I’ve been reading a book about Amish parenting. The title is “More than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting. Simple Parenting Principles for the Modern World” by Serena B Miller and Paul Stutzman. Although the book is filled with lots of great parenting advice, I was pulled to three big themes that appeared in the Amish parenting style. The interesting thing about the Amish is that they don’t read parenting books like we do. Parenting just flows from their way of life and from the traditions of their community. The main idea from the book is that their goal for their children is different from ours. Many “English” parents (that’s us) say all we want is for our kids to be happy. That’s not their goal. It’s usually a byproduct for them, but not the goal. It’s a byproduct because individuals raised to live with integrity and hold to their values usually end up being very fulfilled and happy.
While I could talk about clutter and not having too many toys which is common topics in simplicity parenting (and important, I must add!), I will be covering the values the Amish help their children live by.
So, without any more delay I will present three big themes Amish parents instill in their kids:
1) They teach respect
One key way their kids are taught to be respectful is because they are also taught to be humble. In some ways the parents set limits for respect, other ways it’s simply modeled. An example from the book for a way they are taught to be respect is at big potluck dinners, they go from oldest to youngest. This is completely different from any potluck I’ve ever been to! Typically I’ve seen it reverse- youngest go first. This act teaches not only respect for their elders, but also delayed gratification. Delayed gratification is a really important concept for children to learn, particularly because everything today seems to be at our fingertips. I know research has looked into delayed gratification when it's taught to children, and it's shown that it often connects to adults who are dependable, more self-motivated and typically as teens get better grades.
The second way they teach respect is by modeling. When author Serena Miller asked her Amish friend what they were most astounded by in the English families was how English spouses talk to one another. It’s without respect. They said our tone and words we choose are filled with contempt. They make a point to talk to their spouse with respect…and any time they refer to their spouse to the children it is admiring a good quality about the other person. If they don’t do that, they fear their children won’t in turn respect them or their spouse. Often we are surprised at the things our kids say, but they must learn it somewhere! So this parenting tip is really about taking a look at how we are modeling the respect we are expecting from our children. Simplicity is all about pairing down on what does not fit (disrespect, contempt, criticism) and allowing new, better and soulful ways of living to replace them (respect, admiration)
2) They teach the important of community
Amish are all about community. The term their community uses to teach kids that their needs are important, but not more important than others is uffgevva. This is not a way to belittle needs, but just to help children learn perspective and to see that they are a part of a bigger group of people. With this teaching they learn to value those around them and be in tune with others. A common element many people find as they continue in the journey to living simply is a pull to seeing themselves as a part of the bigger whole. It helps create more sense of purpose and belonging! Additionally, there's that old spiritual teaching that helping others in turn makes you more happy would definitely fit this example. Again, for the Amish, happiness is not their goal for themselves or their children, but this principal of focusing on the bigger whole can certainly lead to happiness!
3) Amish teach their children to be disciplined
We have an 11 month old daughter and have already talked about what to do about chores, allowance, and work ethic. What do the Amish do? They don’t offer their children allowances just for doing chores. They see that as a necessary part of being in the family system. They do, however, reward in other areas for being disciplined. Two fun examples from the book:
-One mom homeschooled her 3 youngest girls. She wanted them up and ready for the day by 6am. If they were up and ready, they were given $2. This money was then used on things they wanted beyond their basic needs (fabric for clothing, extra shoes). With this trick the mom didn’t have to do the morning routine of yelling at the girls until they were up. They were motivated to be on time. If anyone has worked or heard much about the Amish, everyone knows they are hard workers. In their surrounding communities they are quick to get hired because employers know they are dependable, on time, and work hard.
-Another example of a fun trick to teach discipline is one mother would start adding little candies or quarters in her kids coats if they hung them on the rack. If you have kids who throw their school bags and coats wherever they please, this trick might help!
These three values are just a few things important to the Amish community. They like discipline, but they also love to have fun! They teach the importance of community, but that's not to say they downplay their children's needs. They are able to tune into their children and give them the attention they want and need because they've learned to tune out other things. If that's not simply living, I don't know what is! Happy rooting, everyone!