If you recall in my introductory post, I mentioned that I would be sharing an Amish parenting book with you. Without further ado: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting by Serena Miller!
Family is Priority
Part One of Miller’s book focuses on the importance of family life in the Amish culture. Miller states, “…family will be at the center of just about everything the Amish do. … Every decision, every choice, is made with the good of the family in mind, and the entire Amish culture is built around preserving and protecting the family unit” (24).
How are they able to be so family-focused? Can we say the same thing about our own family or do we tend to be a little more individualistic or have a different focus?
“Patience, long-suffering, and forbearance are built into the Amish psyche and lifestyle, not only in their church services, but in many other practical ways (282).”
“To live with such interconnectedness and such constant fellowship takes a lot of forgiveness. The ability to forgive is a major factor in the Amish church’s ability to survive and thrive for five centuries” (290).
While reading this book, I sort of assumed (as Miller did) that the Amish society was male-dominated with women working in households and unable to work outside of them. However, Miller was kind enough to enlighten her readers:
“Before I met my Amish friends, I had a lot of preconceived ideas about Amish women. I expected them to be downtrodden and abused by overwork. I expected to find a male-dominated society in which women’s needs and dreams were ignored. How could a woman who was constantly enduring the drudgery of giving birth and caring for large numbers of children have any life of her own? Let alone ever be happy? Instead, the Amish women I met seemed to experience more peace and contentment and even, surprisingly, have more free time than many of the overwhelmed and frantic young Englisch women I knew” (69).
“Overwhelmed and frantic” is exactly how I would describe myself as woman in our society. A need to be noticed, acknowledged, successful, creative, innovative, skillful… there is a lot of outside pressure that distracts my days. I feel this way as a mother and I felt this way to a greater degree when working in the corporate world (which is ultimately why I left).
Miller discovers, however, that Amish women aren’t discouraged from working or contributing to the family income. Rather, “the restriction isn’t about women holding down jobs. The concern is about a mother’s job taking her away from her children. They know how important their role is, and they make no apologies for it. They take good care of their families, and when they can, they add to the family income with whatever extra skills and talents they possess” (78-79).
This was reassuring to me because often times I can feel as though the role of mother goes unnoticed, that it isn’t considered “work” to raise children, and being a homemaker means you’re boring and useless outside of your home.
However, reconsidering the Amish perspective of mothers, I can feel confident, noticed, and appreciated for my role. I don’t have to apologize for being a mother because (as I have often heard), it is the most important job there is, and I believe it is true (it’s just hard not to get caught up in society’s views of motherhood and homemaking).
If you remember, I discussed another book last year about being a homemaker. In Radical Homemakers, the author (Shannon Hayes) stresses the importance of teamwork between members within a family unit, stating that households used to function in that way for hundreds of years:
“While there was a clear division of labor in these thirteenth-century homes, there was not necessarily a clear line drawn between a man’s sphere and a woman’s sphere. Men made cider and mead; women made beer, ale and wine. While the women made and mended clothing made from cloth, the men produced anything made of leather. Both had tasks to fill “the interstices of their days” – women sewed and spun, men chopped wood and fashioned tools and utensils. Both performed jobs that required strength and stamina – men hauled wood; women washed clothes. Both men and women would milk livestock, draw water, weave, and peel apples and potatoes. Much of their work was a team effort. Men would grow flax; women would break it and spin it into linen. Women nursed and cared for the children; men made the cradles, and mowed the hay and sheared fleece to fill the mattress ticking. In contrast to modern times, the household was the source and locus for sustenance and survival. It was not a separate entity to be supported through outside means. …The success of the household relied on the presence of both sexes. Domestic duties were too great to be accomplished by one person.” (p.62)
Likewise, an Amish friend of Miller’s says something similar:
“My husband is a very good cook. Not just basic things. He can make about anything you want to name. He is an excellent cook. … His mother taught him. She taught all of her sons how to cook … It came in very handy when I was having babies, or when I’ve been ill. He has always been able to take good care of me and the children. … Amish husbands and wives, in general, simply do whatever is necessary to take care of their family. … It isn’t a matter of deciding what you call gender roles, at least not in this household. It is about helping one another when help is needed. It is also about respecting each other’s strengths. I respect him as a man, and as the spiritual head of our household. He respects me as a woman and as the mother of his children. Together we do whatever is necessary to care for our family” (69).
These ideas of man and woman working together as a team to build and sustain themselves in their homes and to respect each other’s strengths is admirable, inspiring, and respectful. I believe there shouldn’t be any shame in certain attributes or skills or talents that a man might have or a woman might have, just like I believe there shouldn’t be any competition between the two. Personally, I would like my home to be a working unit, a reflection of each member and the beauty with which they fill the home.
Community is Essential
Part Two of Miller’s book focuses on the importance of community. A family cannot function properly if there isn’t a strong, supportive community surrounding them. This doesn’t need to include only family members, but friends, neighbors, fellow church parishioners, and any other person(s) who create safety, security, and love for the family and its members. In our society, we often live so far away from family members, so finding support and community from others is a good way to fill that gap.
