Lessons From “The Giving Tree”

Debates About The Book
Most people who grew up in American schools were read “The Giving Tree” as kids. If you’re not familiar, it’s about a Tree who loves a Boy so much that she gives him one of her apples when he’s hungry and enjoys his play as he swings from her branches and climbs her trunk. The relationship evolves over the years, and she ends up giving him branches to make a house, her trunk to make him a boat, and finally he uses her stump as a resting place in his old age.

It’s often celebrated as a nice story on giving, and it’s also often criticized as an abusive relationship or one-sided relationship. There are many different interpretations from the religious to the environmental and ethical.

Tree Needs Boundaries
I think of the tree when I’m working with people pleasers, and you may recognize some of these tendencies in yourself. The boy has a need and the tree meets it without considering her future needs. It’s one thing for a tree to give a few apples, but branches don’t simply grow back every year. And once her trunk was cut down, she was no longer able to provide apples or branches or shade.

What would this look like if their relationship was a friendship with boundaries that considered each of their needs moving forward into old age? Primarily, the tree would not be able to give her trunk if she wanted to live a long life. She may have been able to give some branches, but not likely enough to build a house. For her best interest, her boundary might look like only giving him apples.

Second, boundaries might look like advocating for a more mutual friendship. If the boy wants apples each year, she might well ask him to give her regular fertilizer for her roots or help her get rid of a pest that’s bothering her.

Do You Need Boundaries?
If you’ve always identified with the tree in this story, think about the implications of maintaining this kind of relationship with someone else. Do you have any relationships that are taking so much out of you that you’re feeling burnt out and unable to continue as you have been? What would it look like for you if you put up some boundaries so your relationships benefited you equally?