I recently stumbled across a blog in which the author was discussing her feelings (mainly negative) about Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, a bittersweet story about a relationship between a boy and an apple tree. They were so happy together in the early days when the boy would munch on apples, swing on the tree’s branches, and rest in its shade. As time went by, however, the boy’s visits became less frequent, and every time he came, he took something from the tree. Decades pass, and we find that the tree is nothing more than a stump that the “boy-turned-old-man” can rest on.
I well remember being exposed to this book abut 30 years or so ago in graduate school when a fellow student used it in a presentation. I thought it was great at the time, for I could see my wonderful, sweet mama in the tree. In fact, it made such a powerful impression on one of my aunts that she asked me to read it at my grandmother’s graveside. I gladly did so. These were the days before I had children of my own, and since that time my perspective and “take” on this book have changed somewhat. If by chance any of my children should read this, please know that I’m perfectly at peace with our give and take relationship. While I’m a giving mom, I’m not a martyr.
Although I don’t have a copy of the book in front of me to refer to right now, I think I can recall enough to know that the tree gave all she had…and then some. Were her efforts appreciated? No. Did the boy visit often? No…only when he wanted something. I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t give. Of course, they should. Sacrifice is part of any long term successful relationship. However, there are limits, and when a child, spouse, friend, or any other person begins taking, taking, taking without so much as a grudging “thank you,” it’s time (past time) to back off or to set some boundaries.
It just crossed my mind that even God (the most unselfish and loving of all beings) expects gratitude! Shouldn’t parents (er, trees) expect it too? And how much sacrifice is enough? When does sacrifice and giving cross the line to enabling? Hmm, was the tree an enabler? Perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill or reading too much into this beautiful little book. What do you think?