All You Need is Love…Right?

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. 

10 thoughts on “All You Need is Love…Right?”

  1. My parents loved me very much but don't vocalize it often (or hug, come to think of it). It wasn't part of their culture. I make sure my kids know I love them no matter how angry I am at their actions. In the end, that's what parenting is about, isn't it?

  2. Thank you for sharing your personal parenting challenges-you gave me something to think about. Communication is so important, and it sounds like you've really invested a huge amount of energy in making sure you and your children stay connected. I'm sure that will prove invaluable as they get older.

  3. What an interesting perspective you have on parenting!! I'm particularly struck by your mentioning that you do not sign, and I'm curious why? I am a physician, and I occasionally have deaf patients, and whenever I see one of them in clinic or on rounds, I wish that I learned sign language so that I didn't have to rely on the interpreter. Sometimes, the patient in question can read lips, and I've learned to pick up a few signs, but I would love to learn ASL, just as I love to learn other languages. I think there's such a beauty in language that involves the whole body – it seems so like dance, and I view spoken language as being an extension of song.

    Sorry to go on about this – I understand that you are reluctant to define yourself by your deafness. I don't want to take away from the elegance of your writing – I think you hit on a lot of points we all share as parents. We are all afraid of getting it "wrong" with our kids. I suspect that your deafness is a unique gift to your kids, as it gives them a constant object lesson is perceiving difference, and being sensitive to the needs of someone else. Skills we all need to live our lives most completely in society.

  4. I so hear you on the fear of screwing up your child. That's so my paranoia, as well – and especially given that I am parenting a child with Asperger's, it becomes a larger concern, too.

    You've definitely struck on something I struggle with myself. Is this normal? Or is this something that is a result of Asperger's? It's so hard to determine sometimes where the challenges fall.

  5. You should definitely learn ASL; it's not hard to learn and many places offer courses. One of my best friends, who is a music therapist and grief counselor, took a course over a couple of months and is practically fluent. I just have no motivation to learn sign language since I don't know anyone in my day to day life that signs, though I do know enough sign to get by. My parents made the decision when I was young to pursue oral education.

  6. I found it interesting that for John Robison, his own Asperger's didn't necessarily give him a huge advantage in his relationship with his son. I guess for a neurotypical parent, it takes a lot of observation, communication and reflection to really understand the behavior of a non-neurotypical child.

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