27. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein: Bringing Boundaries to this Beloved Children’s Book

The Giving Tree Boundaries

“The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein is a well known and loved children’s book. But today, Mary and her friend Courtney talk through some of the boundary issues they notice when they read through the book.

Listen in as they give “The Giving Tree” an alternate ending… with some boundaries. They will be taking a look at how the tree ends up giving too much of itself away and it gives us a lesson in needing to give from a place of abundance not depletion.

Main Episode Takeaways

  • There are alternative solutions where you can support others without depleting yourself
  • Everyone’s needs are valuable
  • Needs change in relationships

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27. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein: Bringing Boundaries to this Beloved Children’s Book

Mary: Let’s talk boundaries. I’m here with my friend Courtney, and we are discussing the children’s book called The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Hey, Courtney, thanks for being here. 

Courtney: Thank you, Mary. I’m excited. 

Mary: Yeah. Tell me a little bit about how come you wanted to talk about this book on the podcast. 

Courtney: This book has always made me sad instead of happy and it has always sat heavily on my heart, and I think it’s interesting that it is so praised for being such a great book, and yet my feelings are very contrary.

Mary: Hmm. How come? Tell me why it makes you sad.

Courtney: It makes me sad because the boy took everything from the tree. It makes me sad that the tree had nothing left. It makes me sad that even though the tree gave so much of itself away, the boy really was never happy anyway. 

Mary: Hmm. So I recently and preparing for this conversation went back and read the Giving Tree, and you and I kind of watched it together and, and here’s what I noticed. In the beginning the tree loved the boy and the boy loved the tree, and they would have this beautiful connection of climbing and swinging and eating apples and playing hide and seek and all the things. And that was this like reciprocal relationship for the two of them. 

Courtney: Yes. 

Mary: And, and then as the boy grew and time went on his needs changed. And that happens, like that happens in relationships, right? At some point we’ve got this reciprocity and this connection, and then maybe one of our needs changed, right? So the boy came back four times. The first time the boy came back to the tree, there was time went by and the boy grew, but the first time he came back to visit the tree, the tree offered him the apples and the tree was happy by giving him the apples because the boy wanted money. So that worked for them. Right? And the second time the boy came back, he wanted a house and he offered the branches. What was interesting to me was he said the reason the tree offered him the branches, and said, and then you will be happy. So he offered him the branches with the intention of making the boy happy, right? Yes. So that’s where that like people pleasing came in.

Courtney: Exactly. 

Mary: Yeah. And so the boy took the branches and the tree was happy. And the third time he came back and he asked the boy to play, and the boy said he wanted a boat, and the tree offered his trunk, and the tree was, it said happy, but not really. Why do you think that would be? Like, why would he be not really happy? 

Courtney: Because it wasn’t reciprocal. 

Mary: Could be because it wasn’t reciprocal. Yeah. Or cause… 

Courtney: It wasn’t reciprocal and he had given away all of himself. 

Mary: Yeah. If a tree gives away its trunk, then what? 

Courtney: You’re a stump. 

Mary: You’re a stump. It’s too much. He has nothing left. Right? When he comes back.

Courtney: Exactly. 

Mary: Yeah. He comes back the fourth time and he’s a stump. He has nothing left.

Courtney: That’s sad. 

Mary: Yeah. Yeah. How does this happen in real life

Courtney: As a recovering people pleaser, I feel like we do a lot of self-sacrificing in order to make others happy, and I feel oftentimes, we don’t value our own worth or our ability to regenerate. You know, so that we can continue to give from a place of abundance, not a place of depletion. 

Mary: Yeah. Yes. And I wonder if the tree understood that by giving away my apples I won’t have anymore until next year. Or by giving away my branches. I in this story, for sake of the story, giving away the branches meant there wouldn’t be more apples. Right? Or giving away my right trunk, I’m not a tree anymore. Right? Like I wonder if the tree had that awareness piece, because I think sometimes as humans, right? Sometimes we are giving so much that we lose touch with what is it that we’re sacrificing, and then sometimes we still know what we’re sacrificing and, and we so much want someone else to be happy that we’re willing to sacrifice that. Right? So did the tree, was the boy happy?

Courtney: I think he felt like he had a solution, but when he returned, he is not more fulfilled. If you notice, yeah. He is kind of grumpy. 

Mary: Yeah. And it says the boy was happy when they were playing and connected in the beginning. And then it says that the boy was happy when he got the apples. But it does not say that the boy was happy after that. By the time the tree gave him the branches, he said the tree offered the branches to make the boy happy, but we don’t hear anything else about the boy being happy after that. 

