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.
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
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
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
Amish Country News Cover Article (September