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Deaf and Hearing Families: Narrative Interviews|
Tammy’s comments throughout our conversation reflected an ability and confidence to do her own research. Having the means and skills to seek out information is a powerful resource for parents and especially if they can also discuss the information they find with others, can be a vehicle for the resolution of issues the family experiences. Tammy’s style of acquiring information about cochlear implants is important. Spencer (2004) found that parents who took time to search out in-depth information about cochlear implants and who carefully considered different factors were more satisfied with their decision; also, their children’s post-implant language outcomes were better than those in families who took a less analytical approach.
A sense of coherence is a concept Antonovsky (1987) developed to explain how people manage stress and stay healthy. He describes it as a belief that life’s events and challenges are predictable and understandable, are worth the time and effort it takes to meet them, and that the necessary resources to do so are available. Hintermair (2004, 2006) found a sense of coherence to be a significant factor in explaining the lower stress experiences of parents of deaf children. The parents’ positive attitude toward life, as indicated by a strong sense of coherence, he reports, is especially important for the coping process and enables parents to engage in resolving the challenges they face including those associated with their deaf child.
Tammy’s words indicated she felt confident and positive about her life situation and how she was going about living with her two daughters. She got herself going by reading, doing research on the Internet, and meeting other parents. She says: “Basically, I’ve tried talking with other parents who went through it. I tried to learn what the next step is, hoping that by the grace of God it’s not that bad.”
The belief that hearing parents will experience stress because of the unanticipated challenges of having a deaf child is a reasonable expectation. But the research evidence tells us that parental stress may not be an inevitable outcome in these families. Although the diagnosis process is stressful—and Tammy describes the back-and-forth she had with her doctors—the general parenting of a deaf child is not always the stressful experience we anticipate. Why?
A strong sense of coherence is important and the key to maintaining that positive attitude is access to resources including information and support. Parents and families are less stressed when they and their deaf child receive educational services early on, when the child is an infant or toddler and the information and support provided is tailored to the family’s goals (Meadow-Orlans, 1994; Pipp-Siegel, Sedey, & Yoshinaga-Itano, 2002). The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is fortunate to have several early intervention programs available to families with deaf children, and Tammy and Destinee were enrolled in two such programs.
Social support from family, friends, other parents of deaf children, and the professional community plays a critical role in parents’ ability to cope with challenges as they accommodate to life with a deaf child (Feher-Prout, 1996; Hintermair, 2000; Meadow-Orlans & Steinberg, 1993). While parents may feel comfortable with their general parenting skills, research shows that mothers of young deaf children do feel stress in matters specific to their child being deaf, for example, their difficulties with communication (Lederberg & Golbach, 2002).
The support of the family on both sides, her multicultural background, and her faith strengthened Tammy’s attitude. Among the advantages Tammy and Destinee enjoy are family members who sign, their ability to participate in the Deaf community and other communities, and maintaining a healthy perspective on deafness, as opposed to feeling burdened by it or sad about it. As Tammy has remarked, “Parents sometimes talk about being sad about having a child who is deaf or they feel regret. I can’t say I ever did. Well, I cried for a few minutes, and then, you know, God is just there.” The circumstances of their situation and Tammy’s outlook on life provides an important example of how hearing families can “accept their children for what they really are.”