Verbal Abuse





These tirades get hurled at me every day–more than once. I joked with someone recently that if anyone else in my life said such hurtful things to me so consistently, my friends and family would be begging me to leave that relationship. And they would be right. Anyone who consistently slams you with insults is verbally abusive.

But I’m not going to leave this relationship because it is with my sons.

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Whoever said, Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me, is a damn idiot. I know this because every time Eddie doesn’t get his way lately, he tells me he doesn’t like me. Even though I know it’s a typical 6-year old reaction, it still hurts.

Eddie and I had a very rough start; the first year of his life was hard on both of us, as I have written about many times. His birth was traumatic for both of us, his colic was traumatic for both of us, and my postpartum depression was traumatic for everyone. There are large chunks of that first year, that I have no memory of his babyhood. In fact, as I watch Alice learn and grow, I can remember Charlie doing the same things, but I can’t remember Eddie’s phases. Cortney has to remind me, and even then, without looking at photos, I don’t remember.

I spent more than a year thinking I was not supposed to be a mother. My body rejected pregnancies, it wasn’t the right shape to give birth, and my brain was chemically imbalanced. Everything about my physical being rejected motherhood. I needed medical intervention to stay pregnant, have my babies, and keep my brain from destroying myself. It was only after years of talk therapy coupled with medication did I begin to heal.

Through it all, Eddie loved me anyway.

He had no idea what was happening to me on the inside. He didn’t know that my brain was struggling to match my heart. He didn’t know that his needing my cuddles at night were healing me, and therefore healing a relationship he didn’t even know what broken–the one between mother and son.

When Charlie came along, I was well into a routine with my meds and my therapy. I knew that PPD was probably going to happen, and I was prepared. From the first night alone in the hospital with him, my relationship with Charlie was different, more whole. I tucked him up under my chin and that is where he stayed for his first year of life–never far from my arms.

Eddie still comes to me when he needs to talk. He opens up to me, even when he sort of doesn’t want to–like when he has gotten in trouble at school. Charlie still comes to me when he just needs to be held–when he needs touch.

But they have both started flinging hurtful words at me (and Cortney) as well.

It started with Eddie. When he didn’t get his way, he would tell us he didn’t like us, or that it was the “worst day” of his life.  Now it’s almost predictable.

Eddie, please put the tablet away; it’s time for bed.
Ugg. I don’t like you, mom. 

It’s become his knee-jerk reaction for anything he does not want to do.

We have talked about how these are hurtful things to say, but he has entered a very egocentric phase and cannot understand that someone else’s hurt feelings matter. Eddie, my always kind, always thoughtful boy, now claims to not care about anyone else–especially me, his dad, and his brother (because he doesn’t always do what Eddie commands).

My rule-follower suddenly sneaks things behind my back and then blames me when he gets caught. He does or says something hurtful and claims it is my fault he lost a privilege. No matter how many times we explain that he “acts his way out of” a privilege like screen time or an extra book before bed, he claims we are the worst.

It’s getting harder and harder to respond in a positive, loving, affirming manner to these outbursts. I have caught myself saying, “great because I don’t like you right now either” and “whatever. I don’t even care.” Not only do I know this sends the wrong message, but Charlie has been picking up on all of it too.

Charlie’s mouth is even more venomous than his brother’s because he has no idea the impact of his words. He knows it’s “naughty” to talk like that, so when he is angry or frustrated, that is how he lashes out: with hurtful words. He repeats what he hears, so we get a lot of “I don’t like you, mom. You are not my mom.” Or “I don’t even care about you, mom.” While I know he has no idea what he is even saying, it stings–especially because his tone is much, MUCH nastier than Eddie’s for some reason.

Last week Thursday I hit a wall. It had been a particularly challenging day in the land of teaching middle school, and I went to pick Eddie up from the after school program. He is normally not too excited to have to leave the fun he is having, but Thursday was awful. He was rude and snotty and just an all around jerk to me both in front of the teachers that run the program, and in the hall when we were alone. His words ripped at me so badly, I almost started to cry.

