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Lessons in Parenting From the Amish

 

 amish family

By Morgan Feldmeyer

Norman Rockwell’s classic depiction of the American family, consisting of a married couple raising their mirror-image-children is virtually nonexistent. Today, the American family has become, “more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago — than even half a year ago.” [1] Now, American parents raise children in divorced, blended, adopted, fostered, and single homes. However, these new, “norms,” seem not to apply to Amish families. Instead, the majority of Amish families consist of a married couple, who share the same ethnic, race, and religion, and who parent multiple biological children. Yet, despite the external family differences between English (Amish word for non-Amish Americans) parents and Amish parents, a deep examination of shared parenting issues like goals, worldviews, discipline, chores, education, sports, and leisure activities reveal a few similarities and many glaring differences between the English parenting model and the Amish parenting model.

amish church

The English and Amish parenting models share qualities that are meant to be passed on to their children. A study conducted by Pew Research found that, “responsibility, [and] hard work,” were the two most commonly picked qualities English parents hoped to instill in their children, while “religious faith,” was the least picked. [2] Likewise, “the Amish raise their children to be self-sufficient, [and] hard-working.” [3] Yet, the Amish world revolves around faith. As Serena B. Miller says, “The Amish simply would not be Amish were it not for the tenets of their faith.” [4] While both English and Amish parents hope to instill the qualities of responsibility and hard work, the Amish place a higher emphasis on teaching their children their faith.

Amish barn

English and Amish parents both use specific, though contrasting, cultural worldviews to instill the qualities they wish to instill in their children. A study conducted by Family Studies, found that English parenting styles are created with, “the purpose of promoting a particularly American form of individualism: expressive, assertive, and full of self-esteem.” [5] This American individualism defined as, “the belief that the needs of each person are more important than the needs of the whole society or group,” [6] stands in sharp contrast to the Amish concept of uffgevva. An Amish man explains that uffgevva, “Means that you are less important than others. Amish children are taught from an early age, by example as well as words, that their needs and wants are important, but not more important than those of the family, the church, and the community.” [7] He goes on to say that uffgevva emphasizes the diminishing of the child’s will as opposed to the building of the child’s self-esteem. [8] Though contrasting, these cultural worldviews both serve as platforms from which their respective parenting styles launch.

The English and Amish’s contrasting worldviews lead to similar beliefs on discipline, especially in reference to spanking. English parents believe that, “the purpose of discipline is, ‘to encourage moral, physical, and intellectual development and a sense of responsibility in children…. [Ultimately, discipline will enable] children [to] gain self-confidence and a positive self-image.” [9] In addition, an ABC News poll found that by a two to one margin, English parents believe that spanking is an acceptable form of punishment. [10] Likewise, Amish parents believe that, “If I want my child to grow into a person of value…there must be consequences to my child’s actions. Otherwise he will grow up wild and be of no use to himself or to others.” [11] In addition, the Amish view spanking as, “If he’s old enough to show rebellion, he is old enough to be spanked.” [12] Therefore, both the English and the Amish believe that spanking is an acceptable form of punishment, though English parents spank to increase their children’s self-esteem and Amish parents spank to keep their children from becoming rebellious.

Amish chores

English and Amish parents’ respective views allow them to agree that chores are important; yet they disagree on how those chores ought to be administered. The Chicago Tribune reported in a survey that, “75 % of [English] respondents said they believe regular chores make children ‘more responsible,’ and 63 % said chores teach kids, ‘important life lessons.’” [13] In addition, 61% of English parents believe that an allowance is the best way to administer chores;[14] for, “giving kids a set sum of cash to manage regularly helps them learn to handle finances capably as adults.” [15] Likewise, as Serena B. Miller says, “The Amish…start teaching a child to help with small chores when they are two years old. Why? Not because a two-year-old can actually be any real help but because that child, in the Amish way of thinking, needs to start feeling like a necessary, contributing part of the family.” [16] However, “Allowances for children don’t really compute in the Amish mind.” [17] Instead Amish parents believe that, “A child needs to do helpful things just because she’s part of the family…not be paid for doing something she should be doing for the family anyway.” [18] Though both English and Amish parents believe in the importance of chores, English parents administer allowances as a way to help their children become more independent, while Amish parents teach their children to participate in chores simply because they are a part of the family.

