The Giving Tree, Part I – The Giving Too Much Tree

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Team, I have had so much to say on the topic of contribution that I couldn’t fit it into one episode. So, in an effort to respect your time, this week will be Part 1, and next week will continue with Part 2.

I’d like to roll the tape back twenty years to September 2003, when G Man and I had our first precious pumpkin. We had made the decision that he would continue to work in New York City and I would stay home with the children. Without dredging up past pain, let’s just say that the majority of  the child rearing and home-making responsibilities fell to MamaDe. While I was thinking back to all of that giving of myself to the kids and the house, I was reminded of the wonderful book, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

I have loved this book since I was a little girl. And I always considered it a manual for what my future parenting life would and should be. You may remember one of the repeated lines in the book. After the Tree gives more and more of herself to the Boy, Shel Silverstein writes, “And the tree was happy.” Holy Moly, friends, did I follow that manual. So much so, that at about ten years into the parenting process, I was nothing but a stump on the ground.

Can this really be what we expect of moms? Is this truly what motherhood is supposed to look like?

Twenty years later, I see the book in a radically different way. The Giving Tree is not a manual; it’s a cautionary tale. When rereading the story this week, a line popped right off the page at me. When the Tree finally gives her entire trunk to the Boy, the text reads, “And the tree was happy…but not really.” There it was. Those three words: But not really. My job isn’t to give everything I have to these children; my job is to give only to the point that I know I can regenerate. I don’t want to be just a stump of a person for people I love. For as long as I possibly can, I want to be the whole tree for myself, my partner, and our children.

Fifteen years ago, as a mere stump of a person, I made the deliberate decision to replant myself. I became a new tree, expanding in a different way. Now, my message to my children is this: You can swing on me, and climb in my branches, and sit in my shade—but don’t take me away from me.

As our family grows, it’s everyone’s job to gather their resources from a variety of places. As our family grows, it’s everyone’s job to offer their own resources to the group. This balance doesn’t always happen naturally, but if I continually give of my resources, they will continually be taken. This is a clear boundary that’s mine and mine alone to set. And if I’m ever having a problem with the balance of give and take in our family, it’s my job to do something to restore equilibrium. 

Next week I’d like to focus on just that. How can TeamDe better create equanimity in our maturing family? Be sure to tune in when we continue our conversation about contribution in next week’s Confession. 

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