How does the grieving/acceptance process effect family relationships?


Luterman, D., & Ross, M. (1991).  When your child is deaf A Guide for Parents. Parkton: York Press.

Watkins, S., & Clark, T., (1993). Ski*Hi Model Resource Manual,  Hyrum: Downs Printing.

Turnbull, A.P., Summers, J.A., & Brotherson, M.J. (1984). Working with families with disabled members: A family systems approach. Lawrence, KS: Kansas University Affiliated Facility, University of Kansas.


There are 4 major family subsystems (Turnbull, Summers, & Brotherson, 1984). Each of these subsystems may be negatively effected by the addition of a child with hearing loss.  Listed below are the four subsystems and some possible effects of hearing loss.

Marital Subsystem (husband and wife):

Negative effects (Watkins & Clark, 1993):
*Lack of communication about feelings related to their child’s hearing loss.
*Anger may arise toward the other spouse for coping in a different way.
*Differences of opinion, economic pressures, the needs of other children and the reactions of others may cause tension.

Suggestions (Watkins & Clark, 1993):
*Share feelings and listen carefully to your spouse.
*Include both parents in on information received from professionals.
*Discuss rules, roles, and adjustments in routine.

Parental Subsystem (parent and child)

Negative effects:
*Parent may not display nurturing behaviors due to grieving (Watkins & Clark, 1993).
*Parent may take on control of child’s hearing loss and not know when to allow the child to make his own choices (Luterman & Ross, 1991).
*Parents may tend to take on the responsibilities of a teacher/therapist (Luterman & Ross, 1991).
*Parents may have low expectations of the child with a hearing loss (Luterman & Ross, 1991).
*Parents may spend a lot of time seeking a professional that will provide them with “the cure” (Luterman & Ross, 1991).

*Touch, hold, smile at, make eye contact with, comfort and vocalize with your child (Watson & Clark, 1993).
*Care for yourself, take time off and replenish your strengths (Watson & Clark, 1993).
*Attend parent support groups (Watson & Clark, 1993).
*Focus on having fun with your child rather than “fixing” the deafness (Luterman & Ross, 1991, 37).
*Have realistic expectations for your child to reach (Luterman & Ross, 1991).
*Educate yourself and trust your decisions (Luterman & Ross, 1991).

Sibling Subsystem (child and child)

Negative Effects (Watkins & Clark, 1993):
*Siblings may experience jealousy and resentment of the child with a hearing loss.
*Siblings may experience the same emotions as the parents.
*Siblings may feel stuck between wanting to be like their peers and attempting to appear special to their parents.
*Pre-school age siblings may exhibit a wide array of behaviors
(ex: acting out, behaving perfectly, mimicking the child with a hearing loss, etc.).
* Elementary aged children may worry about becoming deaf, they may be embarrassed by their sibling, it is even possible that they will exhibit guilt because they can hear.
* Siblings may also be supportive and protective of their sibling.
* As siblings become older they may worry about their sister/brother’s future.  They may also wonder if they will have a child with a hearing loss.

*Some siblings feel that they have lost their childhood due to caring for their sibling with a hearing loss (Luterman & Ross, 1991).

Suggestions (Watson &Clark, 1993):

*Require all children to do as much for themselves as possible.
*Recognize each child’s unique qualities and family contributions.
*Have special allotted time with all children individually and together.
*Involve all family members in decisions that will effect their lives
(ex: moving to a new school district).
*Be honest and open with children.
* Limit appointment of parental responsibilities on siblings.
* Accept your child’s hearing loss.

Extra-familial Subsystems (entire family, friends, professionals, etc.)

Negative Aspects:
*Grandparents look to parent seeking information.  This sometimes leaves the parents of the child with a hearing loss feeling “unparented” (Luterman & Ross, 1991, 45).
*Extended family members tend to stay in denial longer than immediate family members do because they do not have as much contact with the child (Luterman & Ross, 1991).
*Lack of education and contact with professionals.
*Grandparents may grieve their child’s pain as well as the child’s hearing loss (Watkins & Clark, 1993, 167).
*Strangers may have reactions that hurt the parent’s feelings (Watkins & Clark, 1993).
*”Relatives see the hearing loss not the child” (Watkins & Clark, 1993, 169).

Suggestions (Watkins & Clark, 1993):
*Grandparents offer and regardless of communication skills.
*Grandparents can spend more time with hearing siblings.
*Parents can memorize an appropriate response to give to strangers in awkward situations.
*Parents should continue to spend time with family members so that they will know the child and accept the hearing loss faster.
*Parents should keep family members educated as events occur in their child’s life.


On pages 52-61 of When Your Child is Deaf, Luterman  recognizes five characteristics of the optimally functioning family (1991).  They are as listed below:

1) “communication among family members is clear and direct”
2) “roles and responsibilities are clearly designated, overlapping, and flexible”
3) “the family members accept limits for the resolution of conflict”
4) “intimacy is present and is a function of frequent, equal-powered transactions”
5) “there is a healthy balance between change and stability”

He recognizes that this is a difficult task that at times may not seem worth the effort.  However, Luterman states that families are the basis of our civilization.  He believes that in order for us “to move forward as a society” it is important for us to create  “adults who can love, negotiate, and communicate” (Luterman, 1991, 62).