If you aren’t aware, there is a book titled “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud. It’s a great little story about “bucket fillers” (people who do nice things for others) and “bucket dippers” (people who do mean things to others). It explains how you can fill your own bucket of happiness by filling other people’s buckets. While I don’t disagree with this sentiment, I think it’s important to teach kids empathy and to be “bucket fillers” but I think we’ve spent so much time trying to force people into being bucket fillers that we haven’t taught kids either how to deal with days when they want to be bucket dippers or how to deal with the bucket dippers in their lives.
We have spent so much time and energy on the “be kind” movement and it doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. There still seems to be a large contingent of people that are in it for their own gains and to be fair, there are days where we’re all a little selfish. Sometimes selfish is good but there are other times where being too selfish means being a bucket dipper. Always telling kids to “be kind” or be a “bucket filler” doesn’t help them deal with the very real feelings of wanting to be selfish and sometimes in our adult lives NEEDING to be selfish.
All we’re going to do is raise more adults to be burned out because they’re constantly trying to be something for someone else.
What happens when you’re in a relationship that becomes toxic? What happens when your friends really want you to go out when you really need to stay home and rest? By constantly telling kids to be “bucket fillers” we are missing the fine line between being a decent human being and being a doormat. Sometimes I want my daughter to be selfish, I want her to stand up for herself and be her own person without always being worried about what it’s going to do to someone else’s bucket. And what happens when, because inevitably it will, they want to be selfish and suddenly they worry about whether they’re going into bucket dipper territory? Kids see things in black and white and I wonder what kind of messages “The Giving Tree” and this book are planting in their heads sometimes.
The other problem I have with this idea is that we’re not telling children HOW to deal with the bucket dippers. There will always be bucket dippers in your life — sometimes they’re friends who unintentionally do things that are hurtful and sometimes they are people who don’t see the world the same way you do. There will always be hurt or angry feelings to contend with and someone who doesn’t like you but we’re setting them up with the unrealistic expectation that we’re “all friends here” when that’s not going to be the case. When you get out into the uncontrolled dog eat dog real world (and sometimes that’s just the playground) it’s not always friendly.
Kids need to find ways to problem solve and resolve conflicts that are more complicated than just the platitude of “be a bucket filler honey!” By not allowing kids free range to work through the difficult and sometimes difficult relationships of life because there’s always an adult going “now be nice to your friends” or something to that effect we’re not letting children develop the necessary skills to navigate the messy waters of real life.
There is another strong-willed girl on our street that is a year younger than my daughter. They generally play together very well but sometimes their fierce personalities get in the way and one (or both) stomp off to their respective houses to sort out their feelings and cool off about whatever the problem happened to be. I recognize this is part of being a kid and part of dealing with other people. I haven’t stepped in to try and force the two girls to work out their issues and “stay friends” because we all get angry sometimes, we all want it our way (Burger King banked on that) and part of learning how to deal with other people is learning that we must pick and choose and sometimes there needs to be compromise. Living in the real world means determining what you can compromise on and what you can’t but sometimes you can’t identify the boundaries until they’ve been crossed, and you deal with the fallout of that.
Yes, I want my daughter to be a “bucket filler” most of the time but I don’t want her to be so focused on being a bucket filler that she loses herself in the mix.
I want all of us to be kind and that includes being kind to ourselves; sometimes we need to fill up our own bucket in whatever ways we feel called to do.
Being in community sometimes means that things get a little complicated and we must learn to deal with the unpleasantness when things don’t go the way we want them to so I will continue trying to help my daughter navigate the grey messy middle in between being a doormat or always doing for others and being a jerk.