Amish school

Though both English and Amish parents agree that their children should learn and prepare for their responsibilities as adults, they disagree on how that is best accomplished. English children are required by law to attend high school until they are sixteen; though a recent poll conducted by the Washington Post states that, “A majority of  [English] Americans [63%] say that young people should be required to stay in school until they are 18— not 16 or 17, as they are now.” [19] In addition, a survey conducted by Public Agenda shows that, “87% of Americans believe that a college education has become as important as a high school diploma used to be.… [Furthermore,] Almost two-thirds (62%) of those surveyed believe that a college education is absolutely necessary for their children.” [20] This emphasis on continuing education is based on the belief that English children, “must stay in school and get a college education if they want to achieve success and make a good living.” [21] In contrast, since the court ruling of Wisconsin v. Yoder, Amish children have been exempt from attending formal education past the eighth grade.[22] The Amish abstain from both high school and college education for they believe that, “beyond elementary school, vocational training [like apprenticeships] is sufficient for success in their society.” [23] Instead, Amish parents, “Encourage their children to opt [out of formal education] at around age fourteen, access an apprenticeship within their culture, and learn how to run a business or have a useful and marketable skill.” [24]  Though English and Amish children both acquire a form of educational instruction during their teen and young adult years, English instruction is mainly formal education, while Amish instruction is based on learning trade skills through real-life experiences.

Amish baseball  Amish football

Both English and Amish children are allowed to play sports, though to different degrees and for different reasons. Author and sports enthusiast Stacy M. DeBroff reports, “According to American Sports Data, of the 48.5 million [English] 6 to 17 year-olds in America, 26.2 million play on at least one organized sports team. Another 10 million [English] children play team sports, but only in casual pick up situations.”  [25] English children are encouraged to play sports, for English parents believe, “that [sports] makes them [their children] outgoing, smart, [and] confident.” [26] Likewise, the Amish usually view sports, “as acceptable for children and youth in most cases.” [27] Yet, Amish America reports that Amish participation in organized sports leagues is controversial at best. [28] In addition, “Unlike in non-Amish society, competition is de-emphasized and group participation promoted.” [29] Therefore, while both English and Amish parents generally accept sports participation, organized sports are viewed more favorably by the English than the Amish.

Amish at play  Amish pony

English and Amish parents allow their children to spend their leisure time in different ways, though they do so for the same reasons. English parents believe that, “Relaxing and socializing is a healthy and necessary part of life,” for relaxing and socializing helps children, “to escape the stress of work and school so that it doesn’t build up and consume them. With too much stress, it is difficult to focus on anything.” [30] Legacy Press reports that English youth spend most of their, “free time on ‘passive’ [relaxing] leisure activities such as watching TV or movies and talking.” [31] In addition, the University of Michigan reported, “On average, children ages 2-5 spend 32 hours a week in front of a TV—watching television, DVD’s, DVR and videos, and using a game console. Kids ages 6-11 spend about 28 hours a week in front of the TV.” [32] Yet, these numbers exclude Amish children, as the Amish actively teach against and abstain from using technological devices. Instead, the Amish believe that, “Having fun together…is important. It is one of the main ways in which we reward our children for good behavior. There must be a balance between work and play or a child will become rebellious.” [33] In addition, Amish children often engage in activities that their entire families can enjoy like: bird watching, reading, sledding, and putting jigsaw puzzles together. [34] Therefore, while English and Amish parents agree that relaxing and social activities are essential for their children’s well-being, English parents view relaxing and socializing as watching television, and talking to friends, and Amish parents view relaxing and socializing as participating in activities with family members.

Amish life Amish buggy

The similarities and differences between the English and Amish parenting models reveal that both English and Amish parents desire their children to be self-disciplined, hard-working, individuals, who have time for fun, family, and friends. However, their cultural worldviews place emphasis on different areas to accomplish those goals. For English parents that worldview is based on the promotion and achievement of the individual child, while Amish parents focus on preparing their children to contribute to the family. Therefore, while an English child might be told, “with hard work, you can be anything you want to be,” an Amish child would be taught to wonder, For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say, ‘Peace be within you.’ Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek your good.” [35]

Bibliography

“And the Quality Most Parents Want to Teach Their Children Is…” Time. September 18, 2014. http://time.com/3393652/pew-research-parenting-american-trends/ (accessed March 22, 2016).

