Reader Read This (More Than Happy) The Wisdom of Amish Parenting by Serena B. Miller with Paul Stutzman


I started a reading challenge this summer, and had a nice long list of books I wanted to read. I still have the list. I KEEP ADDING TO IT. But, life happens, and mostly I open a book at the end of the night only to hear it’s thump on the floor five minutes after I began reading it…This is a very busy time of life, and I’m most often ready for sleep when my head hits the pillow. This book: More Than Happy, came along at just the right time. I picked it up at the library and started right in. I haven’t set it down since. Sometimes carrying it in my diaper bag, other times carving out a minute to read while waiting in the car…Anyhow, I think it’s packed with wonderful thoughts from a community that puts family first, and strives for forgiveness. It’s really a beautiful book, and I hope you get a chance to read it!

There were many favorite chapters in this book, based on the real-life experiences of writer, Serena B. Miller, who noticed how content Amish children were when she was researching her recent novel, and wanted to figure out why…Before we get too far in this, I want to make sure you know I have no desire to become Amish, nor do I believe that the Amish are in any way perfect! I do see the value at looking at their way of life and taking ideas that align with what you & I both know is right. The Amish faith is similar to ours. They are Christians, believe in the Trinity, read scripture often, and have a set of rules that help them stay separate from the world and close to God and their families. They put up a high bar when it comes to service in their community, and they always take care of their family. My most favorite chapter was “Marriage in a Horse and Buggy Society,” where the author does an excellent job of clarifying the high calling that is marriage, and even more what this unique society does to uphold its beauty. I can’t resist sharing a couple tidbits: the Amish couple-to-be helps set up, and prepare for their wedding right alongside their families. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see them  as a force during clean up afterwards. Their wedding gifts are practical household items, and best of all: the wedding ceremony is a recounting of all the Biblical marriages down through the ages. And family stories of all the couples that set the example for the community. I thought that was beautiful.

The Amish have a strict dress code. At first I thought this would be a burden to the Amish women, especially when it comes to being a young bride! But, in slowly unpacking the goals of the Amish, it begins to all make sense. This is about a wonderful Amish couple named John and Mary: “A more secure life does not necessarily mean a bigger house or a deeper bank account. His greatest dream is to figure out a way to make his living entirely upon their hilly acreage. This is the ideal for Amish fathers, the life towards which most strive. The best life, in an Amish man’s mind, is one in which he has meaningful work that puts him in close daily contact with his wife and children.” There are several principles that really speak volumes. And I want more than anything to begin to incorporate these ideals more in my own life and model them to my children. Here they are in no particular order:

Uffgevva: “loosely translated, it means that you are less important than others. Amish children are taught from an early age, by example as well as words, that their needs and wants are important, but not more important than those of the family, the church, and the community. It is the exact opposite of individualism, which is what most American children are taught, and it is the exact opposite of what most American adults believe.” This important principle is why Amish children as young as two are given jobs around the house and farm. It is understood that to feel needed, all people should have real work. It also explains why grandmothers and grandfathers go first in the potluck line. They teach respect intentionally, at all times.

Gelassenheit: “the Amish acceptance of life… similar to uffgevva in that it is a giving up of will, but it holds within it the concept of totally giving up one’s will to God. It is the idea of seeking and accepting His will in every aspect of life. It is easier to accept grief, for instance, when one believes God has a bigger plan that He has put into place for our ultimate good.”This a difficult one, but you can see that the principles work together. If we surrender ourselves and our families to Gods will, even if that means difficulties– we will grow closer to God, and more peaceful.

Hochmut: “Avoiding hochmut absolutely permeates Amish culture. It is for instance, hochmut to boast about one’s biblical knowledge, or to praise a child’s beauty or intelligence. Amish parents would never put a sticker on the back of their buggy proclaiming to the world that their child was an honor student. To do so would be hochmut. It would embarrass them….For several decades now, the need to give children a good self image has been drummed into parental consciousness, and we have responded in an interesting way. We have assumed that those children who are told that they are special and intelligent and gifted, who are showered with words of praise and approval and given trophies for their shelves and certificates for their walls will be happy and content and possessed of a healthy self image. Therefore, one could assume that Amish children who are taught that their wants and needs are not more important than others, children who are not constantly praised and who will never receive something as hochmut as a trophy, would struggle with poor self image, depression, eating disorders, social maladjustment, feelings of inferiority, and a general lack of self confidence. That is not what has happened.The Amish suicide rate is less than half of the national average. Surveys have also shown that Amish teenagers have a healthier and more satisfied view of their bodies than English teens. Anorexia and bulimia are virtually non-existent. So are unemployment and homelessness. Obesity is much rarer among the Amish, and a survey of Amish women in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, concluded that on the whole, Amish women perceive themselves as happier, more content, and less stressed than those in a similar study of Englisch women.” So…they re doing something right. All this thoughtful and selfless behavior that the Amish teach to their children through word and deed- can it really be more satisfying than being praised night and day like our American children?

