House plant barometer

Rhythms of work and rest are vital to our physical, mental, and spiritual health, but when you’re a parent there’s no break from the day-to-day care required. Parenting is a demanding job. You have to keep tiny humans alive every day while being nurturing and providing educational enrichment. There’s a lot of pressure on parents to be engaged with their children all the time, but as an introvert I need quiet, uninterrupted time to myself to gather my thoughts and relax from the constant stimuli of questions, noise, and needs. Because I can’t just take a Sabbath from parenting one day a week, I’ve learned to create pockets of rest and retreat in the everyday.

But it’s not a perfect system, and sometimes a break is hard to come by. When the stress starts to accumulate and I get overwhelmed by the commitments and obligations in my life—even really fabulous ones—I tend to withdraw. I stop answering emails, I’m tempted to quit everything, and I hide from my friends. I lash out in anger, wallow in self-loathing, and I neglect my monstera and fiddle-leaf fig. In fact, I can usually gauge my stress level by the health of my house plants. They wither and wilt because I just can’t care for one. more. thing.

I never enjoy these episodes of forced retreat from my usual connectedness and competence, and I feel sorry for my poor plants, but it’s when I’m at my lowest, fight-or-flightiest that I’m forced to take stock of my schedule, discern what changes need to be made, and gird myself to endure the things I can’t change. In a perfect world I would only take on the responsibilities and commitments that make me feel happy and fulfilled, but that’s not reality. There are things in my life that make me come alive and those that I dread, but a full, real life includes both, and the contrast makes for meaning and beauty. The garden can’t flourish until the weeds are pulled. The best views are at the top of the trail. Every good story has exposition and conflict before the climax and resolution. There is satisfaction in doing what we have to do.

But we all have our limits.

I wish I could do everything really well, but when I can’t I want to learn how to ask for help, give myself grace, and stop taking it out on my schefflera.

Rachel Womelsduff Gough and her family ditched the city for a patch of earth in the Snoqualmie Valley. Cheered on by her husband and two blonde babes, Rachel learns by getting her hands dirty, whether it’s gardening, chicken farming, neighboring, or adventuring with soulmates in wild places. She is a Master of Divinity student at Fuller Theological Seminary, and she can’t live without books, coffee, and mountains.


  1. Rachel, I gauge my “busy-ness and my stressful-ness” by the condition of my refrigerator and my stove. The number of gummy, two tablespoons left jars in the refrigerator door and the condition of the drip pans on the stove are in direct proportion to the amount of time I don’t have for myself.

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