As I sat with my morning coffee, finishing the book “More than Happy: The Simple Wisdom of Amish Parenting” By Serena Miller and Paul Stutzman, I was feeling inspired by the values they live by. I realized that you don’t have to be Amish to instill values in your children and family. We just need to be intentional. The book was full of important lessons and values the Amish have in their families, but I want to comment on just a few.
We have such an important job as parents. We get to decide what enters our homes and what stays out. Without being intentional, things will come and go without being aware. But, as I’m noticing…everyone is right…this time while our children are young does in fact go SO fast. So, why not really pay attention to how we are going about these precious years? It doesn’t mean we need to read every parenting book out there. Rather, it means we can think over what we really want our children to gain from their childhood. What values do we want them to carry into adulthood?
Here are a few that stood out to me from the book:
The Amish are wonderfully generous. They share what they have. In most of our English churches, people are encouraged to tithe 10% of their income. To the Amish, the concept of tithing is not necessary. For them, it’s simple. If you have something to give, give it. There will be times when you can give a lot, and there will be times when you can give very little. Their community is built on the concept of giving from abundance. Their children see it, and the generous ways continue through their communities for generations.
I was really struck by this concept of giving. Typically, in our culture we are taught to compete, to really watch out for yourself and your immediate family alone. But, as I mentioned in my previous post, happiness is created by helping others. Giving does not always need to be financial, although that can certainly be necessary and important at times. It can also be making a meal and taking it to a family in need, giving of your time to listen to another person, or lending a helping hand. Generosity helps bring a sense of safety, because children see that the world might not be such an awful place.
Living simply is not just about ridding oneself of unnecessary physical belongings. It’s also cleaning out clutter from the heart and soul. We can create a lightness in our physical space and in our internal world. But, just like taking time to give away and sort through physical belongings, we need to take time and tend to things we think no longer belong in our internal landscape.
For the Amish, they take the concept of forgiveness very seriously. As I read the book, the author told the story of the Nickel Mines Tragedy. In this tragic event, a teen killed 5 individuals at an Amish schoolhouse. The father of the teen who killed the others was filled with so much sorrow and guilt that he could barely lift his head. The Amish went to this father and expressed forgiveness. To our outside world, it was shocking. When you lose a child, how do you respond with forgiveness to something so horrible happening?
To the Amish, they see forgiveness as a command. They might not always want to forgive, but they forgive anyway. While I see the importance of forgiveness, I also know in my work as a therapist that forgiveness is a matter of the heart. What I see in this story of the Amish is that they might not always want to forgive…they might actually not fully be there emotionally…but the take the steps to get there. It’s kind of the idea of “fake it til you make it.” We see this in marriage as well, especially in my line of work. When couples are working to get back on track, they might not always be as emotionally invested or as “in love” as they’d like, but the idea is to do acts of love, hoping that feelings of love and attachment follow.
So as a therapist, I’d like to say if forgiveness is a value you want to take on for your family and for yourself, then commit to the steps of forgiveness. In the story of the Amish it did not mention any of the emotions that might come along the forgiveness path, but I’d say commit to feeling them so as to move through them. Feel the anger, the rage, the sorrow…because that will lead to lightening your load. The more we feel, the more the hold they have on us and our relationships lightens.
I just love this one! I often admit that patience is a virtue I just don’t have. The main way the book described the Amish working on their patience is partly because of their way of life…it just moves slower. They don’t get things instantly. They make more from scratch, they don’t have the quick use of technology, and they surely can’t get from point A to point B quickly. Even though I have no desire to give up my use of technology, I would like to limit it. So often in my work as a family therapist I read books and articles about the destructive nature of technology. My intent here is not to rant about technology. There is enough of that out there. I think we all know by now that it can be a great distraction. So, like the gist of this blog post I’d say we are invited to be intentional about our use of technology and our pace of life. All good things take time. And when we take our time, patience is naturally developed.
One key takeaway from the Amish style of parenting was to model what you want to see in your children. It takes great self-awareness and great humility. If I want Marley, our 11 month old daughter, to be patient, then I must show her what that looks like. If I want her to be generous and share with others, I must model that as well. And of course, if I want her to forgive me for the ways I will fall short as a mother, I must show her forgiveness by forgiving her and forgiving others. Parenting is so much about paying attention to ourselves first. What a humbling thought! Happy rooting, everyone.