Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Green Eyed Monster

I thought I’d kick off this blog and discuss an issue that isn’t talked about much in the Deaf community.  The fact is that jealousy from hearing siblings towards their Deaf brothers or sisters has a really big impact on family relationships.  It seems that some hearing people resent the extra “attention” that their Deaf siblings receive from their parents, this animosity can carry into adulthood and wreak havoc on the kinship structure.

This subject was triggered by a friend who visited recently.  Somehow the topic turned to the dynamics within family structures for Deaf people and their hearing relatives.  Bear in mind that the majority of Deaf are born to people in hearing families and normally never meet any other Deaf people within their family structure.  Our friend told us all sorts of upsetting stories about the treatment that was meted out to her by her siblings.  She had been kept in the dark about family events like parties and not invited until the last moment to important milestones such as a baptism.  Because of the different communication needs of Deaf people, it is really easy to cut them off from what is going on.  Just make a few phone calls rather than using text based communication or social media and you’ve just exercised your power to exclude your sibling from a family event.  This is exactly what happened to our friend, who only found out about one social event as it was mentioned on Face Book.

From a Deaf person’s perspective, the jealousy over the extra attention is really unfair.  We didn’t choose to be Deaf.  The extra support was absolutely essential, in order to compensate for all the barriers that are thrown our way by a hearing world.  And what our parents were doing was absolutely right and we are grateful for their support.

Many years ago, I worked with a wonderful CODA, who was brought up by Deaf parents in Wales during the 1940’s.  He would regale me with these wonderfully textured stories of his upbringing that embraced his parents’ Deafness.  One story he told me was about how he would greet his hearing uncle with a cheery “hello” on the street, only to be completely ignored.  Being a stubborn person, he persisted in acknowledging his uncle, despite the lack of response.  When he was much older, another uncle explained to him that the lack of response was because the hearing uncle resented the extra attention that the CODA’s father had received as a child because he was Deaf. 

We have a similar experience, in that there is a sibling who talks really quickly on purpose at family gatherings, even though it is really obvious that we can’t follow what is being said.  That is just one small example for us personally, but I think I’ve spent sufficient time making the point.

So what has this got to do with being a Deaf Dad?  Well, this toxic soup of resentment and envy from siblings has a direct impact on young Harry’s relationship with his wider family.  He fortunately doesn’t understand that his cousin wasn’t able to attend his second birthday because of a “dispute” that was directly motivated by the green eyed monster.  He also missed his cousin’s party, because apparently he was “too young” to attend the function that was organised.  His cousin doesn’t seem to have been told of our hearing disability and becomes confused when we make any reference to it.  It saddens me that the resentment by some adult siblings towards us within the family networks spills over and affects Harry’s relationship with his cousins and also wider family.  And in the future, I am not sure how I will explain the situation to Harry if he becomes aware that the conduct of family members towards him and us is somehow not quite right and starts asking some difficult questions.


  1. You're right, the deaf community rarely discusses such a touchy issue.

    I was raised among several hearing siblings. One sibling was so jealous of the parental attention I got, that she would provoke fights with either her parents or me. She said one time that any attention, even if it was negative, was better than none at all. It was exhausting to deal with her when we were growing up. The other sibs got tired of her behavior, and to this day we still have to walk on eggshells whenever this green-eyed monster comes to visit.

    The other side of the coin in regards to parental attention towards a deaf child is that the attention can be TOO protective. I had to fight for every scrap of independence I could get.


    1. Thanks for your reply Ann and sharing your experiences. It is good to have someone backing up my point of view.

      I felt that maybe the post was being a bit too one sided, as there are other hearing siblings who support their deaf brother or sister unconditionally. But I just wanted to get that point across re the jealousy as it can be so destructive in families.

      And as you say, there are parents who are too protective of their deaf children. My mum admitted to me that she found it very hard to give me my independence.

      I wonder how deaf parents cope when letting go of their hearing children? I don't have to think about that for a while yet!!

  2. Hi! My name is Philip Robert Robbie Chanin and I'd like credit for you using my painting as a picture on your blog (Green Eyes) that's not really the title, but I am flattered that you would use it.