Dad Matters: Give to Yourself

Dad Matters: Give to Yourself

- in Ages & Stages, Magazine, Parenting

Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is a classic of children’s literature about a little boy, the tree who loved him, and the tree’s complete inability to establish boundaries.

For those who haven’t read it, a little boy has a favorite climbing tree. He eats its apples, scurries along its boughs, and makes crowns from its laurel leaves. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. 

But then the boy ages, and his requests become more demanding. He sells the tree’s apples for money, slices its branches for a house, and cuts down the trunk for a boat. (I’m guessing it’s some sort of dugout canoe.)

Ultimately, the tree has nothing left but its stump. When the boy — now a withered old man — returns for the last time, the tree can only offer its stub as a seat.

But the tree isn’t sad that it lost everything from the roots up. After all, it can still serve its beloved boy by giving him a place to sit.

“And the tree was happy,” Shel Silverstein promises at the conclusion of this horror story.

Of course, I’m not synopsizing this 50-year-old picture book for fun. I do it as a warning.

Because you — oh, reader of Northeast Ohio Parent — are probably a parent. And you probably make sacrifices everyday for your child.

You give those kids your metaphorical leaves and fruit and probably serve as a literal climbing tree occasionally. You love your children — stained walls, wrecked cars, and all — and you would give whatever you could to make sure your children are OK.

But I beg you, plead with you… don’t Giving Tree yourself.

You are a whole person — not the raw resources for your child’s happiness. It’s OK to give them your apples and leaves, or whatever you want that to mean metaphorically, but don’t turn yourself into a stump.

Perhaps, you need an hour in the morning for exercise or some Netflix time at night. Maybe you need your kids to stop eating the cupcake that was clearly marked “For Mom or Dad.” Whatever it is, you need some corner of the universe that is yours alone and some aspect of your life that is not “parent.”

As an example, I offer my mother. Now, Mrs. Lea both was and is a giver. To this day, she’d probably turn herself into a dugout canoe for the sake of her grandkids. But, even she sanctified an hour each week for herself.

If one of us bled out or a tornado razed the neighborhood, we knew that we weren’t allowed to bother her until the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (My mom liked Deep Space Nine too, but she couldn’t spare two hours in the same week.)

If you don’t have it already, find your Star Trek. Find that thing which is inviolable, even by your children

Of course, some of you don’t need to read this. Maybe you’ve already figured out the alchemy of caring for your children without impoverishing yourself. That’s great, but every family is different.

Do it for yourself. Do it for your sanity. Heck, do it for your kids. Because they need to learn that “no” is a valid answer, and nothing brings happiness unless you’re content with it. And when is the person who gets everything they ask for ever content?

After all, the tree might have been happy at the end of The Giving Tree, but the boy still looked pretty miserable.

About the author

Jason Lea has a son, daughter, and a full-time job at the Mentor Public Library. He also blogs for Northeast Ohio Parent in his nonexistent free time. You can find this East-sider on Twitter at @jasonmarklea or read his blog at

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