“Look after your own needs as a parent, before you look after the needs of your child.” “Put your oxygen mask on first, and then help your child.” How many times have we heard these platitudes, only to shrug them off and get back to our work of raising a child with hearing loss?
Parenting a child with special needs often blurs the line between where our needs end and the needs of our children begin. We become focused on achieving 30 additional minutes of speech a week, or on having the insurance company pay for an FM system. Our frustration of the present becomes intertwined with the hope we have for the future and some days there are more grey skies than sunshine.
But for the past two days I took some time out to look after my own needs and was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Clarke Mainstream Conference in Springfield, MA. For two days I listened to incredibly passionate teachers and researchers talk about their work and how it impacts the education of children with hearing loss. I was entertained and inspired by Justin Osmond (yes one of those Osmonds!) as he talked about his challenges growing up as a child with profound hearing loss and the amazing work he does today in bringing sound to others. (Learn more about his foundation here.)
But one of the most powerful parts of the conference was the parent lunch I attended. It sounds simple enough – put out some sandwiches and iced tea for parents, maybe they will spend some time chitchatting. But it was something way beyond that! I didn’t get a chance to speak with every parent at the lunch, but the three other women I shared a table with were wonderful. The ages of our children ran the gamut from 3 ½ – 20 years old. In that brief hour that was set aside – we laughed, we cried, we marveled at each other’s strengths, we shared stories, we exchanged email addresses, and we created a connection.
Sometimes it feels as if we are raising our children in silos. Our child is often the only one in the school with hearing loss and sometimes the only one in the district. While our friends and family can offer us support and sympathy, they don’t truly understand. One conference session I went too talked about the importance of having your child connect with other children with hearing loss – because the barriers aren’t there – there is a relief in seeing other kids with hearing aids and implants. I think that is just as true for parents; there was a relief sitting down and not having to explain my child, everyone at that table already understood.