Communication Practices

Hearing Loss: Family and Communication

Family and communication can be tough when you have a communication barrier like hearing loss. There are so many misconceptions and misunderstandings around hearing loss and hearing devices. If we aren’t around others with hearing loss, we may not have all the information we need. That impacts our relationships. 

A Good Family for Hearing Loss

Chelle: Family and communication, so many memories, so little space to write!

As a teenager, I couldn’t hear from other rooms so I was obnoxious. If I asked what while in a noisy place, I was called a typical teenager for not paying attention. With many years worth of hindsight, we see this as the beginning of hearing loss.

When I was 23 years old, I started wearing aids. We all thought this cured my hearing loss. I could hear better but still had problems hearing speech, especially from other rooms, in cars and in noisy situations.

My original family, taken in the late 1990’s.

Trying to hear my dad, who had a way of speaking quietly, was hard in the same room let alone a car. Once in my 30’s I was driving my parents back from an event out of state. My dad was in the backseat. I could tell he was talking but understood nothing. I stretched myself as far back into the backseat as possible to hear him and still couldn’t. He smacked the back of head and yelled at me.

Don’t tell me “Never mind”!

I lost my cool with them too, “Don’t you tell me never mind!” (A pet peeve of mine.)

My kids, their partners, and my grandkids. Feb 2020

My kids grew up with my hearing loss. They didn’t know me any other way. Being their mom made it easier to get them to fall in line. They learned early on not to take advantage of my hearing loss thanks to the adults who could hear. If one of the adults caught them playing that game, it was halted then and there.

I had a husband who would get angry if he had to repeat. He turned off the TV captions because they were in his way. He knew enough to take advantage of my hearing by asking to buy something expensive…from across the house and if I didn’t answer it must be okay! Yeah, I’m glad he’s gone.

Manage My Communication

It took 18 plus years to better manage my hearing loss and relationships. In our blog, You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know, I shared some of the limitations I discovered about hearing aids and how I heard, and about the speech banana. I could finally explain to my family and friends why I heard the way I did. 

Almost all communication improved at that point because I could guide the way. There was less frustration and more understanding from both sides. 

When family is a challenge…

Michele: Admittedly, this is an area that remains a challenge for me.

Send me out into the world alone—to a foreign country, even one where English is not spoken—among strangers, I’m great at telling others what they need to know about my hearing loss and what I need for communication. Doing the same with family and friends is harder. Possibly, because of the emotional connection and familiarity of those who are closest to us?

Tybee Island vacation with my family and my sister and her family

Interacting with individual family members one-on-one goes well, but I’ve not quite figured out how to speak up when I’m not following the conversation in a group. I do okay at times, others not so great.

As a child, I didn’t have an adult who focused on my hearing loss, which meant I didn’t focus on it either. That carried over into adulthood and I made it very easy for family not realize how severe my hearing loss was by coping so well. However, not all ways of coping are positive, and I pretended to hear more than I care to admit.

When Hearing Changes

When a few drastic hearing dips made it necessary to educate my family more, I didn’t know how or where to go to learn until the internet came along.

I remember the first time my husband really got it. I sent him a hearing loss simulator to try to get across to him how little I hear. After listening to it, he cried at the realization of how much I missed.

I’ve shared other helpful information with my family and there have been improvements over time, but I have more to learn here. I’ll be very interested in this aspect of Hearing Loss LIVE! and look forward to what others can teach me to improve even more.

Hearing Partners Doing Their Part

Julia:  Hearing family members can be helpful if they take the time to learn about hearing loss. Communication will change. It just does.  And there will be lots of emotions around it. For both parties.

As a passenger in a car, my grandmother could hear me enough to know to lipread and always could catch me saying something inappropriate, and would snort “Julia,” in her best disciplined tone. I would pretend, “What, who me?” I didn’t know how special this silly little communication was to me until she had her final drop in hearing. One of our last trips together I remember getting in the car and while buckling my seatbelt I said something inappropriate. While waiting for the snort, I looked up and realized she could no longer hear well enough to know I was talking. I was devastated. I also saw the look of isolation on her face. Yes we both were grieving. For different reasons. But grief was there. 

I share the above to let you know grief over communication change is okay and to help encourage you to be honest and talk with your partner so you can have best communication practice.

Use Best Communication Practices

You will find using best communication practices will spill over to those around you, too. My boys were teenagers when I realized I had silently been teaching them better communication. One day while heading to a Sunday dinner with grandma my older son had brought a friend and I heard the following conversation.

“Just so you know my grandma has a hearing loss in one ear and deaf in the other. You need to face her when she talks to you so she can read your lips. If you are on her deaf ear side you will need to get her attention before you speak.”

WOW I was so shocked. I didn’t even know I had taught them this.  Proud mama bear, right?

My son continued, “Oh and she thinks if she coughs when she farts we can’t hear it. But don’t laugh, I think it makes my aunt mad.”

Okay well win one, lose one. I still count it!  

What I learn from members in the hearing loss community has taught my family hearing rules that have allowed for better communication with our family members with a hearing loss, with each other in general and others we come in contact with in the public.  

Learn more with Hearing Loss LIVE!

Watch our companion video podcast.

If you liked this post, try Hearing Small Voices because they can be difficult to hear. Playing Games and Cards with Hearing Loss helps with this family activity. Our friend Hollie talks about Parenting Kids with Hearing Loss.

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