Karen Putz’s recently released book The Parenting Journey, Raising Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children chronicles her parenting journey and shares the wisdom she's gained as the parent of three. She grew up hard of hearing and became deaf as a teen. When her own kids began losing their hearing one by one, she quickly learned it was a whole other ball game to be a parent of deaf and hard of hearing kids.
Karen graciously agreed to share with Tween Us some of the wisdom she has gained, both as the parent who has survived the tween years three times over and as the parent of children who are deaf and hard of hearing. She also explains what her passion of barefoot waterskiing has taught her about motherhood.
Were the tween years with your three children a difficult time on your parenting journey?
The tween years were definitely the hardest period. That, and the toddler years. I remember being exhausted physically when my kids were little. When they became tweens, I was exhausted mentally.
What did you feel were the hardest aspects of the tween years?
The biggest challenges were social challenges and hormones. As tweens, kids are figuring themselves out, breaking up into cliques. In the elementary school years they are more forgiving and inclusive, but as they get older, they get more exclusive. It’s harder to fit in, and they don’t want to stand out. Often my kids were the only kids with hearing aids, or one of the few. We do have 80 students in our district with aids and implants, but they are scattered. We always managed to maintain relationships with other families who had hard of hearing kids. Those families were our saving grace.
You have very successfully made it through the tween years with three great children. As a decorated veteran, what advice do you have for parents of Tweens?
A quote that I have preached to my kids from the movie “What a Girl Wants” is“Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you born to stand out?” Teach them to be themselves, embrace themselves in all their imperfect perfection.
Did your kids embrace that philosophy, or were they resistant?
They embraced that. There were periods, though, where they wanted to blend in instead of stand out-- for example, when they switched to clear hearing aids and not bright colors. They did not want to stand out.
Did that last, or was that a tween phase?
Mostly a tween phase. My daughter now she has cat eye green earmolds, my son has black hearing aids, and the other son has clear. He could care less about what's in his ears. They all outgrew it.
The tween years are tough for any child. What are the unique challenges that tweens who are hard of hearing or deaf face?
The biggest challenge for my tweens was finding peers at their level who would accept them for who they are, and not let hard of hearing stuff get in the way.
What can parents of children with normal hearing ability do to help them relate to those who are deaf or hard of hearing?
I would definitely sit down with kids and create awareness of kids who are deaf or hard of hearing. Encourage your kids to seek them out, approach them, communicate with them. The more aware we are as a society, the easier it is to bridge the communication and accept differences.
What can parents of tweens with deaf or hard of hearing friends do to foster those connections?
Create awareness, sit down with the deaf or hard of hearing friend and ask questions what’s it like, see what she is going through, and although it can be a bit hard at first, the kids will welcome the chance to talk about it.
I know that you are also a Passion Coach. Do you use your coaching techniques to tap into what excites your kids?
I do! All the time to the point that they are sick of it and they don’t want to hear it. As much as they won’t admit it, it has helped. They have outlined their passions, and made changes in their life because they are aware of what they are passionate about.
We have been conditioned in life to grow up, go to college, get a degree, get a job, work hard and finally, finally you can retire and think about the fun things you’ve been putting off. That’s the American way of growing up. When you unwrap what you are passionate about, life takes on a whole new direction.
Is that possible at any age or are tweens too young?
Finding your passion is possible at any age. Age does not matter, it’s all attitude. Tweens are absolutely not too young. I see tweens all over doing amazing things, and they are the ones who have unwrapped their passion at an early age. It’s a matter of unwrapping their gifts and sharing them with the world.
One of your passions is barefoot water skiing. Has being a competitive barefoot water skier influenced your parenting?
Well hey, I can walk on water! For one thing, I have become a different person because I have learned to take when I have learned on the water and apply it to being a mom. Sometimes you have an amazing day on the water and learn a new skill and it is great, another day you are falling all the time, your confidence is low and you have to work through some fears. Every day being a mom is like being on the water – some days are fabulous, and other days you really have to work through them.