You Are Not Ruining Your Child: The Sneaky Temptation to Catastrophize in Your Homeschool

a close up view of a butterfly wing

A friend recently sent me an article on faulty thinking that she thought I would find interesting. I hold a counseling degree and remain fascinated by human behavior and emotions, so this was right up my alley. In it, many common cognitive distortions were discussed—literally flawed patterns of thinking that cause damage to oneself. The simplicity of the harmful thoughts stuck with me.

A few days later, while scrolling through one of my favorite Facebook groups for homeschooling moms, I was startled to see them, in black and white, fueled by emotion and dripping with desperation—those very same cognitive distortions. Only here they weren’t hypotheticals or obscure examples. They were very real women who were tormented by the very real thoughts they were having.

No matter who they were, how much education they had, or where they came from, these women were prone to cognitive distortions—flawed thinking patterns —that were tremendously affecting their happiness.

And I’m willing to bet that you’ve been affected by them at some point in your homeschooling journey, too.

“Goodness, Jen!” you cry. “Do share these faulty thinking patterns with us that we may be spared of their siren song and not led astray down a path of angst and mire!”

Well, for starters, that is faulty thinking.

Catastrophizing in Your Homeschool

The idea that one pattern of thinking will lead you to destruction, or that avoiding a thought will save you is called catastrophizing and dichotomous thinking. With this fallacy, we believe that something horrible and catastrophic will result from a mistake we make. We tend to view things as all-or-nothing absolutes.

These are hazardous filters to view life through and most definitely dangerous ways to approach your homeschooling. Here are a few examples of catastrophizing and dichotomous thinking applied to homeschooling:

  • “My son is 9 years old and still isn’t reading! It’s just never going to click!”
  • “I didn’t order those BOB books in time when she was younger. That’s why she can’t read now.”
  • “I’m terrible at math, so my son is going to fail at long division!”
  • “She’s going to bomb her SATs and not get into a good college because I didn’t read aloud enough/was sick for a week/have other kids requiring my attention/chose the wrong curriculum/chose the wrong method/homeschooled.”

The belief that a single decision you can make—be it as small as taking a sick day or as large as choosing to homeschool— will derail your child for life is not only unfair to you as a parent, but it’s also simply untrue.

The Butterfly Effect of Homeschooling

There is no butterfly effect in homeschooling. We are making long-term investments with little immediate return, so it can be easy to fall into the trap of wondering and worrying what the future will hold. But there is no single flap of a wing or blank left on a worksheet that will result in the total forfeiture of a child’s promising future. Just as you cannot teach a child everything in one day, you cannot ruin them in so little time, either.

How Do Our Children Learn? Is It All Me?

You Are Not Ruining Your Child: The Sneaky Temptation to Catastrophize in Your HomeschoolHomeschoolers love to sing the song of education coming from more than just textbooks. We find opportunities to learn at the grocery store, at the park, in a yard, even pointing out signage and license plates as we drive. We have history curriculum, timelines, maps, audio books, ebooks, and yes, textbooks. We teach math with manipulatives, with money, with measuring cups and gardening plans. We teach language arts with novels, memes, music, poems. We find educational opportunities all around us, and our children thrive from the multi-source learning. We know that learning happens many places from many sources. Yet we, the homeschool parents, hold the weight of their entire education on our shoulders.

We feel the weight of their futures pressing down on us as though we are the only ones to carry it. We hold ourselves to a standard that implies we alone are responsible for their education while we know the opposite to be true.

You are not the only one teaching your child. Your kiddo is learning and gleaning from sources all around him, sources you’ve introduced him to. While the decision to homeschool may lie with you alone, the font of knowledge does not. You don’t have to do it all, and you’re not doing it all. Because your child is learning from the whole world around him, you are not able to mess the whole thing up as easily as you think.

  • Not having BOB books or watercolors or felted farm animals will not be the deciding factor to set your child back.
  • Struggling to read by the age of 11 does not mean you’ve done something wrong or that your child will never read.
  • Taking a month off in the midst of sickness or travel or just holiday madness will not set into effect a downward educational spiral, resulting in an unemployable adult. 
  • Getting it wrong today will not condemn your child tomorrow.

Because as black and white as the information in a textbook is, homeschooling is beautifully and vividly much more colorful. Homeschooling isn’t done in only one way, so there is no one decision that will reign it in and mess it up.

Forget Catastrophic Thinking! Hang Onto Tomorrow!

The idea that your mistakes today will result in a ruined future forget that you have the safety net of tomorrow. Whatever happens today, whatever she doesn’t accomplish today, whatever you decide today, they can all be addressed again tomorrow.

  • You can change your mind tomorrow.
  • You can try again tomorrow. 
  • You can pick up where you left off, start over, or even take a break… tomorrow.

If you remember that you have the option of tomorrow, it’s a lot harder to ruin it today. There's no need to catastrophize!

You can do this, homeschooling mom and dad. You are doing this. And your child will thrive because of it. You’re not messing him up. You’re not depriving her of a future. You’re not solely responsible for the education of this beautiful child before you. Those thoughts are limited, condemning, flawed. Those are cognitive distortions, and they’re just not true. So dust yourself off, give yourself some credit, and try again tomorrow.

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About the Author

Jennifer VailJennifer Vail proudly lives in the great state of Texas with her very handsome husband and three very funny children. All three kids are educated in three very different ways according to their very different needs, which is exhausting but fulfilling. Jen's hobbies include naps, 90's pop culture, Netflix binges, buying books with the best of intentions to read them all, photography, and extroverting. She holds a degree in counseling but has found her calling by writing for and spending time with families of differently-wired, outlier kids—the square pegs of the round world.

She stays up way too late and drinks way too much caffeine, but has no intention of changing either. She is the community manager and contributing author at Raising Lifelong Learners where she writes about homeschooling gifted, anxious, and otherwise different kiddos, but also rambles at This Undeserved Life from time to time. She feels compelled to mention that she still very much loves the Backstreet Boys and rarely folds her laundry.