By Anja Rosenke
When I was growing up, my dad napped every evening after work. Some dads maybe poured themselves a drink, some perhaps watched the evening news, but my dad rested. Every night, same time, same spot. Family jokes still abound about the permanent depression in the cushions in ‘his’ spot on the couch. Back then, our hopes would sink each evening as he settled in on the couch, because that meant we wouldn’t be allowed to watch the lineup of sassy sitcoms that filled the evening TV schedule. We looked forward to seeing what funny antics Jack Tripper and Mr Roper would get up to, but my dad hated the canned laugh-tracks on those glitzy shows. In those days, there was only one TV in the house, and it was positioned very inconveniently directly across from said couch. Enough said.
On some level we were aware that our dad napped because of his strenuous, even exhausting work. He went to work each day with hammers, levels, and planes in his tool belt, but I would argue that those evening naps were an even more important tool for him. He recognized that his job was stressful and taking time in the evenings to decompress helped him deal with it each day. Only as an adult have I have come to understand the value of what he did for himself back then.
Most of us are aware that we need to have a few tools in our parenting toolbox to help us do the sometimes challenging job of raising successful, happy, well-adjusted, and amazing kids. Wait, who am I kidding – sometimes we need tools just to get us through one day! Well, as parents of deaf and hard of hearing kids, I think we need those tools at the ready even more so. Inevitably, there are points along the journey of raising our successful, happy, well-adjusted, amazing deaf and hard of hearing children that can be especially stressful or challenging. Many parents are first faced with this when their child’s hearing loss is identified. But challenging and emotional times can arise from all sorts of situations: navigating the transition into preschool or elementary school, guiding a child through a social falling out with friends, adjusting to a change in teacher or therapist, or facing a further drop in hearing levels. It’s times like these when we all need some solid tools to help us cope, and to see ourselves, our children, and our families through.
Community is one of the most important tools in my toolbox. Sharing your experiences, your fears and concerns, your joys and successes with someone who has ‘walked a mile in your shoes’ can be powerful, validating and uplifting. A German proverb that I heard often growing up translates as “a shared burden is half the burden”. I truly believe this. Come to think of it, this tool comes straight out of my mom’s toolbox. She came to Canada as a newlywed speaking little English, having left behind her family and friends to build a new life here with her husband. Growing up, we would often find her sitting at the kitchen table with a friend, heads together, coffee mugs in hand. She sought out community. Similarly, I find that turning to another parent of a deaf or hard of hearing child means turning to someone who understands. Over the past eight years of my journey as the parent of a deaf/hard of hearing child, I have found that no matter where you live in the world, what language you use to communicate, or what your family circumstances – you share common ground.
Another important tool for me is exercise. The problem is that even though I know it works, I don’t always make time for it. This one didn’t come from either of my parents, but was one that I discovered for myself as an adult. Exercise simply makes me feel good. Call it an endorphin rush, a runner’s high or an outlet for frustration, there is a physiological response to getting your heart rate up and your blood pumping. Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone stop reading and give me fifty pushups, but making time for a bit of movement, some fresh air and a change of scenery is always a good idea. Unfortunately, many people – myself included – tend to put exercise on the back burner when life gets busy and stress levels rise. Ironically, it is one of the best ways to help deal with that pressure and stress. The sport and exercise psychologist, Dr. Kip Matthews, explains it well: “exercise affords the body an opportunity to practice responding to stress, streamlining the communication between the systems involved in the stress response. The less active we become, the more challenged we are in dealing with stress.”1
Writing has always been a go-to for me, and even as a young child I remember getting a lot of satisfaction from putting pen to paper. I journaled for years at home and on trips abroad, and as an angst-filled teenager I even tried my hand at poetry! That didn’t last but I feel fortunate to have put this “tool” in my toolbox early on in life, and it continues to serve me well. Nonetheless, with the busy pace of family life, I need to remind myself that it is there for me to call upon. It does me a world of good to simply get my thoughts down on paper. I do this in various ways – for one, when it seems like all we talk about at my son’s school are his “stretches”, I try to take note of the clever, funny, interesting things he says and does at home with his broad vocabulary and vivid imagination. I have been doing this for years, and from time to time I sit down with my son and share these anecdotes and quotes with him. He gets to see himself the way that I see him: amazing and unique, full of strength and resilience.
I admit, I find it a challenge sometimes to see the forest through the trees, especially when it feels like the trees are closing in. At times I feel as though I experience my son’s highs and lows, successes and stumbles as if they were my own. This can be heart-stopping and gut-wrenching, exhilarating and joyous all at once. I don’t know if it’s healthy, but that’s the way it is for me. I often need to remind myself of the tools that I have in my toolbox, to dust them off and put them to good use. They help me to weather and sometimes even thrive in the turbulent times.
So whether you write or draw, talk or jazzercise your stress away, the important thing is that you figure out what tools work for you. Once you discover them, place them in your own personal toolbox to draw from when you need. Above all, every parent of a deaf or hard of hearing child should know that there are always moms and dads out there – be it online, at a Hands & Voices coffee night, or through your early intervention agency – who are going through or have already experienced something similar to you. At the very least, they can lend an open ear. And who knows, by reaching out, you may be giving them an important tool to put in their own toolbox.