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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Hearing, Mother Father Deaf: Hearing People in Deaf Families

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More recently, Adams (2006)—a non-HMFD—collected narratives from 50 participants (26 HMFDs, and 12 deaf and 12 hearing people) to examine the experiences of HMFDs at key life stages. Adams sought to moderate past definitions of HMFDs in terms of their cultural affiliation and community membership, and instead focused on patterns of experience. She classified four unique patterns of experience particular to their situation as HMFDs, which include “go between,” “misfit,” “foreigner,” and “glass ceiling,” and stated that these should be considered as the life experiences that define HMFDs. One thing that is common among the majority of publications, regardless of whether they are anecdotal or research-based, is the use of metaphors in the titles, which do not always reflect my HMFD experience.

HMFD Metaphors Versus Reality

Many publication titles dwell on conflict, pain, loss, and frustration. For example, Walker’s (1987) book is titled A Loss for Words: The Story of Deafness in a Family, and the cover copy states that the book “recreates the pain and joy of growing up between two worlds.” Hale’s (2001) dissertation title highlights The Conflictual Experiences of Hearing African American Children of Deaf Parents. I would be lying if I said that my experience was not frustrating at times, especially when I missed my bus and could not call my parents to let them know; or while signing to my parents in a restaurant, I would overhear another diner mocking our signing, feigning sympathy, or being patronizing about deaf people. Nonetheless, my experience of growing up with two languages and cultures means that I gained rather than lost, felt privileged rather than conflicted, and was rewarded rather than in pain.

Another common metaphor in book titles is the reference to silence, such as Living between Sound and Silence (Preston, 1994), The Silents (Abrams, 1996), and My Sense of Silence (Davis, 2001). My experience was the opposite, as our house was noisy, with banging cupboard doors,the television volume on too loud, and banging on floors or tables to get attention! From my conversations with other HMFDs, this seems to be a more common experience.

Other book titles emphasize a sense of difference and otherness by referring to the deaf world (e.g., Corfmat’s [1990] Please Sign Here: Insights into the World of the Deaf or Sidransky’s [2006] In Silence: Growing Up Hearing in a Deaf World). As I have made clear in this chapter, I do not feel like an outsider. Although I recognize that I am not deaf, and therefore that I am different from many of my family members, friends, and community colleagues, I embrace this difference. Only one publication title (that I could find) reflects my own experience and what I would likely call my own book if I were to publish one: Best of Both Worlds (a Not So Silent Life) (Worzel-Miller, 2000).

Moving away from the use of metaphors, I now find it more helpful to discuss my linguistic and cultural identity, rather than notions of deafness/hearingness. Only one other author focuses discussion on linguistic and cultural identity in the same way (Mudgett-Decaro, 1996), talking about being both deaf and hearing in terms of community membership and identity.

It is important to acknowledge that in my chosen professional career, I had an advantage because I grew up within a deaf family. I am thankful and proud of my heritage and the linguistic and cultural exposure I have had due to growing up with a signed and spoken language. Ironically, I am married to someone who is also an HMFD, which makes my life easy for so many reasons, in terms of our mutual understanding of linguistic, cultural, and community issues.


So what is my linguistic and cultural identity? I propose that I am, in fact, multi-seitic—I have several identities. My individuality is influenced by the fact that I operate differently, linguistically and culturally, depending on the context. In functional linguistic terms (Halliday, 1994), my identity shifts according to the context of culture, the context of situation, and the field of discussion. My persona changes according to the people with whom I am conversing and the tenor of our relationship. My individuality is influenced by the mode of communication. My multiseitic individuality is complex and comprised of the following identities (not necessarily in this order): woman, daughter, granddaughter, sister, cousin, wife, mother, interpreter, teacher, researcher, manager, friend, deaf, hearing, HMFD, British, Australian, multilingual, multicultural.

However, at the core of my being, I am comfortable with who I am and the fact that I am multi-seitic. Drawing on humanistic psychological theory, and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, every person must satisfy different needs in order to develop fully as a person and achieve “selfactualization.” According to Maslow’s self-actualizng characteristics, and the arguments I have put forward regarding my identity, I believe that I am self-actualized as

  • I have a keen sense of reality and have objective rather than subjective judgment in relation to having deaf parents;
  • I see problems in terms of challenges and situations requiring solutions, rather than see problems as personal complaints or excuses;

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