I am thinking that even though I do see many families serving the poor and we try to do little corporal works of mercy whenever we get a chance….there is always more we can do- and it’s a beautiful church that truly embraces this concept. I wonder how many conversions we would see if we all committed to living this way? Would we be happier or have happier children? I think my children are very happy most of the time, except when they aren’t. Their most common complaint is that they want to have friends over, or want to go do something. They couldn’t possibly be BORED with all the toys we have, let alone siblings, pets, and a big backyard! But somehow that ungrateful bug can creep in, and during those moments I am left to wonder: am I making my children’s life TOO GOOD? I never suffered poverty growing up, but my mom and I will joke that we were like the Amish, and led a very simple life. Christmas’s were homemade, toys were sleds, tree forts, and bikes, and my most prized possessions were made by mom and grandma–  “little house on the prairie” dresses and dolls. I really did value the outdoors and the time with my three siblings playing outside for hours on end. We had entire universes of pretend. Literally. We invented a spaceship from a tree fort and had communications with the other side! It was a blessing that our parents understood the need for us to spend those long hours outside. I recently read somewhere that if a child gets told to play something, it loses it’s ability to be real play. It’s when children decide what to play and how to play it that it becomes a real educational experience. I also was not immune to the ungrateful bug, and have memories of wanting to buy a Saint Alexis sweatshirt from my elementary school, it felt like all the kids were getting them, and my dad sat me down and said: we cannot buy you that sweatshirt because it’s too expensive. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now! Children may not understand completely what is best for them, even if they have very strong opinions of what they want. I feel like the modern view of child rearing is actually disrespectful of the child in that we give them the decision making power of a young adult when they are toddlers. It’s too much control for them to use wisely, and there is nothing more obnoxious then to be bossed around by a three year old. We can be gentle but firm. Repeat it with me: God gave ME this child to raise, I can be in charge and still give choices, I can be gentle but firm. I heard some one say the most loving people they know are the most boundaried. I agree with this thought, and would like to study up on how I can use good healthy boundaries with my children more effectively. A suggested idea that I really like: with your husband, make up the rules for your home. Write them down and post them. Have your children memorize them. The first step to having good boundaries is to define for those around you what to expect. What are our goals, what is our family mission? The Amish are very clear about this, and they are not afraid to punish a kid who disobeys the rules…

One Amish father said, “A wise parent learns his child, and what works with that child. God made each person different, and I believe families work best when the punishment is tailored to the individual child….Whatever punishment is decided upon, it must be carried out consistently.”I will take this advice, and pray for the courage to be consistent! What an incredible gift it is to be a parent, and also a lot of work. The follow through is certainly the most difficult part of discipline- but also the most fruitful. If we desire well behaved content children like the Amish- we have to be willing to put in the time and effort.

“Television, computers, and cell phones. Most Amish do not allow these items in their homes or lives, nor do they allow themselves the luxury of being connected to the power grid. They do not believe that God will strike them down for indulging in these things. They do believe, however, that owning technology can cause enormous damage to a family, not only because of some of the ungodly things that appear on the internet and television, but because it distracts the parents from the important job of raising and teaching their children.

I’ve spent several nights with my Old Order Amish friends and one thing that is noticeably different from our Englisch culture is that the family tends to spend the evening together in the same room. At dusk, kerosene lamps or a more powerful gas-powered light will be lit in the living room. Whereas electricity tends to distribute the family all over the house, a lack of electricity draws them closer together, kind of like moths to a flame.”

I think the beautiful picture this book paints is one of a world where children are given a certain priority because their whole lives are centered around family. There are few distractions for the parents, and the babies clearly lavish the unending attention and care. I found it interesting that the Amish only are required to go to school through eighth grade, at which point most of them have no trouble finding good jobs. The author interviewed several employers of local businesses that frequently hired Amish workers, and was surprised to find out that their lack of education didn’t get in their way of getting a job or keeping it. “They have a great attitude, a lot of skill, and they actually know how to work, she says, Amish kids show up on time, they have a lot of common sense, and they don’t steal. They’re not covered in tattoos and most of them are sober and drug-free. What employer in their right mind wouldn’t want that?” Apparently, in these areas heavily populated with the Amish, its often difficult for Englisch teens to get hired when there are so many Amish to choose from!

When Serena asked one of the Keim Lumber owners what the Amish do exactly to instill this wonderful work ethic in their children, his answer is the best ever. “In my family, it is my wife, she is the one who is with the children all day and she teaches them constantly. I’m amazed at what she accomplishes. She always goes the extra mile in making sure they know how to do things…..In Amish society the children get up early and have chores. It gives them a purpose for existing. In Englisch society they get up and watch cartoons. Reality versus make-believe. It definitely makes a difference in their work ethic as well as their worldview….The impact of all that training teaches children what it feels like to think that ‘I am a useful, necessary part of my community and my family.’ That is a good feeling, and it is an important gift to give a child.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Tell me, what have you read lately?



2 Comments on “Reader Read This (More Than Happy) The Wisdom of Amish Parenting by Serena B. Miller with Paul Stutzman

  1. What a great reminder of what childhood should be like! Thank you!

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