I don’t know if it’s a phase or if Cortney and I are somehow failing to teach our boys kindness, but I need it to stop. They are not like this with anyone else–in fact we get compliments about how kind and engaging they are with other children and adults.

It’s just Cortney and me that are on the receiving end of all the verbal abuse.

How can we teach the boys that they are slowly killing our hearts with their words?

About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.


  1. Ugh. This is so hard. I’m sorry that you are going through this stage with your kids. All the parenting advice I have seems to revolve around being consistent and honest with your kids. “I will not allow you to say mean and hurtful words to me because they make me feel bad” is a sentence I’ve said many times to my kids. When you don’t “take it” from them, it teaches them that you will not tolerate disrespect, which hopefully not only disciplines them, but also gives them an example of self-respect. I also monitor what they say to each other and other kids, and call them out when I hear them say similar things to others. AND I try to be a good role model and keep my own mean and hurtful words under wraps. All ideal in an ideal world, of course. Be kind to yourself. xoxo

    • Cortney and I talked about this last night and we both REALLY like the “I will not allow you to say mean and hurtful things to me (or your brother or whoever) because they make me feel bad.” I used this yesterday with Eddie and he stopped and mumbled, “ok mom. Sorry”. So…progress? Thank you, friend!

  2. I can’t offer much advice, but I can offer empathy. 🙁 My 6 year old son is going through a very similar phase right now…he just started kindergarten and gets Green (Best) in his behavior chart daily. He is pleasant and well behaved in public and playing with friends. But he can be very mean by saying hurtful things, and sometimes even swatting at our bums, lately. This is only with me and hubs and the grandparents (who are our ‘daycare’ and now after school care). The people who love him most and he is most comfortable with…we have and are trying the same things to combat it that you mention in your post…. I know he is more tired in evenings, we all are, but that’s no excuse. And it is especially frustrating because he is so sweet most of the time. He will tell me he loves me 25 times an evening – but turn on a dime as soon as he doesn’t get his way. Just know you are not alone, and keep doing as you are – and so will I! – and hopefully this ‘stage’ of hurtfulness ends quickly. PS – Cut yourself some slack, too. That shit HURTS us as moms, and sometimes we snap back when we shouldn’t – I do it too. We are only human, momma!!!

    • Oh yes. Eddie has a behavior chart at school too. In fact, he is sort of overly social, so he comes home with a calendar each day. He gets rewards for bringing home days that are all in the green 🙂 And yes, I know it’s VERY challenging for him to keep it together ALL day to get that green, so he is lashing out a bit at home. We try to remember this and talk about it with him about it, but yeah. It hurts. Thanks for your encouraging words, momma.

  3. Ugh. No advice here, just acknowledgment that this is hard.

  4. My daughter is now 11, but we have very similar stories. In our story it got worse before it got better and we still have moments. Hugs!

  5. These things are so, so hard. My girls have done plenty of it. One of them has been downright physical at times, hitting and scratching at me. It’s so hard not to take it too personally. I usually respond to “I don’t like/love you” with “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way. I still love you.” Who knows if it’s the right thing to say. We talk about how it can be hurtful, but I hesitate to react too much, because that’s what they’re looking for. Hugs, friend. Being a mom is hard.

  6. Have you talked to your therapist for coping strategies? I’d assume your doctor has seen this and more – maybe they can help you all through this.

  7. The exact same things are happening with my daughter and started about a year ago. She is 8. It’s so hard and I feel your struggle in every way.

  8. I still remember the first time that The La said “I hate you” to me.

    I remember being SHOCKED that she used her pronouns properly (“me hate you” would have been far more consistent with the way she was speaking).

    Then I realized the enormity of what she had said. All I can say is that kids are jerks.

    • Oh. Eddie said “I hate you” to me ONCE. He immediately started crying. For the hurtful things he says, he’s still pretty sensitive.

  9. I have a child who used to do this a lot. You can probably guess which one. 😉 He’s mostly grown out of it.

    I’m sorry. This may sound dumb, but don’t take it personally. I’m guessing we are going to need EVER thicker skin during the teenage years! HA!