Work is Purpose
Part Four of Miller’s book focuses on the importance of work; specifically, the Amish work ethic. In recent years, I have found that ‘work’ can be determined individually by each person. It is what allows us to put our skills, talents, and gifts to use, whether through physical labor, creative expression, or a call to action. It is an element that gives our lives meaning and purpose.
“The Amish start teaching a child to help with small chores when they are two years old. … because that child, in the Amish way of thinking, needs to start feeling like a necessary, contributing part of the family” (207).
I definitely didn’t have my daughters helping me with chores at two years old. Sure, they have been taught (and enjoyed!) picking up toys and putting items back in their homes, but I’ve never been really consistent with assigned or specific chores for them. They love to help and are usually always willing, it’s just that I am impatient and a little OCD about the cleanliness or order of things.
“Chores are simply part of learning to contribute to the family. For this reason, the Amish do not believe in “allowances” as a lot of Englisch families do. They do not believe it is necessary to pay a child to do work that should be done to maintain the homestead already” (210).
I think this is a great way to look at chores! Not as boring tasks, but as a way to instill value into a child’s identity and life. As Paul Stutzman says, “In Amish society, the children get up early and have chores. It gives them a purpose for existing. In Englisch society, they get up and watch cartoons. Reality versus make-believe. It definitely makes a difference in their work ethic as well as their worldview” (222).
Stutzman’s quote really hit home for me. We only allow screen time for 30 minutes on Saturday morning in our home, but I still felt guilty for not giving my children a “purpose for existing” each day with chores. His quote made me reevaluate our daily rhythm and routine, and I realized that I need to give my children “chores” in order to show them that they are valued and necessary in our family, and that they are capable of completing tasks.
In the Amish culture, most children start helping with chores at a very young age and are quite proficient and capable of a variety of tasks by their pre-teen years. Here are a list of some chores for children (provided by an Amish mother that Miller interviewed):
Chores for children —
- Feed and water hens, gather eggs – Age 4
- Carry wood for heat stove – Age 6
- Carry out ashes – Age 10
- Milk a cow – Ages 7 to 12 (depends on muscle strength)
- Feed horses – Age 6
- Bed horses – Age 10
- Mow lawn – Ages 6 to 12
- Pull weeds – Age 4
- Wash main dishes – Age 4
- Wash pots and pans – Age 10
- Sweep kitchen floor – Age 5
- Set table – Age 4
- Do laundry – Age 11
- Rock baby – Age 5
- Bake a cake – Age 8
- Bake cookies – Age 7
- Fetch mail – Age 5
- Harness a pony – Age 7
- Harness a horse – Age 12
“None of these chores would be done without supervision until the child was proficient, but the training would begin, and the chore would eventually be done well and become yet another skill a child could count themselves on possessing” (208).
Technology is A Tool
Part Five of Miller’s book focuses on the Amish’s perspective of technology. We are all familiar with the fact that the Amish shun all technology. Or, at least that’s what I always thought:
“The Amish do not shun all technology … rules for what is approved vary by community, and the rules can change as the community’s needs or technology changes” (250).
Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at how they do view technology.
“Far from being a backward people, the Amish have good reason to be suspicious of new technologies that the Englisch invent. Instead of immediately embracing each new thing that comes along, they wait and watch. If they see that the technologies are having a bad effect on our families, they will choose not to allow it into their own homes. Whereas in our culture, most of us tend to want to be the first in line for any new technological gadget, the Amish’s slow deliberation and debate over accepting new things has created a cushion of protection around their families” (255).
I think this is a great approach to take to viewing technology and its purpose or necessity (or lack thereof in some cases). I know I prefer to keep technology to a minimum (especially with children) in my own life. I believe it does have its pros, but I also believe it has a lot of cons.
“One of the biggest challenges Englisch people face today in raising their families is that there are so many fascinating things to distract us from spending time with our children” (243).
Nothing truer than that, is there? How often are we distracted by our phones, computers, or televisions instead of being present to our children? I know I’m guilty of that and it’s a struggle even with the little technology we do have in our home. I think it’s extremely important to be aware and mindful of our habits and the times we choose to use our technology, and I believe that in doing so, we can become more present to our children as we separate them from our “technology time.”
