Escaping the Crab Bucket


Rob Bell, an author, former pastor, and frequent public speaker has a theory that he refers to as the “crab bucket.”  Rob utilizes the “crab bucket” in the family model, and describes how in some families, nobody’s happy unless everyone stays in their place.

Some families are just like a big crab bucket—whenever one of the crabs tries to climb out and escape, the other crabs will grab hold of him and pull him back down.  They feel threatened by the singular person’s desire to change or leave.

I’ve seen and experienced a few crab buckets.  I think the crab bucket theory can apply to many of our relationships with other people.  Friends, coworkers, other people in our industry, and the community at large can serve as a crab bucket.

Crab bucket: Cindy, Paula, and Karen work together in a center.  At this center, child care providers are allowed to dress as they wish.  Karen takes a course on professionalism, and starts wearing slacks and blouses to work.  Cindy and Paula criticize Karen behind her back for being “stuck up” and thinking she is better than everyone else. Karen hears this and goes back to wearing sweatpants and old t-shirts.

Crab bucket: Kara has been a private music teacher for six years when she is hired at a preschool.  She makes a recommendation to the director for fun and educational ways to bring more music into the classroom.  The director informs her that the “music time” that is programmed into the IPod is sufficient for the classroom and that no other additions should be made.

Crab bucket: Jenny is a center director.  She wants to improve communication between early childhood educators and the school district.  She tries to gather local directors to form an alliance.  She sends out invitations to the first meeting and no one attends. When she reaches out to another director she is told, “We don’t need to waste time talking to the school district.  We need to focus on watching kids and meeting our ratios.”

Crab bucket: Samantha began working in early childhood education simply because she needed a job.  What Samantha didn’t know was how she had a natural talent for teaching and how much she would love it.  Samantha’s mother decided that early childhood education was not a real profession with a future for her daughter. Samantha’s mother coerces, guilts, and finally threatens her daughter until she goes to work as a receptionist.

Why so crabby?

The biggest reason that crab buckets are formed is fear. Many people do not like change.  Being cautious of new situations can be a valuable trait, but pushing that to the point of being afraid is unhealthy. Some people may try to keep others down because they feel threatened or are jealous.  As a crab on the way out, it is important to determine the motives of someone who is trying to hold you back and whether or not they have your best interest at heart.

How do we climb out?

It can be very difficult to transition when those around you are not supportive. You have to make strong choices about what will ultimately be best for you. It is also important to build a strong network of like-minded people around you.  This will help provide moral support for whatever changes you are trying to make and they can provide you with good counsel as you move forward. It requires a lot of bravery to stand up for what you believe in.  Sometimes you have to make selfish choices to make the right decision.

We have to try to understand the crabs stuck in the bucket.  Hopefully you can serve as a good example and maybe you can help them out of the bucket too!
For more about the Crab Bucket, read Elizabeth Gilbert’s take on it by following this link:


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