Left Out of Family Conversations

Facebook Message Circulating: “Being left out of a hearing family/friend’s conversations just because I’m the only deaf person in the family or circle of friends. Whoever is hearing needs to realize it is so hurtful for your deaf relative to feel left out. If you have a deaf relative, please always include them in your chats- the deaf member wants to be part of your family or circle of friends. Please copy & paste. Hopefully we can educate others.”

“Never mind”

I intended to write about this but time got away with me. I happened to go to Amy Cohen Efron’s site: http://www.deafeyeseeit.com where she wrote “Later!”.

In a time where people are arguing on the extremes, advocating for spoken languages or ASL – children and adults continue to be left out of the conversation – especially at family gatherings.

“I will tell you later.”

I am fortunate to have my immediate family communicate well with me in both languages. Only a few of the extended families (aunts, uncles and grandparents) have attempted to sign; while taking the time to be patient.  I will agree with many people – it is much better when we sit one-on-one than in a family gathering.  Seriously, how can one lipread that many lips!?  How can one hear so many voices and pluck one out to participate?  I swear I am not an idiot, nor was I raised to be one. I am fairly intelligent (don’t talk about common sense here!) and can hold my own in a conversation about various topics.  I always wondered if that was one reason why I am struggling in social settings, the lack of natural social ‘graces’ outside of the family. “Should I ask that”, “Is it okay to bring this up”, or “When do I stop harping on this topic?”.

“Hold on a minute”

Someone commented in Cohen’s blog about “I think it is because the family doesn’t learn effective strategies to use.” (for full comment, go to the blogsite). This could be true – one spends so much time on language strategies, in a case say – lot of speech and listening training, rather than figuring out what and how one can communicate effectively and naturally.

A VERY brief summary of whatever is going on.

I am sure that over the years my family have had to put up with my outbursts when we are playing games or talking about a particular topic; I only hope that the message circulating on Facebook serves to remind the relatives why we, deaf people, have a hard time socializing with hearing people.

“You don’t need to know.” (second worst after “never mind” for someone who is by nature, curious)

You can taste, briefly, what it is like to be isolated by going to events or activities where deaf people gather and know little to none of ASL or other sign methods. That cannot compare to a life time we go through.

Talking one-on-one; I watch as someone calls the other and see the person I talk to turn away without ever finishing the conversation.

That is what we are used to and really that is a grievous thing to do: get used to something and not making a change. Let me be honest – that is the second most grievous thing. The foremost grievous thing is when within the family, sign language is the common language (native/natural) and we are yet segregated at family gatherings by two groups: deaf and hearing.

“What!?”

Yep, sad to say it is true. At the very same table, we have hearing people speaking and deaf people signing. This is a family where more than 75% uses sign language and yet we are segregated.  I would love to know why this is ‘permissible’ by deaf parents. Heartbreaking really.  Common reality is that hearing children tend to interpret for their parents and/or siblings at family gatherings. To quote teens today, “REALLY!?”.  Pitiful!

Note to Parents: When your children are 30 years or so and not so bound to parental rules, you may begin to wonder why your deaf children do not want or barely tolerate going to events, you can look at this poem “What is it Like to be Deaf?” in this site http://www.zak.co.il/d/deaf-info/old/poems.

I love my family to the stars and back, it is just time for the rest of the families to see why I am the way I am. It was made a big deal of my being deaf, rarely am I seen for who I am. For those who have gone beyond my ears and seen me for who I am (outbursts and all), I appreciate your patience and for the changes we are going through now.

This is dedicated to my mother who made my life harder and easier, gave me and my siblings no shit and with her passing, me and my immediate family changes are taking place … for the better.

You could say this post is an extension of my post on 30 Dec 2010: https://humandeafeverythinginbetween.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/to-family-gatherings/

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33 thoughts on “Left Out of Family Conversations

  1. From a former teacher and a good friend: “This is what I pass out to parents when I first meet them at parent-teacher conferences.”

    Thoughts of a Deaf Child

    My family knew that I was deaf
    When I was only three, and since then fifteen years ago
    Have never signed to me.
    I know when I’m around the house,
    I try and use my voice,
    It makes them feel more comfortable;
    For me, I have no choice.
    I try, communicate their way-
    Uncomfortable for me.
    My parents wouldn’t learn sign
    Ashamed or apathy?
    I never cared about the sound of radios and bands;
    What hurts me most is, I never heard
    My parents’ signing hands.

    Stephen J. Bellitz, Reprinted from Senior News, July 1991

    • I’m so sorry. I wish I had learned to sign years ago because today I have two friends that are deaf. It would be so much easier for the both of us to communicate with sign. As it is… pencil, paper, lip reading, and signing … we manage a five minute conversation per hour. Sigh….

