The Gardener and the Rose

Aug 28 / Jay Zigmont, PhD, CFP®

Being a Childfree couple allows you to have different options in life. You get to choose how you want to live your life. The only thing you truly must worry about is yourself and your partner. The problem is that it can be difficult for both you and your partner to achieve your dreams, especially at the same time. To find a balance, my wife and I have adopted a Gardener and Rose approach.

The approach isn’t new and was originally called the gardener and the flower. My wife isn’t just any flower, so we call it the Gardener and the Rose. The basics are simple. For a Rose to bloom, it needs a Gardener to tend to it. The Gardener creates a safe environment for the Rose to grow and bloom within. The needs of the Rose may change over time and the Gardener needs to be able to adapt.

For my wife and I, we are both PhDs. It is nearly impossible to find two careers, at the same location, at the same time, that allows two PhDs to use their degrees fully. For most, this results in a ‘trailing spouse’ in a dual-career couple. In Academia, one spouse gets a job, and the other hopes for a ‘spousal hire’. Spousal hires are rare, and the trailing spouse has to make sacrifices to make it work. The result is that someone gets their dream job, and someone gets a job.

We have adopted the Gardener and Rose approach with the understanding that we will take turns in both roles. One of us gets to grow and bloom while the other provides support. Most recently, my wife was offered her dream job 1200 miles away. Since it was a great chance for her to grow and bloom, we packed up our dogs (you need to see 2 Mastiffs in the back of a Prius), and our cat, and moved. Luckily, I can work from anywhere as I run my own company and most Financial Planning is done via Zoom now.

Being the Rose does not have to be about jobs or making more money. It can be about growing in any way you want. My wife knows that in 15 years, I’m taking my turn as the Rose. What that means for me is that at 59 ½ I’m truly retiring and doing the Great Loop. The Great Loop is about 6,000 miles of boating down that goes around half of the US. It means living on a boat for a year or more. It is most certainly not a good financial move, but it is what I want to do.

In this ‘rotation’ of Gardener and Rose, there is some fairness. We each get our chance to grow. Each couple has their own list of Gardener roles, but it may include things like maintaining the house, running errands, cooking, and more. In theory, if you make enough money you may be able to hire out some (or all) of the Gardener roles, but that is much later in life.

It is also not about classic gender roles. I will admit that there were many people who were surprised that I would move for my wife’s job. I don’t get it, but there are still those who have set pictures of gender roles. I figure that if we already picked to not follow the LifeScript™ by being Childfree, we can pick whatever roles make sense without following the script.

What does this mean for you? If you are a DINK (Dual Income, No Kids) couple, it may be worth having a conversation about the Gardener and the Rose. Which one of you is doing which role now? Do either of you have bigger dreams or wants? Do both of you get joy from your jobs or do you need a change? What about going back to school? Or starting that dream small business? Or…

In most couples, I find that either spouse is willing to sacrifice for the other, but not for themselves. If John’s wife wants to follow their dreams and be the Rose, then he is 100% behind her. If on the other hand, John wants to be the Rose, then Jane is 100% behind him. The hard part is who goes first and admits they want to be the Rose.

Chances are you know which one of you is ‘restless’ and needs the change. Lay out the Gardening task and Rose opportunities. Set a plan for both. If possible, include a timeline. Make a commitment to taking turns. The Rose can still do some dishes, but you need to figure out what support they need and what they need to stop doing.

Taking turns allows whoever is in the Rose role to focus on themselves and growing. It relieves a bit of the pressure and feelings of being selfish. You know that both people get their chance to be the Rose and in their own way. Be careful if someone only wants to be the Gardener (or Rose). We can all be a bit sacrificial and that may not be fair.

Is it possible to have a balance? I don’t know. I find that achieving a true balance within a couple (where they each do half gardener/half rose) means a series of sacrifices and compromises that are not always even. I hear things like “I’m OK with my choice…” OK is fine, but I’m not sure OK reflects true joy. I’ll also hear things like “well financially we can’t…” I then do the numbers and there usually is an option, if they are willing to make sacrifices together.

The challenge is to not settle for OK. Choose joy in your life. Take turns and be your best self, whatever that is.

If you need help navigating the Gardener and the Rose, schedule a meeting with a Childfree Wealth Specialist® here.

Jay Zigmont, PhD, MBA, CFP® is the Founder of Childfree Wealth®, a life and financial planning firm dedicated to helping Childfree and Permanently Childless people. Dr. Jay is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, Childfree Wealth Specialist®, and author of the book “Portraits of Childfree Wealth.” Dr. Jay is the co-host of Childfree Wealth Podcast. His Ph.D. is in Adult Learning from the University of Connecticut.

He has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, MarketWatch, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Insider, CNBC, and many other publications.