I have always been a bit wary about posting some of my childhood experiences with extended family members. The LAST thing I want to do is hurt my family’s feelings….when that is not my intention. I just don’t want what I’m saying to be taken out of context.
I also feel it’s important for me to say how I feel because I’ve always felt like I had to hide how I was feeling and just put a big old smile on my face no matter how I was feeling.
Now that I am older, I am more aware of what I could have done differently myself in terms of breaking down communication barriers with relatives. I’m still not always sure what the best way to go about doing this is.
I guess honestly in a way I do avoid communicating with some extended family members because I felt rejected as a young child when I tried different ways to break down communication barriers with some relatives. Now that I am older I understand they were just uncomfortable with doing things differently which is human nature. I understand a bit better that I was probably the only deaf person they interacted with and most of them lived in small towns where there weren’t deaf people. Since I only saw them a couple of times a year…that meant they were thrown off whenever they saw me and didn’t know what to do with me.
I do put up walls when it comes to communicating with some family members because I have been hurt in the past when trying to break those barriers down. I know they didn’t mean to make me feel hurt and they probably didn’t even realize it. However, there is nothing more hurtful than trying to gesture, use my speech, and write back/forth with a relative…then seeing how uncomfortable they look around me and watching them walk off without trying to reply back because I put them out of their comfort zone. Also when they seemed frustrated with me because I couldn’t understand them the first time they said something to me.
Especially when you’re just a kid and you don’t fully understand how someone can say they love you and give you hugs….then they become uncomfortable when you try to communicate with them. They don’t call you on your birthday like they call all other family members. They don’t ask you about your dreams for the future but they ask everyone else. When they don’t bother to take the time to tell you where they’re going when you’re out for a ride with them. When they don’t feel comfortable receiving relay phone calls from you. When they get frustrated with you because your speech is not clear and you didn’t catch what they said the first time. When they won’t even tap you on your shoulders to let you know they’re talking to you. When they haven’t seen you in a year and they won’t contact you when they’re visiting the city you live in.
I do regret that I put up these walls and I have been trying to figure out the best way to go about tearing down these defensive walls of my own. Since I graduated from graduate school and moved back home…things have gotten better. Family members have tried to talk directly to me and they seem more aware of things like 1) only 30-35% of the English language is readable on the lips 2) tapping me on my shoulders to get my attention 3) more comfortable writing back and forth with me. This last past year and half has probably been the most positive interactions I’ve had with some extended family members.
I think a big reason for that is that I’ve been trying to get rid of the Pink Elephant in the room. I finally realized a few years ago that just because they have known me, a deaf person, for 26 years doesn’t mean they really know what being deaf is about. I’ve always felt like they were uncomfortable asking me questions because they didn’t want to insult me or say the wrong thing. They cared about me and were afraid of hurting my feelings in that way which is a bit ironic because by taking that approach they were hurting my feelings in other ways.
I have noticed that the more I open up about my cochlear implant, life experiences as a deaf person, tips (e.g. tapping my shoulders to get my attention), etc. The more comfortable they have became with me and that Pink Elephant has slowly been disappearing.
Don’t get me wrong. The Pink Elephant is still there but it’s not as visible….however….for the first time I feel like it is slowly starting become less visible. It seems like for the first time that some relatives are starting to become more comfortable around me and they’re more comfortable asking me questions they’ve always been curious about life as a deaf person.
I have learned that the best way to get to know family members is not at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any big gatherings. Rather, the best way is to meet up with a couple of them for lunch. It makes it much easier for both sides to communicate with each other instead of when there’s chaos going on and there’s a large group of people.
One of my new year’s resolution is to start asking family members if they want to go out for a quick lunch…a couple of them at a time after all the holiday craziness is over with…and just get through the holiday gatherings for now. It makes a world of difference when I’m with just a couple of them at a time rather than feeling completely lost at family gatherings.