top of page

RAISING PEOPLE PLEASERS: The Problem with The Giving Tree

art therapy counselor in phoenix

Have you read The Giving Tree lately? The one by Shel Silverstein? For so many of us this was a childhood staple.. a classic. We loved the story about the tree who loved the boy. Now that you are older, I wonder if you notice anything problematic about the plot. I sure did! This book is SAD. Not just because the boy gets old and tired, but because at the end, the tree is a stump. A STUMP. This tree has no boundaries whatsoever. Here is my take:

Problem #1: She gives everything and has nothing left for others.. or herself.

She gives everything she has. Soon the boy comes and the tree says “I have nothing left to give you” and boy is she right! She is a stump. And even then, the tree tells the boy he can use her as a seat. “And the tree was happy.” Was she? I would challenge that.

You have probably heard the saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” We need to take care of ourselves if we want to be able to give and help and connect with others. Healthy boundaries are so important in making sure that we are meeting our own needs. When we set boundaries around what we are willing to give, it allows us to feel confident and safe, knowing that we are taking care of ourselves. It also teaches those around us that we respect ourselves and that we expect respect from them.

Problem #2: She is in a codependent relationship and she is lonely.

Throughout the book the tree gives one thing after another to the boy. She wants him to be happy and that becomes the only purpose for her existence. His happiness becomes her perceived responsibility. Her happiness is dependent on his happiness. She is in a codependent relationship.

The tree finds herself lonely when the boy is doing his own thing, because she does not have her own thing. She could use some boundaries to make room to nurture her own values and goals. Also, the tree can ask for help too! Maybe she could use a little water or fertilizer every once in a while! The energy in a relationship should go both ways. Though not every day will be perfectly equal, one person can not be responsible for all of the giving and the other for the taking. That is draining (see problem #1).

Problem #3: Societal views on giving (especially for females and mothers) are messed up.

Many people would read this book and see no problems. Don’t get me wrong, the illustrations are sweet, and I understand the story of loving another. I don’t think it is wrong or bad to share this story with children. What I DO think is that the conversation does not have to end with the book! Society puts so much emphasis on giving as much as you can. We see this a lot with work.. being very busy and working at all times is normalized and praised. We also see this with partners and parents (especially females). Many of us feel as though giving every bit of ourselves and our energy is the best way to show love (again, see problem #1). Let’s begin to challenge that! Let’s teach our kids about boundaries and self-care! Let’s change the narrative.

So if you are now sad, thinking that your favorite childhood book is ruined for you, have no fear! A wonderful writer “fixed” the ending. He “fixed” a few other well-loved and problematic children’s books as well. Check out Topher Fixed It and be encouraged to open the conversation with the people in your life.


bottom of page