But I have never, ever liked The Giving Tree.
Lots of people love it. I loathe it. It creeps me the heck out. It’s a metaphor, of course, for parental love. The tree is the parent, and the child is… the child. At first, the metaphor works just fine. When your child is very young, after all, you as the parent give far more than you get. Those sleepless nights, the exhaustion, the incessant demands… in return for which, in the first few weeks, you don’t even get a smile! There is no way it can be otherwise. A baby is a baby. You give more than you get because they can only be what they are.
And, really… unless you become incapacitated and live with a child who treats you with the love, patience and respect you gave him/her in their infancy as they change your Depends… barring that, you always give more than you get as a parent. On balance, over the course of your life, your parents have probably given you more than you’ll ever give them. Beginning with, ahem, your life. That much is true.
BUT! But at some point, and I would argue this should begin to occur in the late teens to early twenties, the child should start giving back. (Because we’re raising adults, remember?) The balance may never be even, that’s probably not possible, but as the child becomes an adult, there should be some return, some reciprocity of love, respect and giving.
When the child never, ever gives, but only takes? A parent should not keep on giving until it kills them. Good lord. That’s just sick. And yet the book suggests this is a good thing, it’s how it ought to be, it’s laudable, it’s sweet, it’s appropriate, it’s something parents should emulate, even.
Only this week have I stumbled across an alternate interpretation. Maybe my reaction was the point of the book. Maybe, rather than see it as something parents are called to do, we’re supposed to feel revulsion. Maybe we’re supposed to see it as unhealthy, gone too far, extreme. Maybe it’s even supposed to help children begin to grasp the giving that their parents have done.
Maybe. And you can be sure that, should I read this book to children old enough to understand, I’ll be making the point that the boy is being very selfish. It doesn’t seem many people have read it as a cautionary tale, though. They either loooooove this book — such a sweet thing! such parental devotion!, or they loooooathe it — such abuse! such selfishness!
I’ve always fallen into the latter camp. Though I would like to believe the alternative interpretation is the intended one, I really don’t. I think the majority interpretation is the accurate one. And in that case?
This is a co-dependent relationship that SCREAMS for an intervention. And who better to provide it than Sassy Gay Friend?
– “Oh, just look at you!” Mom scans her daughter’s outfit and rolls her eyes. “Pink stripes on the top, orange check on the bottom. Guess we can tell who dressed you this morning!” (Hint: It wasn’t mommy, and it wasn’t the daughter.)
– “I just have to check her bin,” says mom as she rummages through the shelf where her child’s extra clothes are kept. “Jay said there were a couple of outfits in here, but I know what he considers an ‘outfit’. He has no idea.”
– “You might want to wash his face and hands, Mary.” Mom nods her head in the direction of her son. “His dad cleaned him up after breakfast, and he’s just never thorough enough.”
Each of these statements made by a mother about her child’s father. Each of these statements made by a mother who believes “he’s a good dad”. Each of these statements made in public, to me and in the presence at least one other parent.
I find it shocking, you know. I really do.
These are all good dads. They are involved. They do half the drop-off and/or pick-ups. They cook some dinners. They bathe the children, the play with them, the speak respectfully and fondly with the kids. They take days off when the child is sick. We all know there are dads who don’t do nearly so much.
And yet, if I were to go by what I hear…
They dress the children — and do it wrong.
They help organize the childrens’ things — and do it wrong.
They feed the kids — and do it wrong.
They play with the kids — and do it wrong.
Some days I wonder why they try at all. Must be because they feel a lot of love and commitment to their child, because heaven knows their wives/partners don’t express a whole lot of satisfaction in their efforts.
Does it matter, does it really matter, if the child is wearing stripes and checks? Or colours that clash? Is it life and death if a child’s face is somewhat less than spotless?
Does it matter so much that it’s worth embarrassing someone in public? Is it so important that it’s somehow all right to undermine someone’s honest efforts and belittle their abilities… not just in the presence of other adults, but in the presence of their children? Are we so insecure as parents, we mothers, that we have to sweat the small stuff just to feel superior?
