I have become annoyed and concerned about the increasingly sloppy use of the term “child abuse.” From the Internet, I have learned that not getting a COVID vaccine for your children is child abuse. Requiring them to wear masks is child abuse. Feeding your children fast food is child abuse.  

Accidentally hitting a child when opening a door can get you prosecuted for child abuse. The term has become an all-purpose word that seems to mean nothing more than “a decision about a child that I really, really, really disagree with.”

This phenomenon is not only annoying, but counterproductive. To paraphrase Dash in The Incredibles, when everything is abuse then nothing is abuse. The term becomes simply an insult. We need to reclaim the term and keep its meaning as a serious crime. A first step would be not criminalizing accidents or parenting decisions. When children aren’t harmed, or at a reasonable risk of being harmed, we should treat our differing opinions as simply that – a disagreement, not a crime.

This principle is particularly important in our roles as the second parent. It's tempting to dramatize what our children suffered at the hands of their biological parents, if only to reinforce to ourselves that they are better off with us. Our children, however, have had enough drama, whatever their situation. We need to be careful and measured in our analysis, even in adult-only conversations.  

It's also more important as we head into a new year after the holiday season. Fall and winter holidays carry a good measure of stress and broken dreams for many of our kids. What they need from us is a safe harbor from emotional storms. Use words carefully and resolve to give them a respite from drama this year.


Debbie Ausburn

Helping foster parents and stepparents learn how to be the person who is not supposed to be there.