Photo courtesy of Katie Joy

Why Do Millennial Moms Have So Many House Plants?

Can any iteration of retail therapy even hope to compare to the pure bliss of crossing your threshold with a brand new house plant in tow? The 2016 National Gardening Survey found that of the 6 million people who took up gardening that year, 5 million of them were millennials. But there is one demographic within this rather hefty sample size that bears closer inspection: millennial moms who love plants but surely — surely — do not have time for this nonsense.

Thanks to a combination of crippling student loan debt, a grossly inflated housing market, and the near-unlivable cost of living, many millennials in big cities have found themselves struggling to enjoy the sort of lifestyle we were once sold as birthright, and they are filling that hole with house plants. It’s difficult to avoid the fallout of this relatively recent urban horticultural boom: even if you personally aren’t following the #plantgang hashtag on Instagram, or regularly clicking through Facebook marketplace to see who is pawning off a pothos for dirt cheap, chances are you have at least two friends who can’t stop raving about their thriving or barely-hanging-on monstera plant. If you're 25 to 35, your Instagram feed is likely full of babies and aloe vera plants, but also frequently both at the same time.

On one hand, young moms may seem the most equipped to handle the pressures of plant care: they’re already well-trained in being responsive to someone else’s needs, thinking ahead, tending to and generally fretting over the continued health and happiness of another living creature that, for the first few years of life, cannot communicate its needs in consistent human language. Once a new mother has braved the crippling mundanity and nightmarish anarchy of a newborn’s rule, followed by the hair-pulling mania of keeping a toddler clean, stable, well-fed and in one piece from day to endless day, what challenge could a stationary, quiet plant possibly pose?

Well, quiet may be part of the problem.

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“I kill all my houseplants,” Kate Wehr, mother of three, tells Romper. “My kids have survived so far, probably because they make more noise when they want something.”

Every plant that could not survive long droughts died off by the time the middle [kid] was 2.

Turns out, summoning the strength and will to keep tiny humans alive does not an adequate plant mom make (in many cases). When you think about it, considering the many tasks being managed by today’s typical millennial mom — working a job, managing or co-managing a household, keeping the child(ren) fed and happy, carving out time for friends, family, pets, and #selfcare — it becomes rather extraordinary to imagine that a plant would be a priority at all.

Pre-kids is one thing. We’ve all experienced the slow diminishment of luxuries that simply weren't viable after our first chubby-cheeked angel entered the world: long baths by candlelight, frequent after-work happy hours, sleeping in on the weekends (does the pain of losing this one ever fade?). Let’s face it: very often, the space one (or several) mewling kid(s) take up simply doesn’t leave enough for another needy dependent.

Dina Stander, whose three children are now adults, reminisces to Romper about her dearly departed green thumb: “I had windows full of leafy house plants before kids, [and] over time switched to succulents only via natural selection. Every plant that could not survive long droughts died off by the time the middle one was 2.”

It's a common sentiment among those who have children and those who are childfree.

Beyond the very real possibility of neglect, there are important considerations for blending herb and human families: is your little one likely to chew on a pretty leaf? Or use the pot as target practice? (Deep in the trenches of potty-training, though, I think this can count as "progress.") In child-free homes, there’s a much wider margin for experimentation, on a simple risk assessment basis: theoretically, one can sleep much easier knowing that their foliage won’t cause real harm to any of the home’s other inhabitants... or vice versa.

Upon every visit to her apartment, I can’t help but marvel at the sheer magnitude of foliage, the robust ferns and trailing vines that transform the cozy space into a soothing oasis of green. I wondered how she stayed on top of her double duties as plant and human mom to an energetic 2-year-old.

Examining the habits of many plant-buyers, however, may shed some light on how this actually plays out. Alexandra Thune, owner of the Brooklyn-based flower shop Honeysuckle Hill, theorizes that many of her customers (who mainly fall in the mid-twenties to late thirties age bracket) are drawn to plant ownership to scratch a latent maternal (or paternal) itch. “I feel like people aren't necessarily having kids right away but they still want to nurture and take care of something,” she conjectures, before adding, “Plants are also an easy way to connect with nature, with something ‘real’. I think a lot of people crave that kind of connection but don't always have time to go out and seek nature.”

Certainly, in sprawling, urban areas, it can be difficult to maintain one’s connection to the great outdoors when there’s urine-drenched concrete and garish advertising copy as far as the eye can see. Many of the mothers I spoke to confessed to wanting their apartment to feel “homey” and to include touches of greenery that they were hard-pressed to find on an ordinary day.

Katie Joy, her daughter Frida, and a few of their many, many plants. Photo courtesy of Katie Joy.

A good friend of mine, Katie Joy, a visual artist and birth doula living in Brooklyn, tells Romper that as soon as she moved to the city, procuring house plants was absolutely essential: “I needed the balance with nature... it’s my therapy.” Upon every visit to her apartment, I can’t help but marvel at the sheer magnitude of foliage, the robust ferns and trailing vines that transform the cozy space into a soothing oasis of green. I wondered how she stayed on top of her double duties as plant and human mom to an energetic 2-year-old, but she assured me that her daughter was more help than hindrance: “[Frida] loves watering [the plants] with me, pruning and repotting. It’s something we enjoy doing together that reconnects us to the earth and ground we walk on.”

Novelist Dina Nayeri, living in London with her partner, Sam, and 2-year-old daughter, shares Katie’s perspective. Dina boasts a whopping 16 plants in her urban jungle — her old house, she tells me, felt “like a hotel,” and only had two. While she does feel a bit overwhelmed by the vastly differing requirements that each plant possesses (daily rotations, liquid versus solid fertilizer, repotting, oh my!) she sees these additional duties not only as a blessing, but as a reflection of her and her partner's preferred parenting style.

It was important for them to create a beautiful living area where the family could spend time reading and relaxing every day, and while plants weren’t originally on the list of apartment furnishings, she admitted, they were the perfect finishing touch. Dina and Sam also aim to share their love of living things with their daughter. “We gave Elena a little watering can, and we taught her how to water [them]...plants can be the first living things that she cares for.”

Elena, Dina Nayeri's daughter, with foliage. Photo courtesy of Dina Nayeri

While the reigning millennial Instagram aesthetic may glorify an apartment teeming with plant life, young moms, Romper found, are not so easily swayed by trends. The revolving door of maternal obligation demands a sort of pragmatism that can very well be aspirational, but mainly compels mothers to ask of themselves: is this realistic?

For many, populating an apartment with dozens of additional mouths to feed, so to speak, is simply not worth the time and effort. For others, the choice to incorporate plant care into the weekly list of chores is tied intimately to their parenting ethos: instilling within their children a love and appreciation for nature in an intimate, hands-on way. From a modest assortment of succulents to lush indoor jungles, millennial moms are forging their own horticultural paths — happily and (mostly) guilt-free.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.