use a lot of context clues. This ability to build sentences around a couple of words has helped me tremendously with communicating with Emily’s Greek grandparents. Much to Emily’s dismay, her Yiayia will ask for me if Emily doesn’t understand what she’s trying to say.
Because my nuclear family is fluent in American Sign Language, we are also very animated. Sign language uses a comical amount of facial expressions and body language. This is all to convey the tone, feeling, and intention of each sentence. Because of this, I am also good at picking up body language. I can typically pick up on subtle things more than my non-CODA (children of deaf adults) friends and family. When I can intuitively see that someone is getting upset, I can tread a little lighter or change the direction of the conversation.
Most people wouldn’t think that having deaf parents would have prepared me for life through reading and written communication. However, with 100 words panning across the TV screen every minute because of closed captions rolling by, I was constantly exposed to written communication. Strong reading skills would be hard to avoid in this scenario. In my opinion, this helped cultivate a love for reading pretty early on.
The self-sufficiency caused by having deaf parents is closely related to the communication aspect. Because our parents couldn’t speak, it meant we were usually translators. Through this, we became comfortable talking to adults pretty early in life. I recall negotiating my first car sale, ordering food for the family at the drive-through, and setting doctors appointments all before I was in second grade. I know ‘adults’ today that still can’t complete these relatively simple tasks without help from mommy and daddy.
As a child and into my teens, we didn’t have cell phones. This wasn’t before their widespread use, I’m not that damn old (sorry old people). It was just that we couldn’t afford it. This means that once I left the house, we couldn’t get ahold of our parents until we got home. My parents had a TTY/TDD, but that was mainly used to call other people that had one. If you didn’t have a TTY/TDD, that meant you had to call through the relay service to someone that would transcribe your call to your parents over the device. Even if I had access to a phone unless I had the number to the relay service memorized (I didn’t) the phone was useless. If plans changed, we just had to roll with it and find our way to resolve any issues.
Through this lack of long-distance communication, I developed several useful traits. Motivation to solve issues as quickly as possible so it didn’t interrupt any other plans. Self-reliance, my parents weren’t going to be able to solve anything from afar so I had to do the best with what I had. This created a strong sense of independence pretty early on in my life.
An interesting aspect of deaf parents is that talking louder doesn’t affect them. Yelling gets you nowhere as they don’t give a shit how loud you are. Also, if you are mad enough to be yelling, it makes signing harder because of the fine motor skills required to articulate your fingers and hands in the right ways. So you quickly have to learn to control your emotions if you want to get your thoughts and opinions out.
Another aspect of self-sufficiency and self-regulation is that our parents weren’t constantly interjecting themselves into our arguments. Because they couldn’t hear us, they largely didn’t know if we were in another room playing nicely or trying to kill each other. The only way they found out is if one of us was a snitch. This lack of control over our interactions allowed us to work through our issues. If you’re a little shit and constantly cheat, your siblings and friends won’t want to play with you anymore. To avoid that happening, you have to self-regulate and quickly understand that there are consequences to your actions. This can and does happen without parental oversight.
Rebelliousness might not be something that many people see as a way that my deaf parents prepared me for life. Ask any teacher that had the privilege of having me in their class from kindergarten to senior year, having me in class was a bitch. Hell, I’m sure my mother wishes I wasn’t as rebellious. However, that rebelliousness rarely crossed any major lines. It was usually me just pushing the status quo without being an outright anarchist.
How did having deaf parents make me more rebellious though? Shamefully, I’ll admit that there were times that I took advantage of my parents’ inability to hear. I imagine most people would if they found themselves in the same scenario. I had a penchant for expletives pretty early on. Some might would even call me a prodigy. Unfortunately, the house was filled with rats who would run and tattle. Amazingly my parents didn’t buy the ‘I was talking about a beaver dam’ excuse I was selling. In third grade I bought my first Tupac CD. Ironically my favorite song on that CD was Hellrazor. There wasn’t a large number of 7 & 8-year-olds in rural Alabama listening to Tupac. I was a trailblazer.
I was 15 when I got my first motorcycle. Quickly, I realized how easy it was to sneak out with parents that couldn’t hear. Terrible, I know. But, a 15-year-old with means of transportation, and an opportunity to leave with a much lower chance of getting caught… Of course, I left. The real hellions were the people I was meeting up with as they were sneaking out with hearing parents. That’s riskier than cryptocurrencies.
I always pushed the envelope on what I could get away with. Once, a teacher threatened to call my parents when I was disrupting class. I jokingly told him to go ahead, that they likely wouldn’t even answer the phone. Someone told him after class that my parents were deaf and funnily enough, he came and apologized to me. I laughed and told him that I was the one disrupting class why would he feel like he should apologize.
How this Affected Me
Having deaf parents prepared me for life in many ways. The communication, self-reliance, and rebellious streak helps me see the world through a different lens. This helps me adopt alternative ways of thinking and living. Financial independence, fasting, veganism, being married & childless, these are all incredibly small niche’s in a world filled with the status quo and people just floating through life. I believe that having deaf parents forced me to grow up quicker than other kids. While other people my age were just starting to ‘adult’, I had already done all those things. I was ready for more.