Plant a clematis they said. It will be easy they said. Four years ago I finally broke down and bought the trellis that lived in my Amazon shopping cart for years (which I love so much I now own 3) and everyone told me a clematis would be the easiest thing to grow on it. Well, “they” were grossly mistaken. Every year I think THIS is the year. And every year I’ve been wrong. This little spot gets decent light, is protected from the elements, gets watered regularly. I don’t get it. WHY WON’T YOU BLOOM WHERE YOU’RE PLANTED LITTLE CLEMATIS???
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According to the experts, clematis are hardy, low-maintenance plants. You stick it in the ground and, with a minimum of effort, they take off and give you big lovely blooms all summer. The picture on the top is my trellis with my very underwhelming clematis. I planted it in Spring and so far nary a bloom (what it should look like on the bottom).
Someone Needs to Tell My Clematis to Bloom Where It’s Planted
I’ve been at war with this spot in my landscaping for MANY years now. A less-stubborn amateur gardener would have probably just replaced it with a different plant. What follows is a (depressing) year-by-year breakdown of my Clematis-growing failures.
Year 1: The first clematis died right away- like within a week. So I went back to Lowe’s to get another. The second one survived the rest of the summer but didn’t come back the next spring.
Year 2: Planted another variety of clematis. It died after a few months.
Year 3: Bought a more expensive, established clematis. It died within a few weeks. It DID have a few blooms though before shriveling into a dead, brown clump.
The Present/Year 4: There’s some good news and some bad news. The good news: it’s still alive! The bad news: probably not for long. If you just glance at it, you might think it was doing OK. But even though the leaves are currently still green a closer look reveals a good percentage of the viney-parts are getting brown and brittle. It’s not producing any other tendrils like the internet tells me a healthy plant should.
In my busy-ness and preoccupation with the rest of the yard work, I just keep doing the same things- which is basically just watering and watching.
Be Wary of Hobby Lobby Advice
“Bloom Where You’re Planted” is the perfect craft store saying to slap on a tote bag, coaster, or floral-themed wall decor. But it may not actually be the perfect sentiment to live by. I think the spirit of this motto is that we can find satisfaction and contentment regardless of our circumstances. At a surface level, I think this could be good advice….maybe.
But overthinking things is my specialty, and I’ve always felt kind of conflicted about this notion that wanting to change our circumstances (especially as women) reveals some kind of character flaw.
Frankly, it seems a little gender-biased. Is anyone telling men to bloom where they’re planted? Is this a slogan you’d find emblazoned on an Under Armour shirt or on a bag of golf clubs? Since women are the ones who have been historically denied agency, I tend to bristle a bit at any suggestion that we should just accept whatever our lot is and be happy about it.
“Bloom Where You’re Planted” is Harder than it Looks
I am learning to release the shame I’ve felt around my failures and frustrations in the years I spent as a stay-at-home-mom. I never anticipated it would be difficult to “bloom where I was planted” in the role that I had always wanted, but hey, life is full of surprises.
As part of my master plan to have kids close in age, I had 3 kids in 5 years. (I thought they would entertain each other, which was v. cute of me, no?) From the outside looking in I probably looked like I was doing OK. Unfortunately, there were years when I was just barely holding it together.
Of course, the pregnancy years and baby/toddler years were hard from a physical standpoint. I was chronically, unhealthily, sometimes dangerously exhausted. BUT. Kissing those baby cheeks anytime I wanted was absolute bliss. I did NOT want to leave those little faces for a job outside the home.
Are you Blooming Where You’re Planted as a Stay-at-Home-Mom?
As the years went by, I realized that I missed the mental challenge of a work setting and having a purpose outside the home. I saw other moms doing the exact same things I was doing or had tried (volunteering in their kid’s classroom, joining the PTA) and flourishing where I had failed to find meaning. Mostly, I was disappointed in myself for not relishing my role as a mom and a homemaker.
Things did get easier when one-by-one they entered preschool and then kindergarten. I was able to get more sleep, and there was more time for me to run errands, get out of the house, and relate to each child individually (which I discovered is a MUST for me). Yet, even then I knew I had energy that wasn’t Mommy energy.
In the 9 years I spent at home, I would have told you what you’ve probably heard many other women say: “I feel so blessed to stay at home with my kids.” And I meant every word of it.
So why were those years so difficult? It is painful to admit, because just like my clematis, I was surviving but I wasn’t thriving. Why couldn’t I “bloom” where I had voluntarily planted myself?
You’re Planted, but You’re Not Blooming
I know I’m not alone in the angst I experienced as a stay-at-home-mom. In fact, a 2012 Gallup poll indicated that moms who stay home have higher levels of sadness and generally lower “emotional quality of life” all across the board.
