Writing Your Family’s Story

story

By Jen Gow

Kim Sanderson recently spoke to ‘the power of your story’ at the annual Parent Workshop that was co-hosted by BC Hands & Voices, Guide by Your Side, CHAA BC Parent’s Branch and the Family Network for Deaf Children. It’s perhaps no surprise that her presentation was brilliant; Kim’s a communications consultant in her professional life, after all. Like a great movie, it was more than just entertaining – I found it really engaging and thought provoking.

Kim spoke to the influence parents have on the core values our deaf and hard of hearing (d/hh) children live their lives by. As the mother of two adults, an older hearing daughter and a younger profoundly deaf son, she has the voice of 30 years of experience. Kim summarized her 30 years of experience, and included her 10 top parenting tips. Reflections on her own journey as a parent with her deaf son, family, and community offer rich food for thought.

Editing your original life plan

By her own admission, Kim is an organizer, and when she was younger she set out a plan for her life. It outlined her ambitions for her personal and professional life, down to the type of person she’d marry and the number of children she wanted. Things were coming along quite nicely until she found out her younger child was deaf – this certainly hadn’t been written into the plan!

Like many of us, Kim didn’t know anyone who was deaf. Negative stereotypes filled the void of positive role models. Confusion, sadness, disappointment and fearfulness soon followed but Kim quickly realized that she faced a choice at this point. She could either refuse to accept this change to her plan, or she could accept it and create a new one.

Looking back, Kim has great clarity and confidence when she says that embracing these changes made to her original plan have greatly enriched her life. But she also acknowledges that it didn’t always feel like that, and that it didn’t always come easily.

You are your child’s mirror

As a new mother, Kim worried that she wouldn’t always be there for her children so she wrote letters to their future selves. These letters contained the words that she spoke to her children at the time, and these flashes from the past now offer up a treasure trove of insight.

So what was Kim telling her young deaf child? When he was two, she wrote that he was smart, intelligent and athletic. Now he is a web designer, and a competitive athlete at national and international levels! Similarly, when Kim saw her son in the BC Early Hearing Program ‘Nice to Meet You’ film (which showcases young d/hh adults) she was struck by the way he mirrored the positive language and messages his dad and Kim had used since he was a small boy.

Watching the rest of this film, Kim realized that this projection of a parent’s messages to their children wasn’t limited to her own family. Kim has known many of the young adults in this film since they were babies, and was struck by their family stories of positive reinforcement too. She recalled one parent always speaking to the importance of reading, and her children speak to the importance of literature; another family’s core value centered around communication, regardless of the mode, and their child speaks of the importance of communicating with our children and immersing them in language; another parent was very at ease and accepting of her son’s hearing loss from the very start, and the son speaks of his comfort with his hearing loss.

We are always told that we are our children’s biggest teacher but sometimes it can be hard to see our influence in the incremental changes from day to day. This fast-forward glimpse into the past and present of d/hh young adults was a striking way to see the huge influence that families’ core values have on children’s attitude and outcomes.

Your attitude determines your altitude

Drawing from her own childhood memories, Kim reminded us that this influence can be negative as well as positive, and that it can deeply affect the life choices of our children. We exercise this power not only in our everyday actions but also in the language we use. However, we don’t live in a bubble, and many others people will also hold sway over our children.

Our d/hh children might pick up negative messages from others that can potentially block their progress. Of course, as parents we want to protect our children from those ‘you can’t do that’ moments but when they come up we can advocate, not just to resolve, but also to model for our children. We can’t be with them all the time, though, so just as importantly we must teach them to fly. As I step forward into my daily life, I’m taking Kim’s adage with me: your attitude determines your altitude.

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If you have any questions for Kim, you can reach her at consultantmanyhats (at) gmail.com.

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