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    Amish Childrearing

    March 24, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    I have really been enjoying my new book on Amish culture, even though it often reads like a sociology textbook {which isn’t exactly riveting if you were wondering}. I am only on page 34 and already I have had a few aha moments. As in, Aha, that is why they do what they do or think what they think. And I have also found that they are, to some extent, kindred spirits. I don’t mean I’m about to throw on a long black dress, but I mean that there are things that we do for reasons similar to why the Amish do some of the things that they do.

    Make sense? It made sense in my head.

    Anyhow, I have always wondered about the Amish methods of raising children. After all, they have been able to maintain a level of respect that the average Christian community doesn’t seem to garner. I remember when Amy wrote:

    Our builder is a Mennonite who was Amish until five years ago. I will refrain from highly recommending him until the project is over, but we are more than pleased so far. He has taken care of water damage and crooked floors without readjusting the bid {though he’d be justified in doing so}. Owning a few sub-par properties over the years, we’ve dealt with a lot of contractors. I can’t say there’s anyone I’d deal with again or recommend. In fact, our pool guy walked off the job last year with our money– leaving a cracked, unfinished deck. Our rental units are a whole ‘nuther story worth its own book. So, it’s interesting to me that people seek out the work of the Amish—you know, “Amish built” or whatever—but my experience has been to steer clear of anyone with a business ad and the little fish symbol. There are some great Christians, yes, but they are harder to find {presumably due to the large number of people who say that they are but aren’t}. It seems you don’t have to wade through a few dozen Amish/Mennonites before you find one who won’t rob you blind. {emphasis mine}

    The Amish have a certain level of quality control, to speak of it in dehumanizing industrial terminology. They consistently turn out grownups that are hard working, faithful to family and friends, honest, polite, respectable, and the list goes on. We all know it. And though I don’t expect my children to grow up and drive a horse and buggy, it is my hope that the above list of virtues will describe them in time.

    A few years ago, I had an interesting experience. We had a person tell us that they think our kids are great, well-behaved, or whatnot in one breath, and then, in the next breath, prove that they completely disagreed with our methods, especially our discipline methods. I found it fascinating that this person didn’t seem to make any connection between the methods and the results.

    Now, this is not to say that I am filled with confidence concerning the future success of my children in the grown-up world. I have great hopes, of course {don’t we all?}, but just because a toddler will sit quietly through church doesn’t mean that she will grow up to be a wonderful wife and mother. I am fairly satisfied with where we are {while also being well aware of where we need work}, while still knowing that we are many years off from proving ourselves successful in our endeavors.

    However, the Amish have proven themselves for generations. And yet the tendency of our culture is to approach them with slight mockery, viewing them as throwbacks from times past. And yet, who wouldn’t want their children to grow into such greatness of character? Again and again, however, our culture separates their methods from their results, believing that all roads can lead to virtue.

    The longer I live {and I am yet quite young}, the more I come to understand that there are very few roads to virtue, and most roads lead to utter chaos.

    So on to the quotes! All are gleaned from The Riddle of Amish Culture:

    In daily life, Gelassenheit means “giving up” and “giving in.” The child learns this at an early age. Parents teach their children that self-will must be given up if they want to become children of God. The large size of Amish families teaches young children to wait their turn as they yield to other siblings. Large families prepare the child for an adult life of yieldedness…

    The Amish believe that the quickest way to spoil children is to let them have their own way. Parents and teachers are encouraged to “work together so that bad habits…disobedience, disrespect, etc. can be nipped in the bud so to speak.” For young children, a spanking may help to nip disobedience in the bud. Children are taught to yield, to wait, to submit. An Amish leader noted: “By the time that the child reaches the age of three the mold has started to form and it is the parents’ duty to form it in the way that the child should go. When the child is old enough to stiffen its back and throw back its head in temper it is old enough to gently start breaking that temper.”

    The Amish think modern children are spoiled by being driven from club to club and lesson to lesson in hopes that they will find and express their true selves. In contrast, Amish children are washing dishes by hand, feeding cows, hauling manure, pulling weeds, and mowing lawns. They are learning to lose their selves, to yield to the larger purposes of family and community. JOY, a widely used school motto, reminds children that Jesus is first, you are last, and others are in between. {pp. 29-30}

    Childhood training ingrains obedience into daily routines, so that it becomes a taken-for-granted habit…Children are taught from the Bible: “Obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” An Amish booklet on child rearing speaks of the “habits of obedience.” The Amish believe that parents should be “ready to punish disobedience,” “insist on obedience,” “allow no opposing replies,” and should realize that “if orders are disobeyed once and no proper punishment given, disobedience is likely to come again.” Parents are expected to make children “understand that they must obey you.” Retorts and challenges from children, often accepted as amusing forms of self-expression in middle-class culture, are not tolerated by Amish elders. The child obeys the teacher in the Amish school, for “the teacher’s word is the final authority and is to be obeyed.” Yielding one’s will at an early age is a crucial step in preparing for a life of obedience to authority.


    While expectations for obedience are firm and final, loving concern permeates the social system. A father spanks his child out of love. The bishop expels and shuns a memer in “hopes of winning him back.”

    As I was reading these passages, a few verses were brought to mind:

    Train up a child in the way he should go,
    Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
    Proverbs 22:6

    Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;
    The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.
    Proverbs 22:15

    Do not hold back discipline from the child,
    Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die.
    Proverbs 23:13

    The rod and reproof give wisdom,
    But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.
    Proverbs 29:15

    That last verse haunts me, standing in such antithesis to the first one. In the first, I train him up as he should go and when he is old he will be faithful. In the last, if I let him have his own way he will bring shame to me. And, I would think, to himself as well.

    Excuse me. I think I will be going now, to hover more closely to my children for the day. You see, the alternate translation of “gets his own way” is “left to himself.” As I yearn for their future uprightness of character and their love and faithfulness to their Creator, I am reminded that these things do not come about on their own, and children left to themselves become fools.

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