R & R Parenting II

“John smacked up his car again,” my husband said as he unpacked his lunchbox.

“What do you mean he smacked up his car again,” I asked in disbelief. “Was anyone hurt? I didn’t know he had another car. I thought he couldn’t afford to buy one after his last accident.”

“Yeah, but I guess he must have found some money somewhere,” he said. “I don’t know how he did it but apparently he found some wheels again.”

“Did he do it legally this time? Did he get insurance and a driver’s license?” I responded, knowing that John, an Amish teenager, had been naïve enough to think the ‘worldly’ rules didn’t apply to him even though he’d decided to live the ‘worldly’ way during his rumspringa years.

“I don’t know about any of that,” my husband said, “I only know that nobody was hurt but there was enough property damage that this time the cops got involved.” [pullquote]Rumspringa, after all, was all about disregarding rules, wasn’t it?[/pullquote]

In R & R Parenting I, I wrote that parenting, in any culture or ethnic group, is a complex biological process compounded by all manner of abstract factors, but at the conceptual level it is about helping children to become responsible and responsive adults. I also implied that many Amish parents are good at raising children to become responsive adults, to live in community, but that they are not as good at raising responsible adults.

You see, an Amish adult is one who views their religious beliefs and traditions as paramount so a responsible Amish adult is one who lives according to their rules and regulations—the Ordnung. As parents then, they focus on raising children who are obedient to both parents and that all-important Ordnung, and who know almost nothing about life in the non-Amish world.

But they do have the infamous rumspringa concept.

Rumspringa is reserved for the teenage years. It is the concept that for a few years, parents and the Ordnung-enforcers (No, this is not the Amish Mafia!) look the other way while teenagers get those dreaded rebellious tendencies out of their systems before settling down to tradition, marriage, and family.

As was the case with John (not his real name) and his parents.

John apparently had no problem acquiring worldly clothes and a smart phone, and like most teens, he was soon proficient and addicted to the joys of web browsers and social media sites. But, when he decided he also wanted to get a vehicle, he did not realize that he needed to jump through a lot more hoops.

His horse only needed a stable, harness, and feed, all of which was provided by his father. While he did have a buggy-loan, it was financed by the manufacturer, a fellow Amishman who charged low interest rates, and it did not require state-regulated registration fees or liability insurance policies. Nor did he need to acquire that one essential laminated card to drive it. Jumping into a motorized vehicle and ‘slapping its reins’ was a totally different matter, at least if done legally.

John, like many others, decided that while he might live in the world, he did not live like the world, therefore, the world’s rules, regulations, and legalities did not necessarily apply to him. He was only conducting an experiment. Why go to all the time, effort, and expense of following silly worldly rules? Rumspringa, after all, was all about disregarding rules, wasn’t it?

Consequently, John managed to find a cheap set of motorized wheels, drove it for a short while then smacked it up. It sat at a garage waiting until he had enough money to pay for repairs, but as soon as he got it on the road again, he totaled it.

Sometime later, he got another vehicle and had now smacked that one up too. And this time, the cops got involved so despite John’s notions about worldly rules, he was now at the mercy of worldly law.

John’s parents differed in their response. His father yelled and kicked him out of the house when he didn’t submit to authority. His mother wrung her hands and pleaded with him. He heeded neither.

He left his horse, buggy, and clothes behind and found himself a place to live, with a single mother and her teenage children, and continued on his reckless path.

So is rumspringa a step in the responsible-parenting process or not?

If a responsible person is someone who takes responsibility for their own actions and accepts the consequences and outcomes of mistakes and foolish choices, then John’s parents did exactly the right thing. They did not interfere or intervene and they certainly did not try to fix John’s mistakes or fund his rebellious lifestyle. Whether or not their rumspringa method was successful remains to be seen.

Has this discussion, though, come full circle? Are we to conclude that the Amish are perhaps better at responsible parenting than many non-Amish whose parenting styles vary from lax leniency to benign neglect to careless indifference? Which parenting style leads to this current generation’s attitude of entitlement? Is active involvement in a child’s life necessary for that child to develop self-control and grow into a responsive responsible adult? Or, is the current sense of entitlement an inevitable outcome of permissive Western individualism? What do you think?


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