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Hutterite Families


Adolescence is from age fifteen to baptism (which is around age twenty), where adult work is learned and begun. Corporal punishment stops here. Termed the foolish years, this is a time when adults expect minor deviations—smoking, having a radio, dating—and tolerate them. Serious problems like suicide, drug addiction, arson, or sexual immorality are virtually nonexistent (Kephart 1976). At this point, adolescents begin to eat with the adults in the dining hall.

The young adult occupies an apprentice position. The boys in this group do most of the colony's hard labor and enjoy the opportunity to demonstrate their strength and stamina. Almost all the boys in this age group find ways to generate cash of their own. They may share it with their sisters in exchange for having the sisters sew them clothes that depart from the accepted pattern in some small way. This is, however, against the expectations of the good basic communal commitments of the Hutterites. Young adults are still considered to be immature emotionally and in need of more religious instruction, but moodiness or poor work performance is not tolerated (Hostetler 1974).

Hutterite preachers condemn dating as a carnal or romantic activity, but it occurs anyway. Parents will usually veto a child's choice that they do not like, or colony leaders will intervene if the partner is considered inappropriate (such as a first cousin). John A. Hostetler quotes a sixteen-year-old girl speaking on relationships:

When boys or girls from other colonies come and visit we all go together in the evening. If the visitors have never been here before, one of our group does the introducing (so the boys know what the girl's name is when he wants her for a date). Then we sit and talk or play. If a boy wants a date, he goes out with one of our guys and tells him; then he calls out the girl he wants. If she wants, she goes along with him. If not, she says no. Sometimes the boys don't like it if we refuse, but you can't tell a girl to go along if she doesn't want to. It's only in leap year that the girls call the boy for a date. Otherwise the boy has to do the calling. In wintertime we really get a lot of visitors because there's not much work to do. In all the colonies each boy gets a two-week vacation. Then they can go and visit whenever they please. (1974, p. 223)

A later description of Hutterite dating involves more physical contact:

A date could be as simple as going for a walk or sitting in a dark corner holding hands, talking, and kissing. On a typical date however, a couple meets in a private room, preferably with a cot or bed on which to sit or lie on (most Hutterites don't have sofas in their homes). Sometimes several dating couples will use the room simultaneously, each minding their own business, on separate cots. And so, usually with the lights off, the couple "dates" often in horizontal position. I was told that this is not universally practiced among the Schmiedeleit, but I do know it is among the Lehrerleit. I suspect that most young people of all three Leit date this way. (Hofer 1998, p. 51)

Hutterite leaders are uncomfortable with the dating style, and they hide it from outsiders, which is not surprising given the strong religious stance they have of confining sexual relations to marriage. Hutterite dating, then, although still conservative, has become romantic. Love and sexual attraction may be as important as orthodoxy in mate selection.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsHutterite Families - Kinship Structure, The House Child, Kindergarten, School, Adolescence, Marriage, Fertility, Later Life