I very rarely hear dads doing this sort of thing to moms, but moms do it all.the.time.
And I, for one, would like it to stop.
“Daycare interferes with the parent-child bond.”
“If a child is spending nine hours a day with someone else, that will affect their relationship with the parent.”
There are those who believe these statements.
Now, I was a SAHM, a homeschooling SAHM, for years. If a family decides they want a parent home with their children, if a parent decides that’s what he/she wants to do? I’m totally onside. I loved, loved, loved being a SAHM. It was, without doubt, the time in my life when (awful marriage aside), I was happiest and most fulfilled.
(Another aside: I don’t believe ‘parenting is the hardest job in the world’. I think it’s one of the most important, and certainly not without its challenges. But not the hardest.)
And, for many years while I was a SAHM, I would also have ascribed to those beliefs. How could I possibly give up so many of the hours I spent with my child each week and not have it impact negatively on my relationship with my child? It only made rational sense.
Thing is, love isn’t always rational.
I am fond of my wee charges, and they of me. We toss around the L-word freely. There are hourly hugs and kisses and snuggles. There are shared smiles and pats on heads and unexpected gifts. There’s a lot of love in my household, and it’s wonderful.
However, in the grand heirarchy of relationships, I come a solid second to mom and dad, and everybody knows that. Heck, I’m probably well down, after grandparents, aunts, uncles, and maybe even certain neighbours and family friends.
Which is why I’m not surprised when, now and then, I’m compared to mom or dad … and found lacking. Sometimes, we know, they’re totally trying to scam me. But sometimes it’s quite sincere. And mostly, since they’re supposed to love mom and dad best and it’s totally no skin off my nose, I agree with them. Or, if it’s a matter of discipline, I simply remind them that I’m not mom or dad, and it’s okay to do things differently.
Usually, it’s an occasional, passing thing. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had a child who did it chronically.
For the last few weeks, every single day, that boy has been delighted to inform me of the multitude of ways in which mummy does it better, stronger, faster, smarter, nicer… than me. I like Timmy. I like his mother. But this? Is getting old.
We are walking through the park. We see the small floating dock that juts out into the river, perfect for sitting on and dangling your feet, just about the right side to step into a canoe. It’s a nice dock. A friendly dock.
Don’t know who that woman is…
“Mary?” Timmy looks up at me. “Can we go out on the dock?”
“No, sweetie. I can’t safely take four children out there.” (Well, I could if they were all three- and four-year-olds, but not with a four, two almost-twos, and a one-and-a-bit. I’d give it 12 seconds before someone was in the river.)
“MAMA takes me out onto the dock!” He’s not angry. He’s just informing me of the wonderfulness of MAMA, and particular, MAMA’s superior parenting prowess. As he did already today, about half a dozen times. As he has done, many times per day, for weeks.
“Yes, I’m sure she does. How many children am I looking after today, Tims?”
He does a careful count of himself and the three others. “Seven.”
“And how many children does mama have to take care of?”
He looks around himself, considering. “Me! One!”
We proceed along the path. Point made, I feel better.
“CAN we go on the dock, Mary? MAMA takes me.”
See? Parents have nothing to fear! Nothing!
A reader is panicking because everyone hates the name they’ve chosen for their still-gestating baby. Perhaps because family and friends loathe it so, they don’t share it with us. The columnist weighs in with a measured — and entertaining — response, just full of quotable lines.
I rather liked this: “If five people tell you you’re drunk, maybe you should lie down.”
My friend Cindy was partial to this: “When it comes to parenting, opinions are like stinking, steaming, full diapers: There’s no shortage of them, and no one wants to change them.”
Go, read the article. Which line made you give an appreciative snort?
And what do you think about the wisdom of giving your baby “a challenging and unusual” name? Is your creativity empowering your child with a name that will never be forgotten, or dooming him/her to a lifetime of humiliation and inconvenience?
Today, you can find me over here, writing about the why’s and wherefore’s of toddler ‘extracurricular activities’.
If you have a Work It, Mom! account, feel free to leave your comments over there. If you don’t, you might consider it: WIM is a terrific community. Otherwise, do come back here and tell me what you think!