      • Why don’t you put aside the paper and pencil and ask them to sign? My mother asked me why I never signed at home. I told her that no one told me to shut up and start signing. We both are equally responsible for what we do at home. So with this mind, go ahead and challenge all of you by asking them to sign. It may be slow but its a progress nonetheless. Start off with what you’re doing at the time you are having a conversation – table, chair, drink, person, light, some sort of feelings and please keep the swear word requests to a minimum. If someone asks me signs to swear words, I know they don’t care about me as a person.

        On another thought – wishing won’t get you nowhere. It’s done and moving along and people are lagging behind hanging on its coattails. 😀

        Go on – do it! Y’all be glad for it. *thumbs up*!

  2. I do understand how hard it can be… if one asks deaf people to be considerate … above and overboard considerate – doesn’t one think they need to get the same? It’s funny – for all the efforts the general populace ‘desires’ the deaf to be like them, their actions and attitudes really limit the potential of deaf people. We are like you… just a little bit different.

  3. I finally got completely estranged from my entire family two years ago for reasons I will not divulge here, but being “too Deaf for them” was one of them. I was just “too different” for them to handle. Yes, I am Deaf, but I am also DeafBlind and one other identity, and they don’t like any of it. Too bad. While I am sad that they stopped loving me, I have moved on with my life, knowing that I’m once again an orphan and alone in the world save for my many friends.

    • That is quite sad, but lemons can be made into lemonades and your family has missed the opportunity to experience a different way of living. Positive thoughts your way.

  4. Home: Me and mom chatted. Sister interrupted and mom turned her head to sister. They chatted. I took a cup of coffee and sneak away. No one notice. #0 minutes or an hour, they found me at telly. Oh you noticed me.

    Restaurant: All family chatted away. I sneak up to the wall and lean on the wall. Everyone looked at me…. I said “oh you noticed, I don’t look like a wallpaper.”

    Cottage: All talking and laughing. I went to my car and took a map. (Before GPS age) I returned to the table, rolled out map. Everyone looked at me “what are you doing?” I said “I am lost, where are we?” they looked at me puzzled, “at the cottage”, they said. I know, but the conversation everyone had, where are we?

    I have million stories and yet I love and cherish my family.

  5. What about the other side of this?! Hearing families with deaf siblings are burdened as well at family gatherings where others don’t know sign language and are forced to interprete on their behalf. My dead sibling would rather not participate in social atmospheres like this- to me this signals that the deaf person is choosing to alienate themselves.

    • A deaf person may be driven to alienate themselves. My family knew it would be too much for them to interpret and often my mother would tell the relatives to ask or talk to me directly. I know my family signs and tries to include me and my husband and often will tell me if i ask.

      There are many ways one can try to involve a deaf person but the expectations come from all around the family not just the deaf person. If the burden was reduced and shared across the family, i would imagine the deaf person’s life would be relaxed but not just his or hers but the benefit would outweigh the initial attitude of dependence.

      Dependence goes both ways. That is a burden. Be creative in distributing that burden.

      • Anon… why are you forced to interpret? Why can’t your family pitch in and hire a sign language interpreter for a few hours, if you feel the “burden” of being forced to interpret? That would be a respectful way to include your deaf sibling so that he/she can participate. No one chooses to isolate themselves. They do choose to pick a healthy choice of not feeling bad or left out after so many years of experiencing this. It can be a real hit to the self-esteem when you are at a gathering where you can’t understand people–and Im sure your sibling sees your resentment at helping facilitate communication, which worsens the environment.

    • Alienation? Your sibling didn’t choose to alienate, she (or he) simply removing her/himself because that sibling could see what a burden he or she is to someone like you. Its bad enough that he or she had to deal with smart arse strangers but it hurts the most when lack of support comes from within the family. Burden? Is your sibling a burden?

      So here’s the challenge for you, it may help with developing some understanding and empathy for your sibling (knowledge/experience is power right?), try plugging your ears up for a month with silicone used for making hearing aid molds and see how well you get on in the ‘hearing’ world. You soon adapt to reading facial expressions and body languages and get hit constantly, knowing you have to be a ‘burden’ to someone else in order not to miss out! If you love your sibling, try and see the world through your sibling’s eyes.

      Secondly, what stopping you guys from learning the sign language? Its actually cool when communicating from afar and you don’t have to yell. And for as long as you can see each other, you can communicate quite effectively. You can have a normal conversation but signing at the same time for your sibling…there’ll be no need to repeat what the conversation is about.

      Make the first step and give it a go with ‘connecting’ with your sibling.

