You’re Either the Flower or You’re the Watering Can

by | Jul 31, 2013 | Homemaking, Marriage | 11 comments

One isn’t better than the other. They are complimentary. Both are good. Of course, that’s easy for me to say, since I’m the flower.


But it really does seem to be true of all the marriages I’m party to the ins and outs of. And it doesn’t always break down according to temperaments or personality type.

I’ve also heard it referred to as in a marriage someone is the gas and someone is the breaks, but that sounds kind of negative. *I* like flower and watering can.

I think it basically comes down to the fact that, in a relationship, one party feels important and fulfilled by taking care of someone else and the other party feels important and fulfilled by being taken care of. It all works out quite nicely. (And, of course, we both play both roles every now and then.) But I think it’s important to be cognizant of which part of the equation we usually are so we can avoid falling into some traps.

If you’re wondering which one you are, here are some questions:

  1. Do you do your family’s taxes?
  2. Do you usually answer the home phone when it rings?
  3. Do you usually pick the movie?
  4. Is whatever the thing you are working on right now at this moment really, really important and just might change the world?

If you answered “yes” to one and two, you’re probably the watering can. If you answered “yes” to three and four, you’re probably the flower. If you answered “yes” to some other combination of questions, I’m probably not very good at writing personality quizzes.

I do not do our taxes or keep track of important deadlines or do most of the periodic maintenance-type stuff around the house because I am too busy thinking about my own list of priorities (even though that list is almost all related to my family — but it’s imposed by me, not outside forces, so I don’t suffer it so much). I don’t like to get up to answer the phone or look for a lost shoe or find out what all that screaming is about because in my mind anything I’m doing — whether it’s writing a blog post, or making dinner, or doing schoolwork with the kids, or curling my hair, is a really important thing and should not be interrupted.

And even though the vast majority of my time is spent in taking care of other people, it’s not because I gain personal satisfaction from being needed by others. When I take care of my home and the needs of my husband and children the satisfaction I get is in the fulfillment of a noble duty and the feeling of having done a job well (hopefully). Other mothers would be motivated to do exactly the same things each day, but for very different reasons. 

Just to clarify: also I love my husband and kids and they are great. Especially the husband. Really, really great. The best.

Which brings me to why any of this matters . . . 

If you have read a post on this blog in which I encouraged you to not focus on finding me-time, you should note that I was talking to other flowers. Let’s face it, flowers have almost nothing BUT me-time. When I’m washing a kid’s hair in the tub, I’m also working on hashing out a plot point in my novel, or meal-planning for the week, or realizing what I should have written in response to that blog comment. Me-time: I’ve got it. 

What I do not need is to be encouraged to focus more on myself or make extra time to focus on myself without my children around. That would not help me to be a better person. What *I* need is to be encouraged to rip myself away from all the stuff I’d like to accomplish and give my time and attention to my husband and my children.

But if you’re the watering can, when you are reading a story to your children you probably let them pick whatever one they want even if you hate it and don’t even leave out paragraphs when you’re reading it. Your day probably IS focused on other people and it just might be very important for you to schedule some me-time. I don’t know. I haven’t been there.

If you’re the watering can AND the primary caregiver, well, I don’t know how you do it. I’m sure you appreciate feeling needed, but it could easily become too much. I’ll bet you look over at your spouse and wonder why in the world he doesn’t notice that you need help. Well, as a flower, I can tell you that it’s because he genuinely believes that the thing he is engaged in, even if it’s objectively a stupid thing, is really important. If he didn’t think it was important, he wouldn’t have started doing it in the first place.

I’m not trying to excuse it. Just to explain it. We flowers should help you watering cans more. We definitely should. I’m just not sure how you get us to do it, since, really, what we’re doing is super important.

If you’re the flower and the primary caregiver, I think things around the house naturally have a bit more balance. Between the husband and me, I’m the one who would be more likely to shirk my household responsibilities in favor of other pursuits (like computer-stuff or hobbies) that I think are more important, or at least more edifying. But since I know that the house and the kids are MY job, I know I need to make them a priority. And I do.

But the husband notices when I need help or something needs doing and he does it. It’s lovely. So lovely that sometimes I forget that even though they are just as much his kids as they are mine, he has a different full-time job. So if he is putting all the kids to bed because I am having an embroidery emergency or someone on Facebook is wrong about something, I need to be grateful. Grateful enough that he knows I noticed.

And, as the flower, it’s not fair for me to expect him to help and look after me in some areas of life, but then get all offended when he does the same thing in other areas. I need to realize that he’s just doing what watering cans are supposed to do.

Here’s where it would be great to put some advice on how to get flowers to engage and help out, but I guess you’d have to ask the husband. Or talk amongst yourselves. Any watering cans out there have this figured out?

In any case, whether it’s fixable or not, I think it’s really helpful when dealing with other people, but especially my family, to understand what’s motivating them and what’s motivating me.

I’m all for increasing self-awareness. I can’t work on improving myself if I don’t even really know who myself is. (Wow, that’s good grammar.) Personality tests — awesome. Learning about temperaments — totally blew my mind. Really, I had no idea that everyone didn’t see the world just the way I did. I also love the whole introvert/extrovert thing. (If you love an introvert, you should read this comic.)

Understanding if you’re the flower or the watering can can help too.

In mostly unrelated news, these exist and are awesome:

found here

Okay, that’s probably enough world-altering blogging for me today. I also have a giant pile of laundry to fold. I need to make the world a better place by taking care of that.


