Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree is one of the many books that our generation has rediscovered upon becoming parents. It's ubiquitous—found in every library, bookstore, and preschool classroom. And yet, rereading it again for the first time in thirty (or so) years can come as a bit of a shock. Many parents we know have commented: "It's so depressing!"
And on one level, that is perfectly true. A boy and a tree have an idyllic, playful, nurturing relationship that is forever transformed when the boy, inevitably, begins to grow up. Now he doesn't want to play; he wants apples for money. And then wood for a house. And then a tree trunk to make a boat. And then, finally, a stump to rest upon. The tree offers him everything he needs, and each time he accepts, the progressively shorn and mutilated tree is "happy."
Depressing, indeed. And an ominous reminder that the mutual adoration society that exists between parents and their young children is a time-bound experience. At some point not so long from now, our children will begin to separate, focus on their friendships, and build their own lives. All that we've given them will be forgotten…parenting really is a thankless job.... Sniff, sniff. Sob. This book is just tragic! Why does anyone read it! It should be banned for causing tearful meltdowns in sleep-deprived parents!
Yet, here's the puzzler: the tree was happy. Giving and giving (with no thanks at all) made the tree happy. Hmmm….
As one of our happiness and parenting gurus, the wonderful Gretchen Rubin, often reminds us:
"One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself."
This, then, is the other, paradoxical truth of The Giving Tree. Giving to our kids and making a good life for them makes parents happy. Here's to giving and happiness and thankfulness!
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