The Amish idea of family has been continuous since the 17th century. Amish communities place a high value on family, forming the key foundation of their society. Amish families are exclusively patriarchal. A typical Amish family comprises of a mother, a father and a few children. The extended family usually lives in close proximity and provides dependable support. Grand-parents are respected and are seen as knowledgeable, providing valuable advice. Our society doesn’t place such high values on family life, unlike the Amish. Western families are often fragmented and blended. My family, for example, consists of my mother, father, step father, step mother and half-sister, living in three separate houses. This is very different compared to the traditional Amish family. My mother’s house, where I spend most of my time is matriarchal. My extended family is spread out over three countries and I don’t have many connections with them.
During the late years of adolescence the Amish begin to start looking for a partner with the expectation to marry and procreate. There is generally no intermarriage, with Amish mostly marrying Amish. Divorce is not permitted and separation is very rare. The traditional Amish wedding is very plain and without the extravagance associated with a modern society wedding. The Amish don’t take photographs or have rings, flowers and catering, for instance and it is usually quite a small event, with the ceremony held in the bride’s house. In our society there are reduced expectations to marry and during adolescence marriage is not yet even considered and is illegal for under 16s. For example my parents never married and place no expectation on me to marry. We are able to marry whoever we wish, provided that they are not of the same gender. Divorce is common and accepted within our community. Almost all my friend’s parents are divorced. Western wedding ceremonies are quite extravagant, with the bride and groom spending thousands of dollars on the reception, photographers, catering and clothing.
Roles and status
Gender has a major influence on roles within the Amish community. Men have the dominant roles and women are denied equal access to power. Men are given leadership roles in the running of the church, whilst women are not permitted. This gender inequality is the same in most churches in both modern and past societies. In most Christian churches, for example, only men are eligible to become office holders or conduct services. Unlike in Amish communities, where women usually play the role of a housewife and men usually work on the farm, most women in our society work outside the home. In my family, for example, both of my parents have jobs, with my dad running his own business and my mother working for a government department. The idea of status is linked to the Ordnung in Amish communities. Status within our community is dependent on wealth, occupation and age.
Conflict, Cooperation and Decision making
My life and the life of the Amish depend greatly on cooperation, but whom we cooperate with is very different. I have to cooperate with my family, teachers, boss, work colleagues and peers, whereas an Amish teenager has to cooperate with their parents, church, community and obey the Ordnung. In comparison to our community the Amish are much stronger and closer. An example being the practice of ’barn raising’; the entire community works together to erect a barn, completing it in one day! Modernisation is one of the greatest causes of conflict in Amish communities. In many cases it impacts upon traditions. With American laws and regulations applying to Amish communities, many conflicts occur. For example the legal age for dropping out of school is 17, whereas the Amish complete schooling at 14. As long as I obey the NSW laws I stay out of conflict with the government. Without having religious rules to abide by, my life is mostly free of conflict. However, I do have the occasional fall out with my mother and sister, due to miscommunications and power struggles.
During rumschpringes, the Amish experience decision making and make major, life determining decisions. After experiencing rumschpringes, the Amish make the decision whether to be baptized and have a certain future or become part of the ‘English’ society and make their own future. Should they choose to become English, they are excommunicated from their Amish communities. The Amish religion is a guide and major influence on the decisions they make. Unlike the Amish, I am constantly making decisions such as how to dress. Without a religion to determine my decisions, I base my choices on my own morals.