Work is primary in Amish life. If you want to eat, you raise your food. If you want clothing, you sew it. If you want to buy something, you make sure you have the money to pay for it. If you do not have, or cannot borrow, the money, you do not buy it. Everything is labor-intensive and involves everyone, from toddlers to great-grandparents.
The Amish are also literal and concrete, disregarding anything abstract or metaphysical. Even their religion is expressed in tangible ways, nothing is spiritualized.
Because that same Amish logic is innate in me, it carried on to my children. I did not realize how different, and apparently, how unusual that was until an interview with our local insurance agent.
My husband and I showed up for a scheduled appointment to make some changes or other to one of our insurance policies but instead of getting right to the point as he usually did, the agent said, “Before we get started, I want to congratulate you on having raised a very responsible son.”
I looked at my husband and he looked at me then we both looked at the agent, “Well, thank you, but why do you say that? How do you know anything about our son?”
“I don’t really, but he was in here the other week arranging for an insurance policy for his car so I needed his age and was completely surprised to hear that he was only seventeen.”
“But I still don’t know why that indicates responsibility,” I stammered.
“Well, because if I hadn’t had to ask his age, I’d never have believed he was only seventeen. He handled himself more maturely than most seventeen-year-olds I know and he knew all about insurance policies and exactly what sort he wanted. Oh, and he rattled off all the info about his car without any hesitation.”
Then he added, “And that is very unlike most people twice his age.”
“Well, he’s into cars and machinery of any kind,” I said. “And he wanted a car so we told him he had to get it street-legal too.”
Partly because of the afore-mentioned Amish logic, my husband and I had decided that even if we could afford to buy our children everything they wanted, it was not practical or rational to do so. If they were going to become independent responsible adults then it was only logical and practical that they learn how things work in the ‘real’ world.
From the time they were preschoolers, then, they helped us with whatever chores they could. When they got old enough, we became their employers. They received on-the-job training and payment for satisfactorily completed chores. When they became teenagers, they bought and paid for their own clothes, school supplies, and desired-related things. We also told them we would provide a vehicle for them to share but if they couldn’t make that work, they would need to buy their own. In short, we gave them age-appropriate responsibilities as soon as possible.
By the time he was seventeen our son had saved enough to buy a twenty-year-old VW from my father. I do not recall ever hearing where or how he learned about insurance policies and required coverage but I was not surprised to hear that he knew everything about that car. He spent all his spare time in it.
After mulling over that insurance agent’s observation, it became clear that the Amish-logic-gene had given our children a sense of independence, personal responsibility, and accountability that was, according to that insurance agent at least, all too rare. Additionally, the dual emphasis of doing it right and earning money to buy what they wanted led to the Amish work ethic, and that too, seems all too rare these days.
But that’s a story for another day . . .