Everyone’s situation is unique, and I can’t tell you if you would be happier if you were pursuing a career. What I can do is share from my experience what I believe would have contributed to a greater sense of happiness and success in my own decade as a stay-at-home-mom. So, without further ado, if you’re wondering why you’re not blooming where you’re planted, you might be like my clematis.
1. Are You Getting Enough Light?
OK. I know I said there was light in this spot, but I suspect it’s still not enough. I’ve been attempting to grow my clematis along the sidewalk that leads to our front door (which faces South). Between the house and our huge oak tree, it gets about 3-4 hours of direct sunlight per day. I did notice that the tag it came with it said that clematis prefer full sun (4-6 hours direct sunlight); I figured it was close enough so I ignored the instructions in favor of what people told me, “it’ll be fine.”
For stay-at-home-moms, I associate getting enough light to your ability/freedom to get out of the house. Have you ever noticed a plant leaning towards the sunlight? It’s so fascinating how even though they are literally confined to the place they were planted, THEY CAN STILL MOVE AROUND to get what they need. Let that be a lesson to us! Getting enough light to bloom where you’re planted means exercising freedom of movement and also actual, literal, daylight!
The years dictated by feedings and nap schedules undoubtedly keep you tethered to the home (which easily leads to social isolation). Even introverted homebodies like myself know it’s necessary to connect with others and interact with the world outside our door.
One of the weirdest adjustments I encountered when I re-entered the workforce was the freedom to run an errand during the middle of the day. It was so surreal. Although I knew my kids were in good hands in childcare I still felt a sense of urgency and anxiety to hurry home.
It sounds so simple to say, “get out of the house more.” Like, duh, right? We all know making that a reality is far more complicated. But if you want to flourish and bloom where you’re planted as a stay-at-home-mom you have to make it a priority to leave the house. I KNOW YOU KNOW THIS! So why don’t we do more if it? I think it’s because we need help and we are reluctant to ask for it OR because we don’t have the energy to plan for it.
You’re Going to Have to Ask for Help
You will need help and you will likely have to ask for it (and perhaps be willing to pay for it). The intense work you are doing will require some “time off” in the form of solitude, brunches with friends, and kid-free errand time. This is stuff that needs to be on the calendar and worked into the budget.
This is hard stuff to negotiate with a partner who is also likely working hard and needs downtime as well. If you are a one-income family the idea of paying for occasional help might seem daunting. However, here is where you have to change your mindset.
This isn’t a favor. This is maintenance. You’re not doing your car a favor by getting its oil changed. This is what will keep you running so you won’t break down. You might survive without this kind of support, but you will not thrive.
2. Do You Have an Acorn Problem?
Could it be the acorns? I just can’t fathom how I’ve killed so many these plants in such a relatively short amount of time. I mean, I’m no Martha Stewart but I’m not that bad of a gardener! So I’ve been doing a little detective work. One interesting fact about this little strip of dirt between the sidewalk and the house is that (due to the 100-year-old oak tree in our front yard) it becomes a sort of acorn landfill.
It gets worse. After doing a little research I was stunned to discover that oak trees can drop up to 50,000 acorns/year and that over time they increase your soil’s acidity. This can kill grass and other plants (like clematis) that don’t like acidic soil.
So, not only are they annoying to clean up, but those acorns might actually be POISONING my clematis. DEATH BY ACORNS!
In some way, shape, or form we are all dealing with acorns. When you are literally STAYING HOME you are the one soaking in the toxic energy of all the things accumulating and in your house.
The Power of a Clean, Clutter-Free Home
Your physical surroundings matter more to your emotional well-being than you might think. I’m not here to tell you how to keep your house but I will tell you a study out of UCLA found
A link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female homeowners and a high density of household objects. The more stuff, the more stress women feel.
Women associate a tidy home with a happy and successful family. The more dishes that pile up in the sink, the more anxious women feel.
Even families that want to reduce clutter often are emotionally paralyzed when it comes to sorting and pitching objects. They either can’t break sentimental attachments to objects or believe their things have hidden monetary value.
Although U.S. consumers bear only 3% of the world’s children, we buy 40% of the world’s toys. And these toys live in every room, fighting for display space with kids’ trophies, artwork, and snapshots of their last soccer game.
If you want to bloom as a stay-at-home-mom, then you need to pay close attention to your physical surroundings. I am preaching to myself right now because our house is feeling the neglect of two working parents and a schedule full of kids’ activities that keep us away from home most evening and weekends.
