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Amish Children:
Nurturing & Belonging

 

When a child is born to Amish parents, that infant Emma or tiny Jonas enters both a family and a community. This child’s rearing rests upon its parents, but not without the strong interest of their extended family.

One cannot raise Amish children alone. It is the effort of a whole community, intently devoted to a way of life. Nurturing children is one of the strongest factors in Amish fathers and mothers choosing to work at home; it is the reason for the Amish community’s investment in its school system.

The Amish have large families by 21st century North American standards; seven

children is the average. Each child is treasured, although that deep value and love are expressed in language that may not be fully understood by the larger world.

In fact, many Amish have two primary reasons for living as they do: to be faithful to God and to be an example to their children. Childrearing—and growing up Amish—belong to the very soul and sinew of being Amish.

Children are not automatically members of the Amish church. Joining the church requires a decision by each individual, usually made in the late teens or early 20s. Life until then is full of learning to work, discovering how to be a responsible and contributing part of the Amish world, and finding a balance between the duties of life and its true pleasures.

Ever Present Parents

Nothing, Amish parents believe, can substitute for their own direct and constant involvement with their children, and they practice that conviction fervently. Most Amish families eat three meals a day together.

Datt (the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect word for "Dad") and Mamm (the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect word for "Mom" or "Mother") work at home on the farm. If they aren’t farmers, Datt likely works in a machine or cabinet shop across the yard or within the neighborhood.

From late August through the end of May, the schoolchildren miss the noontime meal with their families. But then they are in the company of other Amish children, in a world nearly as familiar and secure as home.

Days are full for these children. The littlest ones stay in the house or garden with their mother, free to play but never out of view in the sprawling kitchen or yard. Older preschool youngsters may circle between house and barn, but not without the parents knowing which of the two of them is responsible for the children’s activities and safety. School-age sisters and brothers often monitor their younger siblings, keeping them happy and occupied, while savoring the trust that task requires.

Bought toys are minimal in this lively world. Yet within its boundaries are animals and ever-present playmates, and space for rolling and running, for chasing and games of pretending "House" or "Store" or "Farm."

A Well-Paced Life

These children’s days are not given shape by a line-up of soccer games, piano lessons, camp, or play groups. Instead, the morning sun, chore-time twice a day, and the coming of evening set a structure for their time. So, too, do the days of the week and the seasons. In this largely rural, soil-anchored world, life follows the lead of the weather and the promise of productive fields and gardens. The children are not removed from this daily interplay with nature. They learn it, they begin to sense it and read it alongside their parents, who interpret what is happening while they go about their jobs, who point out the signals as they come, who invite their children to join them in responsive work.

Not dulled by television or computers, not distracted by telephones, these children grow to be keenly alert both to the natural environment and to the interests of their church community. They are fully occupied but not frenzied. They learn a contentment still available to those who focus their energies on the earth and its requirements, who devote themselves to giving and receiving from others. These are the lessons that the Amish know take a lifetime to learn and practice. These ideals require the reinforcement of a fully convinced community who live what they believe concretely and visibly. These are convictions best transmitted by immersion into the world which believes and propounds them.

And so the Amish speak a distinctive language, dress in distinguishing clothes, use and refuse particular technologies. They form and maintain their own schools and social events. They agree on and articulate boundaries for the safeguarding of their children, their families, their devotion to God.

Why Do They Stay?

One Amish historian, regarded for honestly assessing his own people, believes that more than 80% of children who grow up in Amish families join the Amish church and choose to stay in the community. He immediately credits "the grace of the Lord and our strong beliefs."

His statistics and reasoning are echoed by a young Amish mother who quickly and with certainty expresses why she thinks so many Amish children decide officially to become Amish: "Most important of all is whether or not they feel they belong. That is helped if they feel close to their parents and their friends. And if they can respect the way that they were taught."

"What holds our young people?" asks an Amish grandfather. "The support they have from their parents and from the community. For myself, it was the closeness I felt to the group. I felt wanted. I belonged. As a teenager I saw I would have support for being an adult."

Adapted by permission from the new book Amish Children by Phyllis Pellman Good, published by Good Books.

Amish Country News Cover Article (September 2000)

 

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