by Suzanne Woods Fisher
"The kind of ancestors you have is not as important as the ones your children have."
Not long ago, I was asked to speak to a young mothers’ group. The topic focused on incorporating some Amish child-rearing values into today’s modern families without “going Amish.” Later, a woman approached me to share a story. Attached like Velcro to her knee was a two-year-old girl, her curly-haired daughter. “Just last week,” this woman said, “a friend told me that I really need to have more scheduled activities for my little girl. We do attend a Gymboree class once a week, but that’s not enough, this friend said. She thinks I should sign my daughter up for soccer.”
Soccer? For two-year-olds? They haven’t even learned to count yet. How do they even keep score?
On the drive home, I mulled over the conversation with that young mom—a window into the kind of stress families are facing. Over-the-top pressure to be a success! This mom had been a college soccer player, so there was a part of her that wondered if her daughter might have a better shot at an athletic scholarship someday if she started now. But there’s a cost to that logic—a “disappearing childhood.”
Studies are finding some alarming trends in modern American families. In the past twenty years:
• children’s free time has declined by twelve hours a week;
• time spent on structured sports activities has doubled;
• family dinners are down by a third; and
• the number of families taking vacations together has decreased by 28 percent
The decline in family time, this study found, coincided with a rise in internet use and the popularity of social networks. Whether it’s around the dinner table or just in front of the TV, American families are spending less time together.
Let’s contrast those alarming trends to the Amish, who maintain one of the strongest and most stable family systems in America. New studies are finding that major depression occurs only one-fifth to one-tenth as often among Amish as it does among the rest of the US population. The Amish have close to a percent divorce rate. Harvard School of Medicine recently found that Amish people have a much lower rate of heart disease than do average Americans. Another new study found that they have lower rates of cancer.
Few people are aware that the Amish are the fastest-growing population in the United States. In 1900, there were five thousand Old Order Amish in America. Sociologists assumed they would assimilate into the wider culture. Yet by 2008, according to Donald B. Kraybill, Senior Fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, there were over 233,000 Old Order Amish. And half the population is under eighteen. The growth is coming from large families, with an 85 to 90 percent retention rate as children become baptized into the church as young adults.
The Amish seem to be doing something right.
So should we all “go Amish”? Of course not! However, there is much we can learn from these gentle people about raising our families well: to help prioritize what’s truly important, to simplify decision making, to slow down as a family, to safeguard time together, and when age-appropriate, to let go.
This excerpt is taken with permission from Amish Values for Your Family (Revell), a book that invites you into Amish farmhouses for a hearty meal, to explore the topic of rearing children who are “in the world but not of it”.
Suzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling author of books about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books. She has a free downloadable app, Amish Wisdom, for iPhone or Android, that delivers a daily Amish proverb. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find Suzanne on-line at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com.