Deaf and Hearing Marriage Part 4

Originally, this post series was 3-part, but I realized there is one more major issue.  I shared about the crucial value of common language and a little about kids, but failed to discuss the two together.

Managing communication between hearing kids and Deaf parents takes thought and follow-through.  When I first married Ken, I imagined the kids would just naturally sign.  They did!  They all began signing before they could speak.  But as they got older, we saw that they would default to spoken English if we didn't keep encouraging them and reminding them to sign.

When we slacked off in this area out of laziness, we paid for it!  Here are some tips and tricks we have learned that have helped us and helped our kids to automatically sign when they are around their dad or any other Deaf friends:

Ken (or the Deaf spouse)
- Keep voice off and just sign. This takes work and thought because it's natural to "code switch" and both talk and sign when communicating with any hearing person, but having a voice-off approach allows the kids to see and understand ASL without using English as a crutch.
- Don't allow the child communicate just by talking.  Pretend you don't understand, even if you do, unless, of course, it's some emergency.

Sarah (or the hearing spouse)
- If Ken is in the room or within sight, we all sign.  We have taught our kids from early on that this one way to show respect to Dad.  As the hearing spouse, the responsibility is on me to model this to the kids. When Ken walks in the room, I start signing, even if he's not paying attention.  (We also always leave closed captions on. Again, it's a sign of respect and value.)
- If the kids talk to me without signing in front of Ken, I act like I don't hear them.  This is tough, because I have to fight naturally responding, but it makes all the difference.  If they come up and start talking to me, I will simply look at them and sign (without voice), "What? I don't understand."  Or I'll just sign, "SIGN!" ** Guess my response depends on my mood and how many times we've had to remind them.
**5 years later, I'll edit my above comment to say that instead of telling the kids "Sign!" we found it much more effective to just sign, "What did you say?"  In ASL, that's just pointing at my chin with the "question" grammar on my face.**
- Give them alone time with Dad!  Since I homeschool them, they are with me, talking all day.  Right now, we don't sign during the day when Dad is at work.  That will change when the boys come home, but that's how it is for now.  When I leave them alone with Ken, it gives them time to connect with him without defaulting to speech.  I've been amazed at how their ASL increases when I go on a 3-day or more workshop and they are home with Ken for that long stretch.  It convicts me to be more diligent at "making" them sign when they forget.

One of my favorite things is when they come to me, signing without voice, forgetting that I can hear them.  I love that!! This usually happens after they've been alone with their dad for an extended period of time.

Both of us:
- Expect them to sign! Don't allow anything less.  It may seem difficult in that moment, but it's SO worth it in the long run.
- Have the kids spend time around other Deaf people.  Their time with other people in the Deaf community is invaluable!

The Brownies love signing.  They love their dad and value being able to communicate freely and easily with him.  Ken and I are certainly not perfect parents and this is one area we've had to work at with a purpose.  The work pays off, I promise!

Often, you'll see the members of the Deaf community, whether it's teachers or advocates, talk about the 90% rule.  90% of deaf children have hearing parents. 90% of deaf parents have hearing children. 90% of the hearing parents don't learn to sign in order to communicate with their children.  When I state this rule in my classes or lectures, I get gasps of disbelief from the audience.  People wonder (not understanding the complexity of the issue) how in the world parents could be so heartless.  But...what isn't reported is how many Deaf parents fail to sign with their hearing kids, making communication difficult at best.  Isn't that just as "heartless"?  It's certainly a double-standard.

There is so much more to this issue I can't possibly articulate it here.  More than anything, I hope this is encouraging and maybe even convicting to parents, both Deaf and hearing, to make communication a top priority if you have a bilingual household.