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  7. I am guilty of this all my daughter is 35 and when we r together I don’t sign everything because I don’t know all the signs and I try to do what I can or i ask her the sign and for her it is so frustrating I Love my daughter very much but now I know I guess i don’t enough cause I don’t communicate ….BUT I DO LOVE HER WITH ALL MY HEART AND SOUL

    • As long as she is aware of what you are trying and communicating at the best you can and of course that shows how much you love her, then it is a good balance. If you two have smartphones, you can try an app called Glide. This is a videotexting app where you can sign as well as leave word texts to each other. Perhaps this will give you the chance to keep communicating! 😀

  8. Being only deaf child in the family…left out way too long still today. My family don’t talk to me.. My mom try….. Sad.. Only person I could sign is my daughter…I feel she is all I have

    • Same as our boat. I’m orphan and far older sister and cousins still don’t talk me much. Glad I have closest dear daughter.

  9. thanks so much for sharing this. This is a huge issue for me. I was more hard of hearing growing up so I didn’t learn sign language at all until 16. So my whole life was trying to talk and read lips and always being left out. So I learned to cope by daydreaming, living in my own world. I’m 45 now and still no one in my family signs. My second husband and kids know a little signs but they mostly talk and I get left out. I hate all group situations with hearing people. This is very painful reality for me. Thanks for sharing.

  10. There are stories and reasons on each side . . . No one ever really, truly knows both sides. It isn’t always what it seems . . . There are DEFINITELY hard feelings on both sides!

  11. I am a hearing man that is dating a deaf woman and I love her to death. In her defence I have been learning to sign forabout 9 months and I understand th at I have a lot to learn. But I feel like she expects me to be perfect now and she has very little patients with me. She is always showing me things like this site saying that I don’t understand what its like to be deaf and I understand that but I do understand much more than she knows I have been trying to sign more at the dinner table when me and my kids are talking so that she is not left out and yes their are times that I do forget to tell her what is said. What I would like to know is does she need to be as patient with me when I’m trying to learn and apply what I’m learning so that she does not feel left out , I am trying to be patient with her but when she is constantly showing me that I don’t understand his she feels. What should I do I really love her and don’t want to let her go.

    • Sit down with your woman and tell her straight on. Keep in mind that both of your experience is not the same, yet convey that you have begun to understand what she is asking and showing you. Remind her that learning language is not as easy as it looks. Perhaps ask her if she remembers when you first signed to her and ask how much improvement in signing has taken place since then. See if both of you can come up with activities that will encourage silent time to build skills as well as encouraging your children to begin to understand why it is important to you as well as your woman. Maybe like a zoo trip to learn how to sign animals, also include what they look like (colors, size), what they eat (my how sharp those teeth are…ha) and so on. It seems that she is frustrated…finally someone is willing to learn but forgets that it takes time. Remind her of that. Don’t give up!!! Best of Luck!

  12. Well i was young til now i am 36 year old nobody want to talk to me since 36 cause i am deaf . Also they never visited or contact me so long..i feel hurt i guess i move on i feel left out i see everyone always talk but i sit and no one talk to me nothin..dont know what to do

  13. My wife and I are both Deaf,a year we decided to retire to Florida, our children are Hearing and still live up north, both can sign very well but our grandchildren can’t even finger spell and the oldest will be 14 next month, we can see them on FaceTime, Skype etc. but other than a wave Hi and Bye can’t communicate with them and have had verbal arguments over them learning to sign, I say by not being interested in loaning to sign they are showing us that they have no interest in us other than the presents we send them for bdays- Xmas Etc.. To make matters even worse in May 2016 we booked our 1st ever Cruise for May 2017 (this was before we moved to Florida) then in January 2017 our Son and his wife informed us they were bringing the kids down to Disney World which is 1 1/2 from us , we were so excited as it was almost a year since we’ve seen them, then we found out they booked their Disney Vacation exactly the same dates we’d be gone on the Cruise…I was really mad and told them so…Asked them to either change it to the week before or after but the daughter in law said everything is booked and she’s not going thru the hassle of rebooking everything again…Instance #2 We announced in April 2017 we’d be flying up north to visit for a week in mid July….We got to see our grandkids all of 3 hours in a week as they had other things planned… Trip up north cost us close to 3k for plane, car rental, hotel, food …… My wife refuses to say anything to our Son and Daughter over all this cuz she’s afraid they’ll break all ties so its left to me to be The Bad Guy ..and speak up I did now our daughter will not speak to me at all…Blocked us from her FB and text nbr too… What’s ur take on this was I right to be angry and speak my mind or should I have just sucked it up and take the hurt like my wife ..

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