“It is easier for the Amish to listen to their children because they are with them more and face fewer distractions” (245).
“The breakdown of family communication and togetherness is one reason many Amish church districts are taking a hard line on cell phones, in addition to television, video games, and computers” (253).
“One Amish father told me, ‘Even if we were permitted to have computers, I would not have one in my home. I know myself, and I know that I would be on the computer in the evenings instead of enjoying my family’” (254).
“We tend to worry if our children aren’t well-stimulated and engaged in enjoyable or educational activities at all times. … If one never has to sit still and engage one’s mind as a child, if one is constantly being entertained, when does personal creativity develop? When does patience kick in? When does one ever develop the ability to wait?” (283).
Faith is the Center
Part Six of Miller’s book focuses on the importance of the Amish faith. In the Amish community, their faith is the center of everything. It is the reason for living as they do.
“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).
“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).
“Being Amish is not forced on the children. They have a free choice to accept or reject the religion in which they were raised. The Amish are not at all evangelistic. It is not an easy life to accept. Half of the Englisch who do convert to Amish eventually leave. It’s just too hard” (310).
While reading Miller’s book, I kept asking myself why I was so interested in this culture. Why was I so fascinated? Mostly because it is a culture that I am not familiar with, it is a culture that does the opposite of our society, and it is a culture that appears to know the true meaning of simple living.
This Amish man answers the “Why do tourists come to Amish country?” question truthfully:
“’The older people come because they see things that they remember from their childhoods – so they come for the nostalgia. They enjoy seeing things like a man plowing a field with a team of horses. It makes them feel safe. [The younger people come] For the same reasons that they watch old reruns of The Waltons, or Little House on the Prairie. They’re looking for decency, for simplicity, for goodness. They want to feel safe again. There is a great hunger in our country to be around people who actually stand for something. So tourists come here to watch a people sacrificing modern conveniences because of their faith, and it makes them feel a little better about life in general’” (308).
I hope you found this book review to be inspiring. I hope it gave you a better sense of the Amish community. I thought their lifestyle and parenting methods were quite impressive; that isn’t to say that I agreed with everything, but I did agree with most things! I learned a lot while reading this book and I took away a lot of good information as well. I recommend reading the book for yourself! Miller’s website also has some great Q & As as well as additional information regarding the Amish community and her relationship to those in it.
I am going to leave you with some last bits of wisdom that I hope will guide your parenting journey.
“The need to be a good example rather than telling children how they should behave was stated over and over as I went about asking the Amish for advice on how to raise children” (291).
Henry, an Amish man, says, “’It has always seemed to me that they best kind of evangelism is to simply live a life of integrity. From what I’ve seen over the years, that is also the most effective kind of parenting’” (313).
“As I’ve interviewed my Amish friends, it is very clear to me that they aren’t at all concerned about making their children happy, in an Englisch sense. The kind of happiness that is based on personal wants and expectations seems to be irrelevant to them. Instead, they 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” (318).
“I believe the children in our society are also starving – for meaning and integrity and loving structure in their lives. For too long have we fed our children the moral equivalent of cake and candy when they needed wholesome food with substance. Children are also starving for the sense that they are a necessary part of a family who loves them. They are starving to feel that they have value and worth. They are starving for parents who’ll talk with them for more than a few minutes per week and who will teach them how to live by example instead of leaving them to derive a world view from television and social media” (319).
“Intentional parenting means having the courage to make choices that are right for our families instead of merely doing what is easy. Raising children who are not only happy but who are more than happy because they are growing into people of integrity and value does not happen by accident” (321).
Lastly, this next quote made me consider my role as a parent. And whether others feel as strongly or not, I believe it is absolutely true and gives me inspiration for how to be a more involved, loving, protective parent:
“Intentional, deliberate parenting that mirrors the Amish model – regardless of the issue – is parenting that has no interest in being liked by one’s child or making that child “happy” and everything to do with protecting the child and the family. It takes a strong person to make hard, unpopular decisions, but that’s part of the job. Anything less leaves our families unprotected and vulnerable” (266).