'That Is Not Nice'— How I Explained Domestic Abuse To My 4-Year-Old

He's in time out. Time out with doctors and the police.

That. Is. Not. Nice. istock

By Claire Carpenter

I sat you down on the couch. Little toddler legs swinging back and forth. Four years old with sun-kissed blond curls. I tried to keep calm and collected. I exhaled and held your hand. I explained sometimes people's minds aren't healthy. Their brain is sick and they make bad choices. Sometimes they yell, hit, and push you.

That is not nice.

That. Is. Not. Nice.

That man hit mommy so he can't be around us anymore. Right, we do not hit.


Time out. He's in time out. Time out with doctors and the police. The police officers will keep us safe. The doctors are trying to give him medicine and teach him to act better and nicer. These doctors help brains get better. When he leaves time out he won't be able to be around us.

I tell you I am sorry.

I want you to know that we are safe. I will keep you safe. I feel wretched that you have to deal with the consequences of my mistakes. I can't breathe because the guilt is choking me, depriving me of oxygen. I start to cry a little.

It's too much.

You already had your parents get divorced and now you have to deal with knowing your mother was abused. You didn't see him angry but the bruises are there on my arm. The purplish green bruises on my skin and my heart. Bruises outside and inside. He only beat me once, physically, but the fury behind it left visible scars on my skin and my heart.


Headache from the concussion. Thinking hurts. Speaking hurts. Words can hurt. Hurt people hurt people.

When I start to tear up you offer your hand to hold mine. You get me a drink of water. Life-giving water. It makes me smile and I ask if you have any questions. You shake your little head no. Then you give me a hug.

You ask if we can go to the park. I wear big sunglasses.

Before I even have the quilt spread out you have your kite in hand. You run. You try. You fail over and over. We laugh. Try again. Pick yourself up dust yourself off and run.

The wind is in our hair. You kept laughing and yelling, "I'm flying a kite! I'm flying a kite!" The kite crashes. Once, twice, more times than I count.


We accept mistakes, and multiple attempts with kites. Why do you not expect mistakes and multiple attempts in relationships? In love? In parenting? In life?

I feel like the tattered ribbons on the kite string. One string held by a girl while wind lifts a huge kite. 

We hold the string together and the wind picks up a little more. I yell RUN and the kite lifts and you get one glorious moment.


You yell, "I am doing it mom!" The sun shines, the wind blows, we are safe, we succeed. We did it.