Angier, Natalie. “The Changing American Family.” New York Times. November 25, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/26/health/families.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (accessed March 22, 2016).

Boyse, Kyla. “Television and Children.” University of Michigan Health System. August 2010. http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm (accessed March 19, 2016).

“Child Discipline.” American Humane Association. 2013. http://www.americanhumane.org/children/stop-child-abuse/fact-sheets/child-discipline.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/ (accessed March 21, 2016).

Cohen, Stacey. “Try Parenting like the Amish.” Consumer Affairs. June 30, 2015. https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/try-parenting-like-the-amish-063015.html (accessed March 20, 2016).

Crandall, Julie. “Poll: Most Approve of Spanking Kids.” ABC News. November 8, 2015. http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=90406&page=1 (accessed March 22, 2016).

DeBroff, Stacy M. Sign Me Up! The Parents’ Complete Guide to Sports, Activities, Music Lessons, Dance Classes, and Other Extracurriculars. New York: The Free Press, 2003.

“Do Amish Play Sports?” Amish America. 2010. http://amishamerica.com/do-amish-play-sports/ (accessed March 19, 2016).

Holy Bible, New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Hymowitz, Kay. “Why Are American Parents So Unhappy? A Theory.” Family Studies. June 9, 2014. http://family-studies.org/why-are-american-parents-so-unhappy-a-theory/ (accessed March 20, 2016).

Igou, Brad, comp. The Amish In Their Own Words. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press,1999.

“Individualism.” Merriam-Webster. 1828. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/individualism (accessed March 22, 2016).

Legal Information Institute. Wisconsin v. Yoder. Cornell University Law School. 1992. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/406/205 (accessed March 19, 2016).

Miller, Serena B. with Paul Stutzman. More Than Happy The Wisdom of Amish Parenting. New York: Howard Books, 2015.

Parman, Megan. “Research Shows Teens “Waste’ Free Time.” Legacy Press. March 13, 2014. http://kclegacypress.com/archives/6210 (accessed March 20, 2016).

Pofeldt, Elaine. “Kids’ Allowances: Expert-Approved Real-World Approaches.” Good Housekeeping. March 5, 2008. http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/parenting/tips/a17647/kids-allowances-expert-approved/ (accessed March 21, 2016).

Rizzolo, Allison. “Americans View Higher Education as Key to American Dream.” Public Agenda. May 3, 2000. http://www.publicagenda.org/press-releases/americans-view-higher-education-key-american-dream (accessed March 20, 2016).

Schiavone, James and Jonathan B. Cox. “AICPA Survey Reveals What Parents Pay Kids for Allowance, Grades.”American Institute of CPA’s. August 22, 2012. http://www.aicpa.org/press/pressreleases/2012/pages/aicpa-survey-reveals-what-parents-pay-kids-for-allowance-grades.aspx (accessed March 21, 2016).

Stevens, Heidi. “Why Aren’t We Expecting Our Kids to do Chores?” Chicago Tribune. October 13, 2014. http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/ct-kids-chores-vanishing-balancing-20141013-column.html (accessed March 23, 2016).

Strauss, Valerie. “Poll: What Americans Say About Public Education.” The Washington Post. August 22, 2012. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/poll-americans-views-on-public-education/2012/08/22/37203c5a-ebcf-11e1-aca7-272630dfd152_blog.html (accessed March 21, 2016).

Notes

[1] Natalie Angier, “The Changing American Family,” New York Times, last modified, November 25, 2013, accessed March 22, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/26/health/families.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[2] “And the Quality Most Parents Want to Teach Their Children Is…” Time, last modified September 18, 2014, accessed March 22, 2016, http://time.com/3393652/pew-research-parenting-american-trends/.

[3] Stacey Cohen, “Try Parenting like the Amish,” Consumer Affairs, last modified June 30, 2015, accessed March 20, 2016, http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/try-parenting-like-the-amish-063015.html.

[4] Serena B. Miller with Paul Stutzman, More Than Happy The Wisdom of Amish Parenting, (New York: Howard Books, 2015), 275.