Read Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


  1. Ah, so now you switch from blogging to meddling! ;) This is where we have failed the most and I never dreamed we would. We must improve! With our first son, it was so easy. I signed everything to him all day and he aquired sign easily and all was fun and great. He was an only child for 3 almost years. Then, we had 3 more kids in one year. We went into survival mode in every way! We just had to keep us all alive. And it shows in many ways, including our communication. It's almost humorous sometimes when I notice something that we or the kids do and I think, "Wow! It's time to be functional humans again! This has become our default survival mode." I don't know if that makes sense, but we need to step up in several areas! ;)

    Thanks for the thoughts and challenges!

    Lisa Jungheim

  2. Lisa, trust me, with my homeschooling and Ken traveling as much as he does, this is a difficult one for us, too. We are far from perfect at it, too. As a student, though, I was led to believe lack of communication with kids was a hearing parent/deaf child problem. Not until we HAD kids (and I as met more families with Deaf parents) I realized it can be a problem the other way around, too. It's convicting to ME.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts in all four posts. They have been eye-opening and helpful to me,

  4. i just have to chime in on this one. when i first heard the 90% rule i gasped too. i tho't, i will never be that hearing parent! ask me 2 gutwrenching years into it...

    as we have discussed, some persons have an affinity for sign, others just don't. ultimately i will have to learn it (sign) well as more than anything i want to have a relationship with my daughter...but when it does not come naturally, when it is not something one embraces even after having tried, when it is fatiguing just to think about, when the big hearing family machine has already been set into motion and then something as life altering as this comes along?????? now there's a gasp for ya!

    its easy to hear those words and condemn the hearing parent who didn't learn sign. gasp! it really does sound horrendous. it really is horrendous. HOWEVER, that same mother will tell you how it rips her heart out each and every day. that same mother will tell you how she hates the unfairness, how she agonizes over the cruel situation both she and her child have found themselves in.

    to not be able to communicate easily or fluently with one you desperately yearn to be close not be able to bridge the communcation chasm and go wonder what will happen to us? what will our relationship be like if this doesn't change? not to mention all of the whys? ITS MISERY. and believe me, that same mother has already condemned herself a thousand times one else needs to condemn her again...

    a hearing parent is oftentimes completely overwhelmed to have this thrust upon them. and when its a 5th kid? YIKIES! even if we did have a heart for it (and sadly we don't) its just almost too much "extra" to try to squeeze into an already overfull, overwhelming day. there is simply not a terrific solution to this one, at least where our family is concerned. its hard. horrendous and just plain hard.

    there's a little heartfelt perspective offered from the other side...that other side. :)

  5. I'm SO glad you chimed in, Allie. I used to be one that judged quickly...that was before I had even had kids. I had no CLUE! Meeting friends like you and others I have had the privilege to meet have opened my eyes and allowed me to become more understanding and compassionate. I really can't imagine being in your shoes.
    Know that DEAF parents struggle with the same communication challenges. It's easy to point fingers of shame to one side or the other, but nothing good comes from that.
    I hope others get the chance to read your comment. Love it! And I've been reading your blog...You're an *awesome* mom, working hard *despite* your loathing of it all because you LOVE your baby girl.

  6. Allie --

    I am speaking as a deaf person and someone who grew up in a home where my mother was the only person who signed enough to communicate consistently. It was just "too hard" and out of the comfort zone for my sister and my father to become fluent in signing. With such a large family as yours, it is even more important that everyone gets behind this and move forward.

    Communication is part of the healing process. Having a deaf child is a blow, yes but it is not such a terrible blow to the kid unless the kid is reminded of this "loss" every day. I was reminded of my "loss" every day around people who expected me to speak and lipread. When I moved to the deaf school and was in an environment where my deafness vanished thanks to communication, I did very well. I could be who I am, not someone weighed down with expectations.

    I have since grown to become a mother of three boys. One reason why we homeschool is because we want to communicate and have a relationship with our kids.

    Life is already difficult as it is. Please do not make it even more difficult for your daughter by letting your grief blind you to her needs. Please, it is very important that she feels loved and part of your family -- part of love is communicating. If it is too hard for you now, then it will be too hard for her to be a part of your family when she grows up.


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