Inside The Amish Family
The Amish family is the foundation of the Amish way of life. The family structure and traditions that seem to be taken from a page out of history, have remained an integral part of the Amish culture.
This is not by accident. They have an unwritten blueprint for Amish living called the Ordnung that guides them through all the details of everyday life.
To us, these rules might seem extremely legalistic. But the Amish consider the Ordnung to be a sacred trust that separates them from the outside world.
It binds them together in their quest for eternal salvation and creates a desire for unity and conformity. When its members live together, work together, worship together and socialize together, the Amish family is made stronger.
The Marriage Relationship
The Amish family is traditionally farming based. As leader of the family, the man makes all the major decisions in regard to the family, farm, and household. The Amish marriage ceremony directs the bride to be submissive to her husband.
Of course marriage is a partnership so the degree to which the husband includes his wife in the decision making process varies from family to family. As with any human relationship, the attitude of the each partner probably determines how much weight the husband gives to his wife's input.
The man is the primary breadwinner of the Amish family.
In the past the Amish family income was produced on the farm. For nearly 300 years the Amish man has tilled the soil to produce crops and livestock for a living. Most Amish still prefer this lifestyle today.
But in recent decades, the scarcity of affordable farmland has forced many Amish men to seek alternative means of producing income. In some areas, less than half the men farm for a living.
The best alternative to farming is a cottage industry that allows the man to work at home. Businesses such as:
- Cabinet shop
- Furniture manufacturing shop
- Engine repair shop
- Greenhouse Bookstore
- Dry goods store
- Harness and leather goods shop
- Clock and watch repair shop
A home business keeps the father close to the home. The traditional Amish family depends on having both the parents available to supervise and train the children.
Every family member is indoctrinated into the Amish lifestyle beginning at the earliest age. The home shop, like the farm, becomes a learning laboratory where the children can observe and learn while helping to produce income for the family.
Other possible occupations include the trades. Working in the building industry is a popular choice for many. Carpentry, plumbing, roofing and other trades where the man can work for himself, are considered compatible with the Amish culture.
Working in a factory is the least desirable form of occupation. It is considered a threat to the Amish family. So the church encourages farming or home business whenever possible.
The mother is in charge of running the household.
The Amish woman must be an excellent manager. The efficiency of an Amish family depends upon the skill of the mother in many areas.
She is the head cook and seamstress. The garden is also the mother's realm. A productive garden is a great asset to the family since Amish food is home grown, when possible.
Mom oversees child care, cleaning, yard work, laundry and food preservation. She might make crafts to sell at a roadside stand. In addition to all that, she often helps with barn chores and harvesting.
She will have help from the older girls. A young Amish girl is expected to hone her skills at running the household so she will be fully prepared when her time comes to run a household of her own.
Amish women make most of the clothing in for the family. Clothes are very plain and of usually solid colors, which is why the Amish are often referred to as plain people. Even Amish wedding dresses are handmade.
Grandparents remain a vital part of the family.
When the grandparents pass the farm down to one of their children, they usually continue to live on the farm in a house that is attached to the main house or in a nearby separate house.
Though retired, the grandparents continue help with chores and contribute to the family in many ways. They might tend a roadside stand to sell food or crafts produced by the family.
The wisdom of the grandparents is a treasured asset to the family. Their advice is often sought and followed.
Contrary to popular belief, the farm is not always inherited by the oldest child. Usually, the parents are not ready to retire until after their entire family has been raised. Then the empty nest is ready to be occupied by a new family. By this time, the older children might have families of their own and be well established elsewhere.
Since there are many children and there is only one farm to inherit, many Amish homes do not include three generations.
Children are also seen as a valuable asset to the Amish family.
There is an average of six children per household. Very young Amish children are pampered as much as children in the outside world. Until about the age of two, the toddler gets away with some behavior that won't go uncorrected later. After the age of two, Amish children can expect to be spanked for their lapses in good judgment.
For the most part, their very early years are spent playing and interacting with their siblings. Amish toys are very simple and of course, non-electrical.
By the age of five, Amish children are performing simple chores in the house or around the barn. Their workload is increased as they develop the required strength and skills.
The Amish family needs the additional labor of its children. Working on a farm the children get a feeling of accomplishment and actually see the important contribution they are making to their family. They are instilled with the work ethic that prepares them for their life in the Amish community.
Having a large family is also valued by the church because growth comes almost entirely from within. There are very few converts to the Amish religion because outsiders are not equipped to cope with the psychological and physical rigors of Amish life.
The Amish family works every day. On Sunday, they milk and feed the livestock and any other chores that must be done daily. They then go to church services which are held on alternating Sundays. A light lunch is served after the service. Then the afternoon is spent socializing.
On the "off" Sundays, they visit other families or just stay home and rest. The Amish observe Christmas, Thanksgiving, Pentecost Easter and Ascension Day as a part of their Amish culture and traditions.
The Amish enjoy gathering at occasions such as weddings and auctions. They also enjoy getting together to help their neighbors on occasions like a barn-raising which they might refer to as a frolic.
When a family settles in a new home...
...they usually stay there for life. This is especially true if they settle close to their extended families. If you include both sets of parents and six married siblings with families, there might be eighty to one hundred immediate relatives nearby.
When you add aunts and uncles all with their own extended families, the number of relatives balloons out to hundreds. All these close connections to relatives are a tremendous incentive to stay put.
As the couple grows old, their children will be married and produce thirty to fifty grandchildren of their own and the cycle starts over. Once again, this shows why the large Amish family is such a great asset to the community.
Trouble in Paradise
A problem has surfaced over the last couple of decades. It would seem that the large family has become a threat to the Amish way of life. As population increases in and around the Amish settlements, farmland is becoming scarce.
Even if a young Amish family can find an available farm, they will probably find the price of the land beyond their reach. This poses a potentially devastating problem for the Amish family. Faced with this threat to its very survival, this society must look beyond its traditional farming based culture for other ways to support their Amish life. Many have started cottage industries or become tradesmen.
Others have opted for factory work, a choice that could also threaten the traditional Amish family. Working in the outside world exposes them to the worldly culture.
Working beside non-Amish, often both men and women can influence the Amish man's point of view. The fact that he can make so much money working only forty hours a week, might tend to make him look at the Amish life in a different, less desirable light.
The father is also away from home during the day and cannot supervise his children. The Amish family is grounded in having the father readily available at home.
Children learn by watching. The father’s absence denies the children a vital role model that teaches the work ethic needed to sustain the rigorous Amish life.
The Amish continue to survive and prosper.
Despite these threats, the Amish population thriving. It continues to almost double every twenty years. As of 2008 there were nearly 230,000 Amish.
The influence of the trend toward a post agricultural lifestyle may eventually change the fundamental identity of the Amish family.
But for now, the Amish family is alive and well.
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