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Mennonite) Anabaptists (Amish

Stages Of Amish Family Life

Infancy and early childhood. Amish children are received by their parents and the community with a great deal of joy. Because contraception is rarely used it is assumed that when a couple marries children will be born within a year or two. The infant is assumed to be innocent until he or she becomes self-aware. At this point adults consider it their responsibility to begin to "break the will of the child." At approximately age two a child must begin to learn the meaning of discipline. They are beginning a period of preparation for church membership that will continue until they are sixteen years of age.

Children begin to help with farm or household chores at a very young age. They are encouraged to begin by helping to gather eggs, feed chickens, pull weeds, and sweep floors. As time progresses they will be expected to do more sophisticated work, but they are rarely pushed to do more than they are capable of at a particular age.

Parents expect conformity; they have relatively little tolerance for disobedience or defiance. They have no time for modern permissive childrearing and will not hesitate to use corporal punishment if needed (Hostetler and Huntington 1992).

Scholars. Typically, Amish children do not go to preschool or kindergarten. At the age of six or seven they begin to go to school and become scholars. Most Amish children attend one-or two-room Amish parochial schools. All children go to school through the age of fifteen at which point they are free to leave school. Most do so, because the Amish believe that a child has learned enough, at that point, of basic mathematics, English reading, and writing skills to function as an adult. Furthermore, Amish children are not permitted to go to high school or university. Higher education is perceived as threatening and may lead to critical thinking (Hostetler and Huntington 1992; Meyers 1993).

Youth. A child leads a fairly controlled life until he or she is sixteen. At this age there is a period of latitude, where some of the restrictions on a child's behavior are removed.

Many boys acquire their first horse and buggy at sixteen. At this point, they have the freedom to come and go from their home. Some teens begin to experiment with aspects of the non-Amish world. They may wear non-Amish clothes, put a radio in the buggy, and in some cases secure a driver's license and purchase a car.

What is the meaning of this period of latitude? Why do some parents overlook the indiscretions of An Amish family rides in a horse-drawn wagon. Amish males usually receive their first horse and buggy at the age of sixteen. THOMAS B. HOLLYMAN/SCIENCESOURCE/PHOTO RESEARCHERS their children? Although few parents will say so, they allow some experimentation with the world so that when a child makes his or her decision to join the church he or she will have some knowledge about what is being rejected in the membership commitment.

In the late teens two critical events typically occur in a young person's life. The youth must make a decision about whether to be baptized and to become a church member. The young person is also searching for a marriage partner. Baptism and marriage often, but not always, occur in a relatively short period of time. An Amish man or woman may not marry in the Amish church unless he or she is a baptized member. Furthermore, a member of the church is only permitted to marry another member. Since more than 80 percent of Amish young people choose to remain in the faith of their parents (Meyers 1994a), marriage is almost always endogamous.

Amish courtship tends to be very serious. There is much less casual dating than in the dominant culture. Dates are often limited to a young man taking a young woman home in his buggy after a Sunday evening singing service. When a couple decides to marry there is a process of permission that must be sought from parents and church leaders. When all agree that a wedding may take place, the Bishop will announce at the end of a regular church service that two individuals will be married at a designated time and place in the coming weeks. At that moment the couple has been published.

Married Couples. A wedding is one of the most important days in an Amish person's life. It is one of the few opportunities to be the center of attention. The couple stands before the congregation and exchanges vows, and then elaborate meals are prepared for them. There is a special table set in a corner of a main room, known as the Eck. (Eck is the German word for corner.) The bride and groom choose some of their best friends to be the table waiters for the meal. These people leave the service about a half-hour before it is over to make the final preparations for the meal, which has been in the works for days.

Once married the couple establishes their own home and typically begins to assume fairly traditional roles. Men work in the fields, the shop, or the factory, and women work in the home, cooking, cleaning, and occasionally assisting their husband with outside work. Although in the past farming was synonymous with the Amish way of life, farmers are now in the minority in the largest Amish settlements in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. (Meyers 1994a; Kraybill and Nolt 1995).

A father in the Amish home is the religious leader. He may read the Bible in the morning or read prayers from their prayer book before and after meals. Both parents, however, teach their children, by example, how to be men and women.

Aging. Amish people tend to retire in their late fifties or early sixties. A farmer, in particular, may allow a son or son-in-law to take over the farm at this age. He may still have an active role on the farm but the next generation assumes the major responsibility for the farm operation.

Elderly people are rarely put in nursing homes. They are usually maintained at home in a separate room, apartment, or a smaller building on the property of one of their adult children. Smaller homes for the elderly are known as the grandfather or dawdy house. Older people are respected, and members of their community treat them with a great deal of kindness and affection.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsMennonite) Anabaptists (Amish - Amish Community And Family Life, Stages Of Amish Family Life, Mennonite Families