Also: you can’t do this on your own without it leading to BIG-TIME BURNOUT. (Can we all agree that ovaries are not a prerequisite for putting the dishes in the dishwasher?) Enlist support from your partner, fight the battles of making kids do their chores, Mari Kondo the whole place, budget for a cleaning service, whatever it takes. I have loved and used the Fly Lady system and I even adopted some feng shui principles. The point is simply this: removing the acorns from your life is straight-up mood management.
3. Is Your Soil Giving You What You Need?
It’s highly probable that my soil is a part of the problem. Apparently, a clematis prefers a neutral-alkaline soil pH. While the oak tree/acorn issue might have increased my soil’s acidity, I really don’t know for sure because I haven’t had it tested. But beyond the pH, there’s other stuff happening in your soil as well.
You quickly find out when you plant anything, there’s a lot going on underneath the surface. It ain’t just dirt! There’s a whole ecosystem down there full of worms and grubs and bugs and all kinds of creepy-crawlies. What this underscores is that where you are is so important to the health, longevity, and success of your tenure as a stay-at-home-mom.
If you are not in a supportive environment then you will not bloom where you’re planted. As a stay-at-home-mom, your “soil” is the infrastructure surrounding and supporting your life. It is your location and the communities you are a part of. Your soil is where you draw your energy and resources.
Your soil is made up of your friends and family, your neighborhood, your church, your small group, your family, your doctors, schools, and the park down the street. It’s the social capital you build as you embed yourself deeper into the fabric of your community.
If you want to bloom where you’re planted as a stay-at-home-mom you might consider getting to know your neighbors. Maybe it means you need to move closer to family. Perhaps it’s finding a new church or choosing to get more involved in the one you’re already in. As much as we live our lives online, nothing can replicate the power of people and places in our immediate vicinity. Community is essential for thriving as a stay-at-home-mom.
Remember: just like plants differ in what kind of conditions they prefer, so do people. Your soil may offer the perfect conditions for someone else, but you are not someone else! You might survive in less-than-desirable soil, but you won’t thrive and you definitely won’t bloom. Lucky for us, we can influence our infrastructure and adjust it to better meet our needs.
4. Are You Using any Fertilizer?
I’ll be honest, I have not used any fertilizer on my clematis because (and I may have mentioned this) THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO BE HARDY! When the vast amount of collective wisdom tells me I should just be able to stick it in the ground and go it really honks me off when it needs special treatment! Fertilizer costs money and takes time to apply. Seriously, doesn’t “hardy” mean I shouldn’t have to do anything to it once it’s planted?? Sigh. End rant.
Maybe that’s wishful thinking. Maybe the lesson here is that none of us are as “hardy” as we might like to be. And maybe we can’t expect others to be as “hardy” as they might like to project. After all, most living things need some TLC. If we want to bloom where we’re planted as stay-at-home-moms, this is especially true! We are worth the money, effort, time, and investment. It’s so easy to fertilize everyone else- with music lessons, sports, educational toys and games, etc. It’s so much easier to put off or neglect our own self-care. The more stubbornly we maintain that we don’t need anything extra the more likely we are to BURN. OUT.
Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs: A Brief Refresher
Looking back, I didn’t add nearly enough growth-stimulating activities to my days. What are the nutrients we need for human flourishing? Throwing it back to Psychology 101 and good ol’ Maslow, we have to meet the needs lower on the hierarchy before we can pursue the higher levels.
The lower levels are more obvious, right? Of course we need food, water, shelter, and even love. Where I think it gets complicated is when we sometimes conflate Esteem with Self-Actualization. Here’s why we shouldn’t: to Maslow, the bottom four levels are deficiency needs. These are things that humans can’t do without. This includes our need for Esteem (which many people find through their profession or career).
So it makes sense that a lot of stay-at-moms struggle. Babies and small children are adorable little love and energy vampires. They need so much and what they give you back is undeniably precious, but it is not usually a feeling of prestige or accomplishment (or of being well-rested).
It is from a position of psychological well-being that one is able to pursue what Maslow perceived as the universal human tendency to strive for growth, autonomy, identity and the excellence of self-actualization (Maslow, 1987, pp. 117-118).https://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/abraham-maslow/
In other words, achievement, respect of others, and self-confidence are not just nice-to-haves but need-to-haves. Then and only then can we work towards fulfilling our need for self-actualization.
I think where many parents (not just stay-at-home-moms) get into trouble is when they try to use their kids to meet those Esteem needs. Your child’s ability to read Dostoyevsky by age 3 is great…but it’s really not YOUR accomplishment. Catch my drift? Just like it’s not a parent’s accomplishment when their kid hits a double in the gap- even if they paid for the bat and drove her to hitting lessons.
Maslow would say that when we have deficits in any of those lower-level needs we are consciously or subconsciously driven to find ways to try to meet them (cue the parents trying to live through their kids). Basking in the glow of our children’s successes might feel good for a while, but it’s never going to satisfy our own needs.
I was a Late Bloomer
It took me about 6 years at home before I started to hit my stride and enjoy my role as a stay-at-home-mom. Probably because it took me that long to realize I needed to add some fertilizer to my own self-growth. Fertilizers for growth include the book club, the date nights with your spouse, the family trips, the mani/pedis, learning a new language, or just time spent introverting with a book. These activities increase your quality of life and overall happiness quotient. Here is what helped me:
- I took up a new hobby. Since I finally had a little girl to dress-up, I started making little girl’s hair bows! I sold them on Etsy and at craft shows. I wasn’t so great at the business part of it (everyone who made money pretty much specialized in one kind of bow and I wanted to make allllll the bows) but that was OK because it gave me a mental challenge and a creative outlet. I don’t make hair bows anymore, but for that season it was just what I needed.
- I joined a moms’ group at my church. It took a lot of courage because I didn’t know anyone. It was super weird at first because with a 6, 4, and 2- year-old I was an “experienced” mom in that setting! I soon realized I knew more about parenting than I thought I did. This allowed me to meet some of those “esteem” needs because to the other moms, I was an old pro! The spiritual encouragement, laughter, and friendships I gained were a huge boost to my life.
- Pinterest. Oh, Pinterest. You’ll never know how you kept me sane! I think I DIY’d every corner of our house. I learned to spray paint, chalk paint, distress, restore, landscape, and even do basic electrical wiring. Some people throw the term “Pinterest Mom” around as a pejorative. I wore it as a badge of honor.
It’s OK to Find Another Place to Bloom
It’s a great problem to have the choice to stay at home with children or to work outside the home in some capacity. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always feel so great to have that choice. Part of the shame I’m learning to release comes from recognizing my own privilege as a white, educated, married, middle-class woman who is so lucky to HAVE those choices. The personal is always going to be political.
Still, being a stay-at-home-mom is hands-down the most difficult “work” experience I’ve encountered so far. Probably my biggest accomplishment thus far in life was finishing that season well. Whether we know it or not, I think we are all either fighting against or trying to conform to the “ideal mother” narrative in our culture. It’s messy and it’s complicated and it’s all tied up in our own histories, experiences, and the expectations of our families.
For a variety of reasons, (financial, educational, and emotional) I always planned to go back to work once my kids were in school. While I treasure the years I spent at home, I refuse to gloss over how hard it was. And, quite frankly, it’s not for everyone.
Maybe you’ve already tried all of this stuff. Maybe you’ve done your best to get more light, remove your acorns, adjust your soil, and add life-enriching fertilizer. It also might be that (for whatever reason) your season as a stay-at-home mom is coming to an end. If so, you are likely considering what it would be like to transplant or change your environment. This can be done in so many different ways it’s almost mind-boggling: full-time, part-time, temporary, seasonal, contract, freelance, you-name-it.
Plant Yourself Where You Can Bloom
In many ways I recognize that the mood of our home is lighter and my relationships with my husband and kids are more balanced and healthy now that I am pursuing a career again. I am finding a lot of joy in this season.
Many women find great fulfillment in the stay-at-home-mom role and that is wonderful. But if you’re a stay-at-home-mom struggling to bloom where you’re planted please know you’re not alone. Life isn’t going to be perfect or easy no matter which garden you find yourself. That will be true whether it’s the stay-at-home-mom-garden or the working-mom-garden or some combination thereof. I am so happy to have had both experiences in my life and despite the struggles I wouldn’t change anything.
You guys, I walked by this planter yesterday and finally admitted to myself that it’s time to move my clematis. If the purpose of a flower is to bloom then I’m not doing it any favors by insisting that it must grow where I think it should. In my stubbornness, and reluctance to accommodate what it needs to thrive where it is, I’m kind of depriving it of the opportunity to live up to its nickname, “The Queen of Vines.” These petunias live just around the corner from the struggling clematis. They bloom and bloom and bloom. Looking at them in all their glory made me realize that under different conditions my clematis might have similar success. There is no comparison between my sad and dying clematis and this display of abundance. What a missed opportunity!
If we really want to fulfill our purpose and make our best contribution to our families, the world, and to the kingdom of God, then the best thing we can do is position ourselves to make our potential a reality. I firmly believe there is a place for each of us to be the “Queen of Vines.” It could happen in any number of capacities: as a stay-at-home-mom, a pastor, a small-business owner, a housekeeper, a CEO, a social worker or in laboratory at NASA.
Maybe instead of “Bloom Where You’re Planted” we should flip it to “Plant Yourself Where You Can Bloom” Yeah. I’d put that on a coaster.