Hey hot mama! Let me empty your bucket!

At the beginning of the school year, Anna, our 2nd grader, started coming home with all of these little notes in her folder.

As a mom who is constantly cleaning out papers from her backpack, I didn’t think much of them.  Then one day Anna mentioned the notes in her bucket.

“Your bucket?” I asked.

“In our class, we each have a bucket that hangs on the wall. We write compliments to each other and put the notes in each other’s buckets.”

I really liked this idea and enjoyed reading some of the notes that were coming home with her.

One day after school, I picked up my girls to go to gymnastics. In the car on the way there, Anna said, “Mom, I have to tell you something, but I don’t want to tell you while Viva and Tessa are listening.”

Whenever Anna says something about needing to talk in private, I get a little nervous about what she’s about to say or ask, because probably the conversation is going to be about sex, Santa not being real, or stranger danger. After Viva ran inside to gymnastics and Tessa was distracted, Anna told me what was on her mind.

“Mom, I got an inappropriate note in my bucket today.”

“What did it say?” I braced myself for all sorts of inappropriate sexual references.

“I don’t want to tell you,” she said while looking me straight in the face. I knew she wanted to tell me, but she wasn’t sure how to go about it.

“It’s okay, Honey, you didn’t do anything wrong. You can always tell me anything.”

“Okay…” She took a deep breath and then blurted out, “It said… ‘Anna, you’re one hot mama.'”

I almost laughed out of relief. I could handle “one hot mama.”

“Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry he said that.”

“Ms. Weston said that from now on, our notes have to be checked to make sure they are appropriate.”

“I think that sounds like a good idea.”

Then Anna said something that really made me think.

“Ms. Weston also said that that comment didn’t fill my bucket, it emptied it.”

In all honesty, my first thought was, Well, it didn’t really empty your bucket. He was trying to give you a compliment.

I stopped short of saying this aloud and looked down at my sweet, wonderful, smart, and amazing seven-year-old daughter’s face and instantly realized the error in my thinking. In fact, years of incorrect thinking were corrected in that moment as I thought of comments like “Hey babe! You’re hot!” through the eyes of a mother.

I knew in that moment that I would never want my daughter’s self esteem to come from some kid telling her she’s a hot mama. Her self esteem, her bucket, should not be filled by derogatory, objectifying, compliments that don’t acknowledge who she really is as a person. I want her self esteem to come from the fact that she is kind, considerate, intelligent, and a hard worker–among so many other things. Those are attributes that she can take credit for because she strives hard to obtain and keep those qualities.

There was a girl in my high school who was gorgeous. She was thin, tan, blond, had straight teeth, and a perfect face. She was also not very kind. One day I told my mom that I wanted to be like her. My mom immediately said, “Why? Because she’s pretty. She’s also mean. You know she can’t take credit for that beautiful face. She was just born with it. You, however, are one of the nicest girls I have ever met. That is something worth aspiring to.” That concept has stuck with me.

My daughter is so much more than her looks. In the future, when a guy drives by her and whistles at her from his truck, I want her to know that that means absolutely nothing. Good or bad. When a guy tells her she’s hot, that’s not a compliment. Because that guy knows doesn’t know who she is. However, when her husband looks at her, covered in sweat and exhausted, with a flabby tummy after having delivered their first baby and he tells her she’s beautiful, that will be a compliment.

I want my daughter to know that if someday she were to lose all of her hair, or gain 40 lbs, or get acne all over her face, it won’t change who she is as a person. She will always be my amazing Anna!

Anna’s bucket.

So, I would like to thank Ms. Weston for teaching my children while they are young what really fills a person’s bucket. It’s a lesson my girls need to hear, and a lesson I needed to hear as well.


  1. That is amazing. I like the concept of not teaching our children that they should not be known by their looks, they can't help that but they should be known for who they are.

  2. well. yeah. But. The comment didn't empty her bucket either. As you say, she is who she is NOT by virtue of the opinions of others, right? So an inappropriate comment is just that. Inappropriate.
    I do think positive speech and thought is a good thing, but I also know that at times, even positive speech can have the same effect as outright slander.
    So I question the wisdom of these buckets. Of under the surface lots of comparing going on in the minds of these youngsters about who has more in her bucket, who has less, and that they are being encouraged to think of compliments when perhaps, they just aren't thinking anything about their classmates, and really, don't you think that is fine?
    I don't want to be the cranky one in the bunch, but I remember myself at that age and… sigh… well, I didn't like being told to do "feeling" things – told to give someone a compliment, to think a certain way – it made my rebelliousness get all up in arms (you know those kids?) and so I've become an adult who avoids those kinds of activities.

