The Giving Tree
Did anyone else grow up reading the famous children’s book by Shel Silverstein called The Giving Tree? Before I even dive into this let me say that I LOVE Shel Silverstein. His collection of poetry titled Where The Sidewalk Ends is one of my all-time favorites. However, in a Children’s Literature course I took while working on my master’s degree, I read The Giving Tree with fresh eyes. Is the moral of the story actually healthy? And how pervasive is this message that we so easily embrace as “good”?
In case you aren’t familiar, the story is about a tree’s sacrifice for the love of a boy. At first, the boy and the tree are friends, and they enjoy each other’s company every day.
When the boy grows up, he wants a house, a family, and to see the world. So, the tree gives the boy her apples to sell, her branches to build a house and her trunk to make a boat. Over and over, the book tells us, “and then the boy was happy.”
By the end of their relationship, the tree is nothing but a stump and the boy is a tired old man needing a quiet place to rest. He sits down on the stump and the book says, “And the tree was happy.”
Reading this through fresh eyes, I wanted to argue, “Really? The tree was happy? The tree is not even a tree anymore. How could she be happy? She gave herself away completely! I don’t know any people who give themselves away to this degree who are truly happy.”
I have no idea what Silverstein’s true intention was in writing the story, and I’ve read many different interpretations of the book. Some believe the tree represents the earth and the way we have treated the earth, which I would agree with, but MOST people see the book as a representation of a loving mom parenting her son. In my humble opinion, if this story represents the ideal experience of parenting, I think the message STINKS. Even more, if the story represents the role of women in our world, I am vehemently opposed.
Happiness in parenting or in life does not come from giving myself away until all I am is a STUMP upon which someone can sit!
So many of the cultural messages that we receive as women are about giving ourselves away, putting others’ needs before our own, making sure everyone around us is happy. But at what cost? Is this really healthy giving? In the end, does it really serve anyone or does it just create generational exhaustion and depletion?
Most importantly, do I want to absorb this message as the model of a celebrated relationship?
I like this revised version of the story.
Or perhaps this ending…
I am not inspired thinking that my most worthy goal in life is to wind up as a stump that those I love have destroyed in their attempts to get what they want. I believe there is a better way to give in familial relationships that allows you to give to those you love without destroying yourself in the process.
I think it’s possible to give of our time, talent and treasure from the OVERFLOW and to not destroy ourselves in the process. We can learn to give from the FRUIT from our branches that can be constantly replenished while we maintain strong branches and a healthy trunk. I think the key to this kind of healthy giving in our lives is having healthy boundaries.
Because then the tree can be truly happy.
If you want to learn more about healthy giving and how to create boundaries that allow you to serve others in this way, check out my “A Boundary is Not a Wall” webinar. Sessions will be held on 9/30, 10/7, 10/14, 10/21 from noon – 1:00 pm CDT via Zoom—if you can’t make it all the sessions will be recorded and shared after the class! Register here.