  1. Sarah@Like sunshine in the home

    "What I do not need is to be encouraged to focus more on myself or make extra time to focus on myself without my children around. That would not help me to be a better person. What *I* need is to be encouraged to rip myself away from all the stuff I'd like to accomplish and give my time and attention to my husband and my children."

    Me too I think. I spend most of my time rushing to get through chores/stuff so that I can sit down and read a book or read my blog or have a coffee…and if anyone interrupts me whilst I'm doing the above things I am very distracted or grumpy.

  2. Erin Pascal

    Thank you for sharing this very interesting article. It was a very good read and I enjoyed reading it. I learned so much from you and it was a nice feeling being able to learn new things. I'm glad I came across your blog. 🙂

  3. Kim

    Well, can you both be both at the same time? LOL? and that list didn't apply to us since we have someone else do our taxes, neither one of us ever answers the phone–instead we each have our own cell phones that we individually answer. We never even watch movies or tv–somewhere along the way after baby 1 we stopped. But, I have mentioned that we should start watching something together in the last few weeks. LOL…and the thing we both work together on that is important is the kids.

    but it sounds like you guys have an awesome relationship. Sounds like a match made in heaven 🙂

  4. Anonymous

    I think I'm both too. I do our taxes and if we had a home phone, I would always answer it (but we just each have our own cell phones). I never pick the movie, but I can TOTALLY relate to number 4..and whatever I am doing is SUPER IMPORTANT.

    I also can relate to everything you wrote about "me" time. I get PLENTY of "me" time, because I'm the mom who brings books to the playground and encourages my kids to play independently so I can blog and thinks about other things while driving, etc. I'm very good at tuning stuff out so I can go "into my head" and think abut what I want to.

  5. Nanacamille

    Now I know why I love flowers and gardening so much as it gives me a chance to be a flower and a watering can. My husband it definitely yes to the 1st 2 questions but I have always been the nurturer in the household to kids and hubby. I was also the watering can at work taking care of everyone but on my layovers I could be a flower and blow in the wind. I think you have to be both to have enjoyed 40 years of marriage and family.

  6. Kris

    I'm definitely the watering can and my hubby is definitely the flower. The only "watering can" advice I can give is that you have to ASK the flower to help. You can't just assume. Because they will never notice. But if I ask, he's almost always willing to help (unless he's engrossed in something "important"…!) But it's truly not deliberate that they don't notice. They just don't.

  7. Caitlin

    I am in the same boat as Kris and it drives me crazy to have to ask my husband for help all the time! Making to-do lists works wonders for us. Every Friday night, we sit down and make a list of all the stuff to get done over the weekend. Then, we both know what needs to be done and we both work to cross things off, with no nagging involved.

  8. Ashley Sue

    I am a watering can. I need large blocks of time to myself in order to feel better. In fact, I'm a huge introvert. So when my husband deploys I hire a mother's helper in order to have a chunk to myself here and there.

    One thing that helped our marriage was realizing that clutter did not bother my husband, so he didn't think to pick it up. Once I realized how agitated I became when things got cluttered, he really makes a solid attemp to pick up.

  9. Tom and Heather

    This was a great post…both because of the content and because it reminded me to water the flowers your kind husband brought us. Thanks for the help! Consider yourself my watering can for the moment!

  10. Amanda

    Oh wow, the flower description fits me perfectly. I'm a bit embarrassed, I didn't realize quite how focused on my own tasks I get. In my head whatever I'm doing truly is "the most important thing!" and I totally blow off other things to focus, haha! I do think it works nicely having my husband (who works full-time) be the watering can. Naturally my job is to serve everyone at home, cleaning and making plans and keeping everyone fed and dressed and clean and stuff. So it's nice that my husband naturally steps in and helps when he's home from work. At least it is for me, and I think he's happy with our arrangement, he just laughed and smiled at me when I read him your article and admitted that is totally me. Thank goodness for watering cans 🙂

  11. Мaria

    Just getting around to noticing this post, I can certainly relate to it! This was sort of like if you actually get the right personality type on a test where, as you're reading it, you're constantly surprised by the accuracy of something(one) that's(who's) never met you! Bizarre :]] The getting-caught-up-in-what-you're-doing-at-the-moment-because-it's-THE-most-important-thing-ever rang true for sure.. My current challenge is not just physically doing the nurturing stuff at home (some of it comes super naturally, some not so much, but the actual getting-it-done's not a problem), but doing it well. Not resentfully. For example, my husband's not Catholic and, whereas he's entirely supportive of raising the kids Catholic (I think he'd become Catholic if he didn't have some mental block disallowing his believing in something like that.. not that it explains everything, but he was raised in the Soviet Union where no-one was religious and finds some of the beliefs to require too much, uh, faith — ANYWAY, back from the tangent), doesn't do night prayers. So, as much as I'd love to relinquish putting-to-bed duties to him, we'd end up skipping family before-bed prayers, and that doesn't work either. So I pray with them every night, but I approach it begrudgingly more often than I'd like to admit. I'd like to think they don't notice it when I'm that way, but kids are very perceptive. Or the millionth question of the day when I juuuuust want to finish what I'm doing! I snap at them far more than good. I could stand to be more pleasant in the execution of my nurturing role.. Especially once they grow out of the baby age and I know they can do better than whatever it is that they're doing.. Any advice for that? I don't know you in person, though a few of your posts (making an effort to do something they ask for at least once a day, for example) make me think that you may periodically have those issues as well?

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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