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What my dying plants taught me about self care

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I grew up in a house full of plants. My mom has a real knack for tending for houseplants, and it showed in the Fika trees, ivy, African violets, and spider plants that reproduced like bunnies at Easter time that always graced our household decor.


When I got married, our house had plants. It wasn’t some perfectionist thing I tried to do to be like my mom or something she told me I needed to do (so not a criticism of her at all). It just was something I never even really questioned. Houses have plants, just like houses have curtains on the windows or pictures on the walls.

I quickly realized that I didn’t share my mother’s knack for keeping house plants alive. But I did discover one “super plant” that wouldn’t die on me – IVY.

Ivy is great. It reproduces so you can make more of them. You can water it about every three to four weeks and, while it will look like it is wilting by about that third week, it almost always bounces back.

So it’s been wilted-looking ivy that has graced my mantle, my entertainment center, my hutch, my kitchen island, and Little Brother’s nursery.


You would think that taking fifteen minutes to water plants once a month wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But here’s my list of priorities:

  • Keeping my family calm, medicated, and fed.
  • Making sure my family has clean clothes to wear and clean dishes to eat off of.
  • Blogging and social media.
  • Self care. (Sleep, exercise, counseling, Netflix – not necessarily in that order.)
  • General housework.
  • Bills, paperwork, scheduling appointments, and making phone calls.
  • Maintaining some semblance of a social life.
  • Keeping plants alive. 

Or something like that. 

I’ve spent the last few years realizing that I will pretty much always be behind on life and learning to be gentle with myself in the mean time. I’m learning to prioritize self care. I’m learning to excel in a few things but not try to be good at everything.

I’ve switched counselors and have been seeing our LMFT individually. I sat in her office last week and told her how overwhelmed I am with life – how all the balls are always dropping and I’m always behind on something. I started rattling off the list of things on my plate, including the rummage sale of clothes and toys in my basement and my dying plants.

“I sit there watching TV, and those dying plants are just sitting there reminding me how I’m failing.”


It’s not really that I feel like a failure for not keeping plants alive, but rather that they are a reminder that there’s always something more that I could be – or should be – doing.

She tells me that within our psyche we have two voices that battle for our attention – our parent voice and our child voice. The parent voice is the responsible one. She speaks in “should”s and “thou shalt”s and her strength is judgment and dependability. Our child voice speaks in “but I don’t wanna”s and her strength is prioritizing enjoyment over responsibility. It is the mark of an emotionally balanced individual to challenge both voices and make good decisions, utilizing the strengths of both.

I am not really sure what else she said, but in that moment I felt like I had a true epiphany, and I found myself saying, “I’m going to go home and get rid of all my plants!”

WHAT MY DYING PLANTS TAUGHT ME ABOUT SELF CARE: Plants are supposed to be beautiful and life giving. But when I look at them, I only see a box yet unchecked, I only hear "you should be" whispering to me.

What my dying plants taught me about self care:

1. I don’t need another thing to nurture.

Taking care of my immediate family members – two of whom have extenuating needs and mental health diagnoses – takes a lot out of me. That’s enough. More than enough.

It’s not about plants, really. We all have things in our life that we are nurturing when we could be doing better things with our time. Perhaps it’s that friend who sucks the life out of you with whom you need to set boundaries. Maybe it’s a pet that you need to rehome. Or maybe it’s that project that you said yes to that you should have said no to.

Challenge: What are you nurturing that you could let go of?

2. I don’t need something that is only serving to remind me of failure.

Plants are supposed to be beautiful and life giving. But when I look at them, I only see a box yet unchecked, I only hear a “you should be” whispering in my soul. I’m not doing that any more.

Working hard for something we don't care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.
Photo Credit Alyssa Knee (Facebook)

Again, I’m not demonizing plants. If you are passionate about plants, then you need them in your life. But I’m not.

What’s it for you? Maybe it’s that binder of coupons that you always leave lying on the table, scolding you when you get home from the store. Maybe it’s those knick knacks that are supposed to bring beauty to your home but instead just remind you of all the dusting you haven’t been doing. Or perhaps it’s the closet full of craft supplies that needs purging because you don’t need your parent voice chiding you for not completely all of those DIY projects you “should be able to find the time to do.”

Challenge: What can you remove from your life that is supposed to be adding beauty and passion, but instead is only reminding you of failure? 


My plan, in all honesty, was simply to take the plants outside and dump them in a pile in the brush to die. Once I got them out to the porch, I developed an alternative plan.


I grabbed an old, rotted picnic bench that hangs out on our back deck and dragged it to the back fence, setting it up in front of this old headboard left in the yard by my mother-in-law. I lined up all of the plants on the bench, shook the remnants of dirt off my hands, went back inside and breathed a sigh of relief.


I’m going to let nature take its course.

Maybe the combination of rain and sunlight will nurture those plants in ways I couldn’t and bring beauty to my backyard. Or maybe they will die. I don’t much care at this point.

I’m doing enough nurturing within the four walls of my home – starting with myself.

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