Did Shel Silverstein get it right? Are we as parents bound by this fundamental compulsion to serve the needs of our children as the veritable “giving tree”? Is this depiction of parenthood meant to reflect an unfortunate reality or portray an ideal?

This book has been a staple fixture on many bookshelves and for good reason. With its whimsical drawings and poignant representation of a selfless parental figure, many parents find it conveys the unconditional love and sacrifice that accompanies parenthood. Children often enjoy the story as it reassures them of the love their parents feel but may not often be able to express. But is this message a positive one? Are we defined as parents by the selflessness of our behaviors around our children?

In one of our sessions this year, we read this book aloud to our cadre of PTJL participants at Temple Aliyah in Needham. It evoked many interesting reactions, including a number of emotional ones. Upon reflecting on the book and the nature of the relationship depicted, many thoughts surfaced. Was I this child? Do I want to be this type of parent? Is the relationship a productive one for either the child or parent? Are we empowering our children to be resilient and independent or unconsciously seeking to perpetuate their dependence on us?

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