Reading “The Giving Tree” through the Eyes of Motherhood


This post celebrates National Read a Book Day.

Image from Amazon

I rocked my sniffling two year old like she was a newborn, patting her bottom and singing a lullaby.

The humidifier hummed in the background and the sound machine imitated rain drumming on the windows.

It was the kind of tiny summer, runny-nose cold that held us hostage in the house, but we could still watch movies and color with her new, easy-grip crayons. Dishes piled up in the sink because she wanted to snuggle with me longer than usual.

I had given her everything that day–all of my time, all of my energy, and half of my t-shirt to use as a snot rag. And she wanted more. More of mama. More of me.

I smiled and brushed her damp hair from her sweaty face. I was happy.

I started to think of “The Giving Tree,” a poem by Shel Silverstein. It was published as a picture book in 1964, and its lessons have been debated ever since. But I’ve always seen it as a story about the unconditional love that a parent has for a child. {If you want to judge for yourself, you can watch a 10 minute video of the entire book here!}

Image from Kinder Books

At first, the boy plays with the tree, climbing her trunk and swinging on her branches. Then the boy comes asking for for things, so the tree gives him every part of her–one by one. Sound familiar, mamas?

She gives the boy her apples to sell in the marketplace. Next she gives away her branches so he can build a house. Then she gives her trunk so he can make a boat. Finally, even though she is reduced to a stump, she invites him to rest upon her.

Throughout this rather one-sided relationship, the tree is happy.

Right now, I’m the tree. Apples are practically falling out of my hair, and a toddler is constantly trying to tear off my limbs. And I am happy, too.

Other times I think about this book and shout, “I am not a stump!” Then I mumble something about useless co-dependent relationships. That’s usually when I take a solo trip to Target to clear my head and buy things for the kid who just drove me to the edge of insanity.

Image from The Kindness Blog

“The Giving Tree” finds merit in both feelings. It gives me the chance to see two sides of a story and then feel them pull against each other. 

It lets me see the immense love that a tree has for a little boy, while at same time, watch her lose every part of herself.

And because I see it in a book, I know that it is normal to feel both love and loss in motherhood. I know that I love a little girl, but I don’t have to lose myself in the process.

This is where we grow–in between love and loss and in between the pages of a good book.

Books are like that. The meaning is rooted within your own life circumstance. So steal a moment for yourself tonight, even if it’s just to read a page of a forgotten favorite book. You don’t always have to be the tree in order to grow.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash