I did a little binge watching lately of a Netflix series called Switched At Birth. There are five seasons of the show which follows the lives of two baby girls who were given to the wrong parents at the hospital. The mistake is only discovered when they are sixteen years old. One girl, contacts encephalitis at age three and becomes deaf. She is raised in a poor Latino neighbourhood by a single mother who is a recovering alcoholic. The other girl, a talented young artist, is raised by a former major league baseball star and his accomplished wife. They live in a mansion in an affluent suburb of Kansas City. There is ALOT of over the top drama in this show and some of the stuff that happens is definitely implausible. It’s a bit of a soap opera really. The characters make plenty of very bad decisions in my opinion. But…….. I kept watching and so I thought about why I did. What did I learn from this show?
- A family doesn’t have to look a certain way. Your ‘family’ is what you make it. The families of the two switched girls in the story manage to come together to create a new very different kind of family despite all their differences. One major character in the series takes in two teenage boys whose parents have rejected them. She cares for the boys in her home as if they were her own. One character agrees to become a surrogate parent to a boy whose father is going to jail. A grandmother moves into one household to help with child rearing.
- You learn so much about the deaf community and culture. Several of the actors who play main characters in the series are deaf and almost all the main characters know or learn American sign language during the seasons of the show. The one girl attends a deaf school and we get to know her friends and teachers and learn about their pride in being deaf and the sense of belonging the deaf community provides for them. After watching five seasons of Switched At Birth I learned some signs just from seeing them so often and almost found myself making the signs when I was talking to people.
- The show doesn’t shy away from looking at important issues. For example two characters in college have sex when they are both quite drunk. When the girl shares the story with a friend she is encouraged to report the guy for sexual assault because in her inebriated state she didn’t agree to sex. Both the girl and guy in the situation are profoundly effected when the incident becomes public and they both struggle mightily with its ethical implications and personal ramifications. The incident leads to another main character revealing his experience with sexual abuse as a child.
- Discrimination is unacceptable. The show focuses on how deaf people are discriminated against but in various episodes we also get to know and care about characters who are discriminated against because they are LGBTQ, have Down Syndrome, are Latino, are black, are recovering from addictions, have PTSD after military service, or have been in prison.
- Let your children follow their dreams. The young people in the show have some pretty high hopes for their futures and it is hard for their parents to let them follow their dreams to be doctors, artists, filmmakers, professional athletes and musicians. The parents know the pitfalls and obstacles and heart ache that stand in the way of their children having a happy and successful future in those fields. But the kids have to find their own way, make their own mistakes and need parents who provide support while they do so.