As Miller notes about the Amish, “It is a culture that is intentionally designed to spend time together, help each other, and build a sense of purpose together. That has a profound impact on the way they raise their children (97).
“The fact that they live in a culture that can put differences aside in times of need is yet another reason Amish children grow up with such a strong sense of community, a structure so tightly woven, dependable, and defended that it offers both children and adults a strong sense of security and safety … Life for an Amish family revolves around community. From the tradition of multi-generational households to sharing of work to financial assistance, the community gives structure and support, and that has a lasting impact on the happiness of Amish children” (147).
In my life, I rely on the community that surrounds our family and I am grateful for their support and help in times of need. Additionally, it’s beneficial to have those family members and friends with whom we are able to discuss important issues, share life and parenting experiences, and connect with for bartering or assistance or babysitting, etc.
Welcoming your community into your home is a way to encourage bonding, share a generous and giving heart, and offer a stable and safe environment where vulnerability and healing can take place. I enjoy welcoming guests into my home and I try to make our environment suitable for the above mentioned characteristics. It gives me joy to entertain, feed, and shelter others. Though my spirit may not always be willing or eager, I have to practice selflessness and be intentional about putting forth the effort to cultivate relationships.
Miller has a couple of things to say about Amish hospitality:
“I’ve been in a lot of Amish homes, and I can’t remember an Amish woman ever apologizing to me for the condition of her house. …. there’s never been the apology so many of us Englisch women feel is required when guests show up. These women, unlike so many Englisch women, don’t expect their homes or themselves to be seen as perfect, and it wouldn’t occur to them to apologize for not being so” (95).
“Hospitality is important. Don’t be so hochmut (proud) that you can’t have people over unless everything is perfect. Don’t apologize for the condition of your home. It makes guests uncomfortable, and it can make your children feel ashamed. Most people care a whole lot more about being welcome than the condition of your home” (148).
These were beautiful comforts that I needed to read. While I can be guilty of apologizing for the condition of my home or not wanting others to visit unless everything is perfect, these passages from Miller are reminders that the relationships and the love that surrounds us is more important than the state of my home.
Discipline is Teaching
Part Three of Miller’s book focuses on the importance of discipline.
When we hear the word discipline, most of us immediately think of punishments and consequences. But this isn’t exactly the true meaning of the word.
I remember reading a passage from a book and it talked about Jesus being a disciple (coming from the word discipline). He was a teacher and had great experience and knowledge in various subjects; or rather, disciplines. Therefore, if we think of the word discipline in terms of an intelligence or experience in certain subjects, or as being a teacher, then we can begin to move away from the negative connotation of the word and focus on its positive meaning.
The Amish generally view discipline as a positive thing. They see it as a tool to help build integrity and value into their children and society: “[Amish] concentrate on helping their children grow into people of value – sons and daughters with integrity and compassion who know how to work and how to give” (157).
The structure and routine of the Amish life is what helps them to be so disciplined in completing their work while being disciples by generously offering to help members of their community in times of need.
“[Amish] have structure and routine. Assigned chores, family meals with prayer, and sometimes family devotionals in the evening bracket and define their day. Regular church services punctuate each month. Frequently there are chores assigned to each specific day of the week: Monday is wash day if the weather is fine, Tuesday ironing day, and so on, much as our great-grandmothers lived” (154).
As part of building integrity, compassion, value, and forgiveness into their children and their society, the Amish are serious about teaching respect. Of course, this isn’t to say that the Englisch aren’t serious about teaching respect, but Miller shares with her readers an observation from an Amish woman about respect:
(Miller asks an Amish friend), “In what areas do you see the Englisch lacking respect?” Her friend answers, “It is the tone of voice in which I’ve heard Englisch women speak to their husbands. How can a mother expect her children to respect and obey their fathers if those mothers talk to their husbands with such disrespect?” (164).
Miller expands on this answer a little more:
“Disrespect isn’t always presented with a contemptuous tone. A jocular, happy tone can do just as much damage. Humor can be a great thing in a family, but not if it involves belittling one another. A mother can turn her husband into a hero in her children’s eyes, or a buffoon – just with the words she chooses to use when she talks to or about him. A father can do the same thing to the mother” (167).
Does this sound familiar to anyone else? I know I have heard similar remarks such as this throughout my childhood when my parents talked with one another or about one another. On television or in movies, it often comes across as “funny” or “comedic,” but is a mother belittling a father genuinely funny? Is a child disrespecting his parents in a “comedic” way really all that comedic? When our children or family members watch these types of shows or movies, it instills a sense of disrespect and disregard for individuals’ dignity and their personal feelings. It shows our kids that disobeying their parents is somewhat tolerated. It allows men and women to view each other as opposites with disregard to their individual feelings, skills, or gifts.
(Part 2 to come soon!)