The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is one of my all time favorite books from my childhood.
Funny now that I’ve learned so much about codependency that my favorite childhood book is about a selfless over-giver and very willing selfish taker.
I didn’t even make that connection until not long ago I googled codependency T-shirt’s and shirts with the Giving Tree book cover showed up in my search. I’ve had this on my heart to write about ever since.
This is a recap of the story from my memory while I work through my own understanding of its meaning in reference to codependency. And my love for this story.
The story starts off very playful and both the tree and the boy benefit from their relationship. Swing from my branches. Sit in my shade. Eat apples. Gather my leaves and play king of the forest. Good times for sure. The boy even carves ‘Me + T’ in the bark. And the tree was happy.
Then things start to change. The boy is growing up and climbing trees and swings from branches is no longer that cool. Girls and money are much cooler. The boys brings a girl to hang out under the tree and carves ‘Me + Y L’ into the tree. Ouch, that’s got to hurt.
And the boy asked the tree for money. But she’s a tree and contrary to popular belief, money doesn’t grow on trees.
But then she solves his problem by suggesting that he take her apples and sell them in the city and he will have money and be happy. So he does. And the tree was happy. Check- Problem solved.
The boy comes back. The tree is so happy to see him. Come play in my branches she says. He’s too old for that. And now the boys needs a house. Again the tree solves his problem for him by suggesting he cuts off her branches and builds a house. And he does. And the tree was happy. Another problem solved. (He will love me for sure now)
Now really, this is a problem, when you start to put yourself at risk to help someone else AND you pretend to be happy about it. But I digress, let’s get back to the story.
Now the boy stays away for a long time. And comes back and wants to get away from life. The tree once again solves his problem by suggesting he cuts down her trunk and makes a boat and can sail far far away. And he does. And the tree is happy, but not really.
She gave the boy everything she had to give at her expense. Deep Sigh. I have felt like the tree before.
Now the boy stayed away for a long long time. And the tree is now just a stump. The boy came back when he was old man and the tree tells him she has nothing left to give. He says, I just need a place to sit and rest. Well an old stump is a good place to sit and rest she says.
And the story ends with the boy, sitting on the stump resting and you can still just see Me + T on the stump. And the words, and the tree was happy.
Wowzers, I had no idea that this is really what the story was about. This isn’t unconditional love. Or a beautiful example of giving without expecting anything in return. In fact it’s a terrible example of what relationships of any kind look like.
What it is is a fantastic example of a codependent relationship. A giver and a taker. And everyone knows a selfish taker loves an over giver!
At first the relationship seems healthy to both people. Mutual. A partnership. But then she starts solving his problems from him, sometimes before he even asks. She just dives in with the solution. The solution is at her expense. But this is what she knows. It’s how to show someone you love them. She wants to feel love, like it was in the beginning. And he just takes and takes and takes. Until there is nothing left to give.
Even the end kinda makes me mad because she is happy to still, after giving him everything, give him a place to sit and rest. I hope there are fire ants in there…..no no I’m kidding I’m kidding.
And did you catch this, the fact that the tree always calls him boy through out the entire story. Her actions prevented him from growing from his experiences and he remained a boy.
Drop the mic.
My journey continues….
I took this picture of my son several years ago. Completely his idea to get THIS book and go outside to sit and read on the stump in our front yard.