Last winter, I took an extensive course in flower farming. While I think I entertained the notion that I might become a flower farmer, mostly I wanted to learn everything I could about how flowers grow. And I did. From starting seeds to irrigating to marketing and packaging for sale, I soaked up every bit of floral information available to me.
Then, I grew beautiful flowers. And I gave away countless Mason jars filled with them.
Around midsummer, I stopped consulting the books, and just made my own notes. I learned which flowers did well and which ones bloomed once and were gone. I learned which color combinations looked best in which room of my house. I learned how to photograph them, a little better every time. I learned I am not a flower farmer, nor do I really want to be. I’m just a very enthusiastic, pretty successful gardener of abundant posies.
Before I was a mother, I read everything I could get my hands on about marriage and motherhood. I asked countless people for advice. I drank deep from every source I could find. I had four babies, and then there was the internet: an endless font of information on marriage, motherhood and how to do it all “right” was quite literally at my fingertips. For the next five babies, I could consult and compare without ceasing. For an education junkie like me, this was manna from heaven. Or drinking from a firehose.
Here’s what I know now about flowers and families: it helps to learn from someone who is close to your home, and then it is essential to sift the information carefully and choose only what suits your situation.
This year in my garden, we will plant only two or three types of flowers, but many varieties of those. I won’t try to plant all the greens to go with bouquets; the trees in my yard will provide that quite nicely. I’ll focus on the flowers I know grow well in the soil here, with the climate here. Instead of studying books, I’m studying the way the light hits the land, the pattern of shadows as the trees progress through seasons, the touch it takes to stake my dahlias and steady them but not to break the stalks. I’ve gleaned from the books, but now I’m listening to what the life in my yard has to tell me.
Instead of following every flower farmer I could find on social media, eager to learn and imitate everything they did, I’ve winnowed my feed to just a few exceptionally inspiring or entertaining ones. I’m spending found time away from screens paying close attention to what is happening in my own backyard. I’m refusing to be overwhelmed by so many voices in so many places.
That’s the way it is with motherhood, too. I promise. If you put down the screen or the book or divert your eyes from another woman’s story, you can focus more clearly on your own. You can see the people God put in your unique life and know better how to cultivate an environment in which good things grow.
I think the very best advice of all is simple. Stay rooted in Scripture, be nourished by the sacraments, discern in prayer, and then do what works best for your family. Expect it to look a little different for every child, in every season. Expect that there will be bumps you navigate together. Expect to apologize. Expect that God will provide all the wisdom you need.
Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut.