Boundaries In “The Giving Tree”

Debates About The Book

Most people who grew up in American schools 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 often criticized as an abusive relationship or one-sided relationship. There are many different interpretations from the religious to the environmental. We can also examine the story looking for lessons for us on how we can approach our boundaries with others.

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. A good relationship is mutually beneficial for both members.

Next, boundaries could involve the tree telling the boy how his requests affect her. The boy may not realize that taking the tree’s branches or trunk would be an extreme request. He may think the branches would grow back as quickly as the apples. The tree did not give the boy any indication that going along with his requests would have permanent consequences for her.

Finally, boundaries would reject any solution that required one of them to be harmed or killed for the benefit of the other. While this is an extreme example, how often do you sacrifice your comfort, happiness, or well being for the sake of someone else? Are they asking you to do this?

Do You Need Boundaries?

Have you always identified with the tree in this story? If so, think about the implications of maintaining this kind of relationship with someone else. Do you have any relationships that leave you feeling burnt out and unable to keep going? What would it look like for you if you put up some boundaries so your relationships benefited you equally?

Learn more about how I work and how I can work with you to develop your own boundaries here.

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