I am fascinated with what I’ve
learned about the lives of my Amish friends. Like many outsiders, I
expected the women to be downtrodden and overworked. I expected their
days to be filled with never ending drudgery brought on by too many
children and too few conveniences. I felt sorry for them in so many
ways. That they weren’t allowed to drive cars, use electricity, or wear
pretty clothes saddened me.
I went into my relationship with
Amish women filled with respectful but free-floating sympathy for them.
Now, after several years of close contact, I’m a little envious. Here’s
1) Amish men’s work ethic: One would think that the
emphasis on husbands being the leader in the home would oppress the
women. From what I’ve seen, the opposite is true because of the
enormous accountability within the Amish church. Not only is a man
expected to be sexually faithful for life and treat his family well, he
is also to provide for his family—enough that the wife is free to stay
home and raise the children. The Amish learn from an early age to be
hard workers. If an able-bodied Amish man were to choose not to support
his family, the church bishop would meet with him about it. If a young
man has a problem finding work, the network of Amish friends and family
will help find him one. Or they will help him create one. In the Amish
homes I’ve stayed in a mutual respect between husbands and wives for
one another’s roles as prescribed by their culture is evident. He makes
the living. The wife’s job is to manage the money well. She usually has
a small home business on the side once the children are older and can
help. Most of the Amish women I know feel some pity for working Englisch
mothers who leave their children with babysitters every day.
2) Amish women’s rich, multigenerational, social lives:
They are so incredibly connected to one another that I’m usually left
confused from trying to decipher their web of relationships. Someone’s
having a baby or is ill? Half a dozen friends help out with food,
housecleaning, or child care. No one in need is ever left to struggle
alone. When there isn’t a need, they simply enjoy one another’s
company. Morning “coffees” in one another’s homes is frequent and
3) Close-knit families: One family of six grown
sisters I know takes turns hosting lunch for the others and include
their mother and sisters-in-law. These gatherings are riotous, happy
events with children being passed from one sister’s lap to another.
Shopping is almost always a social event as well, especially if the
stores are far enough away to warrant hiring an English driver. Picnic
baskets are packed, phone calls made to fill the van with friends and
relatives. To someone who has known the isolation of living in a city
with no relatives and only nominal friends, this is impressive.
4) Shared work: Events like hosting church or
weddings always involve a “work frolic,” complete with plenty of
friends to clean the house from top to bottom at least once a year. To
the Amish, work is a “frolic” because there are so many hands to help
and so much fun and laughter while working.
5) Plain clothing is freeing: An Amish woman can
whip up a new, simple dress in an afternoon. Not only is it
inexpensive, but no time is wasted worrying about what to wear or being
in style. As long as their dresses fit the unifying Ordnung (rules) of
their particular church, they’re good to go.
6) Different grooming expectations: No makeup to
apply. No hairstyles to worry about. No jewelry to match to outfits. An
Amish woman can throw on a simple dress, don a fresh white prayer kapp,
and look as pristine and pretty as a picture.
7) Magazine-perfect homes not expected: Their homes
are plain, comfortable, and utilitarian. There is no pressure to turn
it into a work of art. I have never had an Amish woman apologize to me
for her home. Many of my friends do that habitually. I did, too—until I
spent time with the Amish and discovered that I would much rather feel
welcome than be impressed by someone’s decorating scheme.
8) Lots of time outdoors. Flowers and gardening are
important, along with caring for animals. They live a natural and
9) Lack of TV and computers: Amish children, from
what I’ve seen, are well behaved. I think part of that good behavior
comes from the lack of these two items in their lives. Without electric
lights, they go to bed early and everyone gets a good night’s sleep
instead of staying up late and waking up tired.
10) No CNN: They lack “the sky is falling”
mentality. I believe it is because they do not live on a constant diet
of news programs. They deal with people on a personal and local basis.
If a tornado takes a neighbor’s barn, the Amish are there to help, but
they don’t obsess over bad things happening far away. This adds to the
peace I feel in their homes and see in their lives.
11) A nice culture in which to grow old: Amish
people rarely end up in nursing homes. They usually move into a daadi-haus,
or “grandfather’s house,” that is built next door to many of the large
homes. There they continue to work in whatever capacity they can, while
teaching their grandchildren and advising their grown children. They
are valued in their families and community for their wisdom and
12) One percent divorce rate: Marrying for life is
taken seriously. This creates great emotional security for the parents
as well as the children. Amish seldom deal with divorce turmoil.
13) Lack of litigation: The Amish do not sue.
Instead, they foster a spirit of forgiveness. I’m sure it is not always
easy, but there is wisdom in this. I can see how it would be
potentially freeing to erase the idea of litigation from one’s life.
Do I want to convert? No, but I
believe the Amish can teach us what we can incorporate in our lives
without “going Amish”:
Fostering simplicity within our
Nurturing a culture of forgiveness and respect
Valuing our elderly
Frugality leading to a freedom from want
Believing that God is ultimately in control
Living a slower lifestyle
Freeing ourselves from TV and Internet addiction
Living outdoors as much as possible
Creating stronger bonds between women
Spending time around the dinner table, getting caught up on one
Committing to marriage and family through integrity and keeping
promises, not relying on “feelings”
None of these things require
driving horses and buggies, wearing beards and bonnets, or giving up
I have a friend who runs a bed
breakfast in Holmes County and also drives for the Amish. She and I
have laughed together about how much we have been changed by our
with our Amish friends. For instance, I planted a garden
this year. I’m not at all proficient at gardening, but after watching
my Amish friends happily setting out plants, I was hungry to dig in the
soil. After experiencing the joy of communicating around an Amish
dinner table, my husband, son, and I try harder to eat together every
night. I have found myself using less makeup. I don’t bother with
acrylic nails and manicures anymore. Some women enjoy this. I do not,
so I gave myself permission to stop. I have been purposefully creating
more time to enjoy friends. I’ve simplified my wardrobe. I’m
systematically ridding myself of unnecessary possessions. My home is
becoming less cluttered and more useful.
In other words, as I’ve studied
and observed the Amish to write well-researched books, the Amish have
remained exactly the people they were when I met them. I have
changed—in many healthy and positive ways.
Serena Miller and her
minister/carpenter husband live in a southern Ohio farming community.
She was delighted when an Amish settlement formed not far from her home
and has enjoyed getting to know these hard-working people. Her novel,
An Uncommon Grace, explores the world inside the most conservative
Amish sect of all—the Swartzentrubers. Her upcoming novel, Hidden
Mercies, was inspired by a close friend who is a practicing Old Order