The Giving Tree is one of my favorite books, and it is also the book that makes me cry the most. I never knew why I cried so much, but I knew it had something to do with mothers. It was so obvious to me that the tree was a mother. (Of course the tree is also nature, and these are one and the same, but don’t let me digress.)
That tree is so abundant, so wonderful, and she gives, and she gives, and she gives. She is so good at giving.
And that little boy takes, and he takes, and he takes. And he takes again. Because that’s what the tree has taught him. Complete and utter selflessness. She teaches him she was made to tend to his needs. She so very much wants him to be happy.
And in the end, when she is just a stump and he’s sitting on her, waiting to die, no one is happy.
So let me tell you something.
I believe myself to be an excellent mother. Most women don’t say that about themselves. Most mothers, for a long time, have been taught to shit on themselves. And there are plenty who would read my statement of excellence and narrow their eyes and force an angry laugh. I don’t care about them.
What I care about is you, another woman reading, who may be so breathless and scared and frustrated because she is behaving like that tree. And she knows there is so much power in her, so much life, and she wants to grow all the abundant, juicy fruits she knows she is capable of, but she doesn’t know how, because she has never been taught. Instead, she’s been taught that women sacrifice forever and never take their lives into their own hands. Instead, she’s been taught that love is about endlessly giving to others and never knowing herself.
So to that woman, I want to say: Your children do not own you. Your partner does not own you. Your parents do not own you. Nor does your boss, your colleagues, your family, your friends.
You do not have to become a stump.
And your children, in the deepest part of their hearts, the wisest part of their brains, do not want you to become a stump. They want you to be the abundant, flourishing tree they come home to.
So you need to feed yourself, and not give it all away.
What I am saying to you is, if you want to nourish the spirit of your daughters, if you want to teach your sons how to love women, you need to nourish your own soul. You may need to take time away. But more than anything, you need to show your sons and daughters, by your actions, that you believe you matter. That loving others means you first need to learn how to love yourself. Not just in word, but in deed too.
I can sense the way some people might react to a statement like that. Especially Christians, who have been told to always put others first. But Jesus never said “Put everybody else before you.” He said “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and in order to do that, you have to know how to love. I’m just giving you a little roadmap.
Showing your kids that you matter might mean they get a little frustrated at times. It might mean that they sometimes miss you or feel abandoned. It’s similar to letting a baby cry himself to sleep. It sucks to listen to that cry, but he’s gotta do it. He’s gotta sleep. And when everyone is getting a good night’s rest, the world is a lot more hopeful.
If you, as a mother, are breathless and tired, if you feel weak and unappreciated, if you’re trying to do 10,000 things and none of them seems to work out because you’ve lost all the spark within you, take a stand. You are not property of the state, having to do what you’re told by some giant, threatening overlord. You have been invested with personal power and great capabilities that can help you make your decisions. You have a network you can each out to, and if that’s not a good network, form a new one. No one is going to die if you go out for a couple of hours to drink coffee and read, or write, or do yoga in your bedroom, or dance and take really long showers.
Young women will learn a lot better how to be strong and spiritually-minded, socially-concerned, when they have a role model of how to do it. They’ll know happiness and confidence by how it feels to be in your presence, by watching you, and wanting to go down that path.
Because love and kindness, the most important foundation of all, does not mean constant sacrifice. It does not mean being docile or weak. A loving, kind woman is not a woman who says, Let me lie on the ground so you can step on me on your path to success.
Love and kindness is supporting other people reaching their potential. It’s recognizing the inherent worth in every person. It’s learning first how to be kind and loving to yourself, so you can illustrate that for others. Self-loathing only helped a bunch of angry, selfish people.
So nourish the spirits of your daughters. Nourish the spirits of your sons. Show them what an embodied, loving, capable woman looks like.
Not a fuckin’ tree stump.