Parenting Judgment – “Abuse” Is a Heavy Word

We’re all guilty of moments of parenting judgment.  Sometimes it’s giving a disapproving glance to the mom who is surfing her phone at the park instead of pushing a child on the swings.  Other times, it’s really just parenting judgment  because another mom dares to do something differently than we do.  For the most part, parenting judgment can lead to conversation.  Instead of condemnation, asking a mom why she does things the way she does instead of flinging barbs is a much kinder thing.

Parenting Judgment - "Abuse" Is a Heavy Word (Cloth Diaper Addicts)Norton is three.  He’s becoming increasingly difficult as he wants to establish his own autonomy.  When he does things, he doesn’t even consider if I’ll find it difficult or otherwise.  It’s not even on his radar.  I admit that I don’t always handle things perfectly, particularly when he laughs as I reprimand him.  There are other things that, while annoying, are worthy of a grumble and nothing more.  Case in point: Norton fell asleep on the couch.  He woke up in a puddle.  Instead of saying anything, he covered it with a blanket.  It smelled horrid.  While asking some moms online for tips on how to deskunk my couch after the Bissel Spot Bot machine failing me, I referred to my son as a douche.

True fact: I have no issues with referring to my son as a douche because that word, to me, is right in line with “jerk.”  Someone decided that it was appropriate to tell me that typing “douche” about my son in an online group when he can’t even read is “abusive.”  Yes, she decided that I was a horrid parent because she disagreed with word choice.  (In fact, she had the nerve to suggest that I call him “turkey.”  That’s something that makes me cringe.  I don’t call my children food names because I don’t eat my young.  And, really, it’s still name calling.)  I ripped her up one side and down the other.  How dare she?  Who did she think she was?  I left my disgust over her presumptions up with a notice that in fifteen minutes I was blocking her because, quite frankly, I don’t want to even know someone who will go nuts with parenting judgment over a disagreement in word choice.

As an aside, my son was not punished in any way, shape or form for peeing on the couch.  Whatever.  Little kids are messy things that break things and make noise.  They pee on things when they are housebreaking.  There are a lot of responses that one could have had to the couch pee that would have deserved the label of “abusive,” but referring to him as a douche in a Facebook group is far from one of them.

That’s not the only instance of parenting judgment I’ve seen that involved throwing around the word “abuse.”  Another blog I’d come across recently suggested that it was child abuse to pierce a kid’s ears.  I don’t pierce my daughter’s ears, and they won’t be pierced until she’s old enough to ask for it.  But abuse?  No.

There’s a problem with throwing around “abuse” so casually.  Child abuse is a horrible, horrendous thing.  It can take on many forms.  It can leave long lasting scars, both physical and psychological.  For parents to vent away from their children is not abuse.  For parents to pierce ears (especially when you consider that it’s sometimes done for cultural reasons) is not abuse.  By using “abuse” to mean “anything that I don’t agree with” dilutes the power of the word.  It cheapens the word to mean nothing.

I’ll cast some parenting judgment right now myself: it is absolutely stupid and offensive to use “abuse” in that manner.  Have you ever come across someone using the word “abuse” in that manner?  How did you handle it?

About Suzi

Suzi is an American ex-pat living in British Columbia. She's a cloth diaper addict, wife, mom of three, and President of the Prince George chapter of Cloth for a Cause.


  1. Anne Sweden says:

    If she had just said “I don’t agree with your choice of words,” that could have been reasonably discussed. Abuse?? She should have been calling the cops if that was really true!

    • Pretty much! As soon as the “a” word is mentioned, conversation stops because no one is listening anymore.

  2. I think perceptions play a very important role when you think of the meaning of a certain word.. In this case, the word ‘abuse’ to the person who used in the above mentioned circumstance felt it fits there.. but not every one thinks the same way and for me, ‘abuse’ certainly stands for something more serious and terrible.. I never had any direct experience along similar lines, though.

    • Abuse is a clear word. Sexual molestation means no less or more to people why should those words. I witnessed this exchange that suzi is describing and the lady was off her rocker. I don’t agree with the name calling myself but its none of my business and it wasn’t the intention of her post in the first place. It was “how do I unfunk my couch”.

  3. Courtney says:

    I love this post so much. I saw a similar disagreement between moms about using an iPad for a toddler on an long airplane ride. I don’t know if the word “abuse” was specifically used, but it was DEFINITELY implied. Seriously? Abuse for letting a child play a game on an iPad? I just have to laugh at these people and thank my lucky stars that they are not part of my circle of family/friends. What would these moms use to describe a parent who is truly neglectful? Some people seriously need to get off their high horse.

    • I figure “abuse” needs to be resolved for clear cut abuse. If a child is being beaten, starved, or neglected, that’s definite. But it can’t be cheapened to mean “I disagree with you.”

  4. People are so high and mighty when it comes to being parents
    Matthew 7:3

  5. Throwing the word abuse around casually diminishes when actual abuse happens. Abuse is physically or emotionally harming a child with intention. Neglect can also be abuse. Often I think of “You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means” from The Princess Bride when I see people call “abuse.”

  6. J Shallow-Miller says:

    I was just telling a friend yesterday to watch how she was passing judgment on another mom because chances are she will be in the same situation tomorrow. Passing judgement by labeling that abusive is just bad karma on her part.

  7. You know, people have so much to say when they’re hiding behind a computer screen and using the word “abuse” in this context is incredibly dramatic and far more rude than calling your son a douche. But then again, I have used similar words in jest about my kids because it’s just that, in jest to my husband or a friend and is always said with a sideways smile. Some people have a different vernacular than others. Some may think that the way I speak is abrasive, I just think that I have a semi crude sense of humor. Despite that, my kids are still loving and happy. Blah.

  8. As a foster parent I dont take the word ‘abuse’ lightly. You are in no way abusive. Is that a word I use, no. Do I care if you call yours that? Nope. As long as your kids are loved and cared for I believe we all have the right to parent as we choose. I also wrote a post on internet bullying by moms and I am sure this is what happended to you! if you want to read it.

  9. Some people…

    Abuse, in my opinion goes far beyond referring to your child online (and not to his face) as a douche.

    Sometimes I call my little guy a “stinker” and at times “stinker butt”…in fact he thinks it’s funny. True, it may be offensive…but I definitely would not equate it to beating the living tar out of him (which I don’t), because it isn’t the same thing.

    Growing up in a semi-crude family, we all had names for each other that I wouldn’t dare say to another person…but we love each other tremendously and those words never spiraled us into deep depression, nor did we feel like less of a human being. We are a tight-knit family and are extremely close.

  10. Megan Walker says:

    I don’t think that calling him a douche when he doesn’t know you’re doing it is in any way abusive, although I do think that the way we think about our children influences the way we interact with them.
    However, I disagree with the idea that something being culturally accepted means it isn’t abusive. In some places it is culturally accepted to stone women to death because they were raped. No one here would consider that okay just because it is culturally accepted somewhere else.
    I also think that cultural relativism causes good parents to do things that others consider abusive. Circumcision, for example. Tons of excellent parents have had their sons circumcised. But they would never consider cutting off any other body part unless there was a serious medical reason for it, so why is the foreskin different? Because it’s a cultural norm. And yet they are still excellent parents. So it’s not as cut and dry as some of the comments make it seem.

  11. Abuse is definitely a heavy word….it can include emotional abuse which includes name-calling. In your situation though, i think it depends both on how you intend it and how it is taken…if your child is never aware that you used that term to refer to him, I don’t see how it could be considered “abuse”.


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