Courtney: No. It almost seems as though growing up and being an adult has taken its toll on him maybe, and you know, that’s probably why the tree felt compelled to give so much of their self. 

Mary: Yeah, yeah. 

Courtney: Because of the love for the boy. 

Mary: Right. Right.

Courtney: I mean, I can see a parallel. 

Mary: For sure. Well, I love Shel Silverstein. I love lots of, we read his funny poems in our house. That’s one of our favorite. We like where the sidewalk ends, those old, silly poems. Those are one of our favorites to read, and I actually loved this book, the Giving Tree, when I was a child, and even into my young adulthood when I was a people pleaser, it really resonated with me then. 

Courtney: Yes. 

Mary: And I just thought, oh, I want everyone to have a tree that loves them as much as this boy, and I wanna have a tree that loves me this much, and I wanna be able to give so endlessly and selflessly. Right? I thought that and. As I’ve become an adult, my perspective has changed, and I have thought similarly, like this is a book about sacrifice and it’s a book about a relationship that’s not a healthy relationship. 

Courtney: Thank you. 

Mary: Mm-hmm. Yeah, so Courtney and I got together and we brainstormed some alternative endings, and so yes, let’s talk about that. Where are we gonna interrupt this story? 

Courtney: When the boy comes back to get apples the second time. Or for, not apples, but more additional support. 

Mary: Okay, so we’re gonna keep the beginning. The tree loved the little boy. He climbed, they swing in the branches, they ate the apples. They hide and go seek. They sleep in the shade. The boy loved the tree and the tree was happy. We’re gonna keep that. Okay?

Courtney: Yep. 

Mary: And then as time went by, the boy grew and the boy comes back and the tree is so excited to see him and he says, come boy, come play. And he makes this bid for connection and, and the boy said, I want money. He asks for what he needs. Does the tree give him the apples then? 

Courtney: Yes.

Mary: He does. How come?

Courtney: Because the tree loves the boy. 

Mary: Hmm. Okay. 

Courtney: And the tree has a resource that would be valuable to the boy. Help him solve his dilemma.

Mary: And the tree feels good about that?

Courtney: Yes. 

Mary: Awesome. Okay. And then the second time, time goes by and the boy comes back in the tree, so excited and he says, come boy, come play. Right? And the boy says, he wanted a house. Then what are we gonna, is that where we interrupt it? 

Courtney: That’s exactly where we interrupt it.

Mary: All right. I’m so excited. All right, so this is alternative version of The Giving Tree by Mary and Courtney. On the second visit, the boy says, I’m too busy. I want a wife and children, so I need a house. Can you give me a house? And what does the tree say?

Courtney: I don’t have a house. The forest is my home. 

Mary: That’s right. 

Courtney: But you may have my apples. 

Mary: And he offers him apples again. And then what? 

Courtney: And he offers him to come back again and again and again. And to bring his family and his children so that they can spend time with the tree, the same way he did. 

Mary: Yes. So the tree says, you may take my apples. I would love for you to take my apples every year you can plant their seeds and they will grow many more trees and many more apples, and then you can sell them to buy your house. Please come back every year and visit me and get more apples every year. Bring your wife and your children so they can climb in my trunk and swing from my branches and play hide and seek and rest in my shade. And then what happened, Courtney?

Courtney: The tree was happy. 

Mary: Yeah. And the boy did? 

Courtney: And the boy was happy. 

Mary: Yes. The end. Woohoo. 

Courtney: The end.

Mary: I love it. I love it. 

Courtney: So do I. I feel a lot better about that one? 

Mary: Oh, I love you, Shel Silverstein. We just have an alternative ending to the Giving Tree 

Courtney: From the perspective of healthy boundaries.

Mary: From the perspective of the boundaries coach. All right, so what did we learn here?

Courtney: There are alternative solutions where you can support others without depleting yourself. 

Mary: Yeah, absolutely. 

Courtney: And that the needs of both people, both parties are valuable. 

Mary: Mm-hmm. Yeah the tree needs to continue to grow and he wants to, or she, I guess it was a female tree. She wants to have companies, she wants to share her apples. She wants children to climb on her and play hide and seek and people to rest in her shade. And the boy was looking to the tree as a resource, which is okay. It’s okay to have people and relationships in your life that are resources for you. And it’s okay for the tree to say, this is what I can do from a place of love and this is what I’m not able to do from a place of love and to offer what you’re able to do. And I love this. I love this. 

Courtney: Yes. So do I. 

Mary: Awesome. Thank you so much, Courtney. I appreciate you being here. 

Courtney: Absolutely. Thanks Mary for playing with me on this. 

Mary: Of course. We’ll see ya.