[5] Kay Hymowitz, “Why Are American Parents So Unhappy? A Theory,” Family Studies, last modified June 9, 2014, accessed March 20, 2016, http://family-studies.org/why-are-american-parents-so-unhappy-a-theory/.

[6] “Individualism,” Merriam-Webster, last modified 1828, accessed March 22, 2016, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/individualism.

[7] Serena B. Miller with Paul Stutzman, More Than Happy The Wisdom of Amish Parenting, (New York: Howard Books, 2015), 105.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Child Discipline,” American Humane Association, last modified 2013, accessed March 21, 2016, http://www.americanhumane.org/children/stop-child-abuse/fact-sheets/child-discipline.html?referrer.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/.

[10] Julie Crandall, “Poll: Most Approve of Spanking Kids,” ABC News, last modified November 8, 2015, accessed March 22, 2016, http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=90406&page=1.

[11] Serena B. Miller with Paul Stutzman, More Than Happy The Wisdom of Amish Parenting, (New York: Howard Books, 2015), 156-157.

[12] Brad Igou, The Amish In Their Own Words, (Scottdale: Herald Press,1999), 107.

[13] Heidi Stevens, “Why Aren’t We Expecting Our Kids to do Chores?” Chicago Tribune, last modified October 13, 2014, accessed March 23, 2016 http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/ct-kids-chores-vanishing-balancing-20141013-column.html.

[14] James Schiavone and Jonathan B. Cox, “AICPA Survey Reveals What Parents Pay Kids for Allowance, Grades,” American Institute of CPA’s, last modified August 22, 2012, accessed March 21,2016, http://www.aicpa.org/pressreleases/2012/pages/aicpa-survey-reveals-what-parents-pay-kids-for-allowance-grades.aspx.

[15] Elaine Pofeldt, “Kids’ Allowances: Expert-Approved Real-World Approaches,” Good Housekeeping, last modified March 5, 2008, accessed March 21, 2016, http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/parenting/tips/a17647/kids-allowances-expert-approved/.

[16] Serena B. Miller with Paul Stutzman, More Than Happy The Wisdom of Amish Parenting, (New York: Howard Books, 2015), 207.

[17] Ibid., 210.

[18] Ibid., 210.

[19] Valerie Strauss, “Poll: What American Say About Public Education.” The Washington Post, last modified August 22, 2012, accessed March 21, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/poll-americans-views-on-public-education/2012/08/22/37203c5a-ebcf-11e1-aca7-272630dfd152_blog.html.

[20] Allison Rizzolo, “Americans View Higher Education as Key to American Dream,” Public Agenda, last modified May 3, 2000, accessed March 19, 2016, http://www.publicagenda.org/press-releases/americans-view-higher-education-key-american-dream.

[21] Serena B. Miller with Paul Stutzman, More Than Happy The Wisdom of Amish Parenting, (New York: Howard Books, 2015), 144.

[22] Legal Information Institute, Wisconsin v. Yoder, Cornell University Law School, last modified 1992, accessed March 19, 2016, https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/406/205.

[23] “Education,” Amish Studies: The Young Center, created 2016, accessed March 21, 2016, https://groups.etown.edu/amishstudies/social-organization/education/.

[24] Serena B. Miller with Paul Stutzman, More Than Happy The Wisdom of Amish Parenting, (New York: Howard Books, 2015), 144-145.

[25] Stacy DeBroff, Sign Me Up! The Parents’ Complete Guide to Sports, Activities, Music Lessons, Dance Classes, and Other Extracurriculars, (New York: The Free Press, 2003), 6-7.

[26] Ibid., 629.

[27] “Do Amish Play Sports?” Amish America, last modified 2010, accessed March 19, 2016, http://amishamerica.com/do-amish-play-sports/.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Megan Parman, “Research Shows Teens ‘Waste’ Free Time,” Legacy Press, last modified March 13, 2014, accessed March 20, 2016, http://kclegacypress.com/archives/6210.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Kyla Boyse, “Television and Children,” University of Michigan Health System, last modified August 2010, accessed March 19, 2016, http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm.

[33] Serena B. Miller with Paul Stutzman, More Than Happy The Wisdom of Amish Parenting, (New York: Howard Books, 2015), 228.

[34] Ibid., 228-229.

[35] Psalm 122:8-9 New King James Version (NKJV)

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