Monday, October 17, 2011

Parenting Values

Each family unit and culture has a value system. And just as there's no one "right" way to discipline, I maintain there's no one "right" way to raise children. Choose what you want.

However, my heart aches when I see American writers and their publishers perpetuate a one-sided, romanticized view of a culture that - by and large - has children because it's required by tradition, often views women as persons "to breed," neglects teaching daily hygiene, does not nurture a close relationship with children, requires parental obedience to the point that children cannot question incest, withholds verbal or physical affirmation, uses whips and belts in corporal punishment, prohibits children from learning beyond 8th grade, raises kids to fail outside their own culture (for some, no birth certificate exists), and in the most conservative groups practices the emotional torture of shunning children who disobey or leave their community.
I'm talking about the Amish culture. And I've seen books showcasing only the best qualities of the Amish, which is fine but one-sided.

Now I recognize that many authors are somewhat acquainted with progressive sects (there are more than 15), and paint a romanticized sweeping image of the "simple" life. But just use caution because any family, culture, society has some dysfunction; none is perfect.

If you truly aspire to make Amish family values your own, do not shave any part of your body, hug your children, take them regularly to the dentist, or send them to college. Read your Bible in German ("the true language"), suppress your feelings and opinions, and discourage independent thinking. And be sure to impose conformity at the cost of community discipline. Many Amish children are empty, lonely, confused, sad, suppressed and struggle with the ability to bond due to a minimal relationship with their parents. A more thorough look into that culture's "family values" keep me from admiring them or making them right for my family.

Now before you ask, "Why do you think you have the right to counter most of the public's admiration of the Amish?" I work intimately with a service to Amish, am the English (non-Amish) mom to a son who is shunned by his "loving" Amish family, have a dear son-in-law whose father is an Amish Bishop, and I live in Ohio home to the largest number of Amish settlements nationwide. On a daily basis I interact with precious former-Amish who, after realizing we value human emotions, and invite transparency and honesty in communication, tell it like it is . . . and was for them. Have I received harsh criticism and unjust treatment from authors, their agents, and publishers who don't appreciate my experiences or me sharing what's inside the image? You bet! But the point here is, be wise when you feel persuaded to make an idealized value system your own.

Bottom line: For your child's health, safety, and emotional maturity, I encourage you to hug and touch your child; the human body was made to respond to touch. The metabolism of preterm infants increases when they experience skin-to-skin contact from parents. I suggest giving your child opportunities to choose; children who are allowed to choose colors and clothes and participate in some decision-making have more confidence. I hope, if you value learning, you welcome your child's questions and attempts to seek knowledge. And I deeply yearn for parents to give unconditional love; that means you may not like your kid's behavior but you always love and support them. Enjoy the freedom to choose how you express these fundamental childrearing skills.

Now that's good parenting!


Joe Keim said...

I'm guessing that most people who read this article will feel surprised and possibly even doubt what Brenda wrote is all true. However, consider that Brenda has been actively involved in reaching out to many of the ones who have left the Amish culture during the past 4-5 years. And as you can see, her eyes have been opened to the truths of what goes on in far too many Amish families.

Rather than just ignore Brenda's knowledge and experiences, consider reading some of the testimonies that were written by those who left the Amish. Go to

It is also important to understand, not all Amish families can be placed in the same category. There are approximately 20 different sects, scattered throughout 30 states. These sects vary from extreme legalism to liberal. When I say liberal, I mean they drive cars and have phones and computers in their home.

I would like to thank Brenda for taking the time to share some of the dark side of Amish life. What she writes in her blog will not be read in any of the bonnet books. Reason being, most of the fictional bonnet books are driven by money and what readers want to hear.

Joe Keim
Executive Director, Mission to Amish People

Dee Yoder said...

I agree, Brenda. With my family's work among the former Amish, we, too, have seen the effects of a parenting choice that limits children's options to grow into the wonderful adults God created them to be. It becomes an uphill battle, once a young person leaves the Amish culture, to become productive citizens since so many opportunities that most American children have inherited simply by being born in America, have been stringently limited by the Amish communities they come from. Though many former Amish miss the farming lifestyle, they often do not miss the constant pressures to live the Amish life according to their local churches standards. There is good and bad among the Amish, as is true in every culture. It's best for the English reader to remember this the next time they are tempted to buy into the premise that ALL things Amish must be good. The simple life of the Amish turns out to be anything but simple once you scratch beneath the surface tranquility charmingly presented to the outside world. Balance of view should be respected in this culture, as in any culture.

Teresia said...

Brenda: Your writings about the Amish value system were a real eye-opener to me. Like many, I accepted the romanticized view of this culture based on movies, lovely bucolic photos, and popular literature. I am disturbed by how some family members, especially young people, are treated with what I consider cruelty. I do understand that this is one segment of the community and do not want to paint everyone with the same paintbrush. Thank you Brenda, for opening up this issue for consideration and for reaching out to hurting individuals. This is a subject I will continue to follow.

Anonymous said...

My father is my best earthly friend, it is a must have relationship. Children are raised as Godly children when parents truly nurture there children in a culture of family and love.

Lisa Tharp said...

As someone who has lived near Amish and Amish communities my entire life, I agree with Brenda that the Amish life, on the surface looks picture perfect and a life filled with tranquility. Not exactly true. Even though I tend to seek out some of the Amish made products and love the summer months when they have their roadside produce stands where I can buy "sweet potato squash" and other types of produce no one else seems to grow, I always wonder if the Amish think that we "english" are ignorant to their ways. Have you ever noticed how Amish children seldom smile, and seem awkward when they are spoken to by the English? I have to think that their parents influence them about the English - telling them that the English are someone that you sell goods to, but don't get in a conversation with them - "they might figure us out". Great Food for thought, Brenda!

Robert Bruce Fruehling said...

If what I have heard is true Brenda, it would explain alot. I have heard that the Amish do not make profession of faith because that would be "vain". Have you ever heard this? Of course Scripture says "not by works less any man should boast". Good Article.

Edy said...

A religion or culture based on works and not on the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is headed for failure, of all kinds. God does not squelch our freedoms, but woos us to choose him out of love. A works-based religion is conditional love, not like God's