    And of course, you KNOW what my children are like already, right? Another incentive to avoid encouraging personal comments of any sort, appropriate or not, because my children over the years and in various moods and states of being are not always able to differentiate proper and improper personal comments, or stop themselves from crossing lines if they happen to be… cranky… hungry… or something.

    Just saying…

    1. I remember being in 1st grade and I hated that all my Beauty and the Beast Valentines had things like "Be my Valentine!" I didn't want them to be my valentine! So I had a great idea! My mother overheard me telling this idea to my brother when he was lamenting the same issue. "It's fine!" I said, "All you have to do is write 'Not!' at the bottom of the card!" I spent the next recess inside crying as I took each of my Valentines cards out of my classmates boxes and had to erase all the 'Not!' messages since my mom went ahead and told on me. Apparently I don't like forced feeling exercises either…

  3. Holy cow! Thank you! As the wife of a recovering sex addict and as a woman who has all sorts of crazy, crappy body image issues I really. needed. this. Thanks for your beautiful thoughts! And thanks for speaking truth in the midst of our mixed up world.

  4. I must agree with Judith. I fear these compliment buckets tell a child to place their sense of self worth in the hands and minds of their peers. This is validated by the fact that Ms. Weston told Anna one (well intentioned) child has the ability to empty her bucket.

    When you are able to tap into your true identity, to not just believe you are a Child of God but to sense your divinity, to feel your light, what others say or believe about you doesn't affect you.

    I think Ms. Weston's Compliment Buckets are, like the child's comment, well meaning but inappropriate for young children who have yet to discover (dis-cover) beneath the layers of physical attributes, intelligence, various talents and personality traits (all things that can be altered by time, physical accidents, stroke or other circumstances), beneath flaws, failures and successes, who they truly are in essence: Divine, Eternal, unchangeable.

    When my husband pays me a compliment based on my physicality, I don't take offense. It doesn't mean his love for me is based on my looks, and it doesn't mean that's all he sees me for. I enjoy hearing he still finds me physically attractive, but our relationship isn't based on that. I understand, however, the importance in distinguishing a loving husband telling his wife she's hot, and a stranger calling out of a truck window she's hot. The latter, as you said, Lolly, is objectifying. For children, it is inappropriate, because they do not understand or feel sexual attraction.

    I hope the child who wrote the note was not villianized or humiliated (publicly or internally). I think he or she was trying to be nice and funny. A good lesson for all children to take from this is don't repeat or say something you don't understand.

    I hope I haven't offended. I also hope Anna, and all humans, are able to connect in an experiential way with who we truly are, beyond labels.

  5. Bravo on a wonderful post, Lolly. As a mom and human being, I have really pondered this concept of "filling one's bucket" from within and without. Our words have tremendous power to lift and remind of our divine nature or to degrade and defile. Not saying the "hot momma" comment was so awful (pretty sure it's one emblazoned on many a Valentine Sweetheart candy handed out in many a classroom), but that our culture does a fantastic job of using these terms to objectify and worship physical beauty and not such a fantastic job at honoring character and inner goodness. Elementary grades are the prime time of life for kids to start practicing thinking , honoring and validating the good qualities in other. Words aren't the only way to do that of course, but it's a fantastic exercise to becoming more aware of our thoughts and learning to express them and share them with those in our sphere of influence. Loved this 🙂

  6. I was on YouTube looking for Mormon thoughts and stubbled upon your video on the news. I have to say this is an amazing love story! I am a new convert to the church. I will be receiving my endowments in may. I know the church is true! I am the only one in my family that is LDS. And there are things I believed before that I have found in the Book of Mormon that what I believe and prayed for in my life for answers I found in the Book, hair on my arms stand on end. And knowing that there are people with greater obstacles than mine and BELIEVE like you do in Christ is so comforting. God has a hand on your lives, and everyone knows it. Thoughts that don't have there reasons.

  7. To those commenting about the evils of building self-worth based on what other people say about you, etc…..maybe the teacher had a completely different purpose in mind altogether than hoping kids feel good reading the compliments. Maybe she wanted the kids to learn to find good and admirable things about the other kids in the class. Maybe its not about the kids READING the compliments, but about the kids WRITING them…

  8. I hope that I can read this to my almost 16 yr old daughter and have her learn something from it. I got a text from her the other night after she went to a college basketball game with her two older sisters, brother-in-law, and her oldest sister's boyfriend telling that she almost kissed some stranger who asked her how old she is. Fortunately her oldest sister drug her away. She is a pretty little thing and it frustrates me when everywhere we go guys break out in a sweat. I just want to knock them on their butts and lock her up. Your problems have just begun.

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