Only Positive Please

I belong to a group where people can ask questions about the Amish. Most of our group members are former Amish from a variety of orders. A few members are English drivers for the Amish. I'm a "mom" to ex-Amish, helping many who are transitioning to the forbidden English life.

One day, a lady asked our group the question about how Amish parents discipline their children. Well, that's a loaded question! There was a firestorm of answers and stories.

Each order has different behaviors and group norms. Each family within an order has different ways to discipline. Some Ordnungs dictate how parents discipline while others don't address the subject.

A reasonable person cannot generalize Amish as great parents and suggest emulating their family values. Neither can a fair person say all Amish are negligent parents.

For seventeen years, I earned my living as a parenting "expert" speaking and writing to audiences. I've often coached parents with,

  • There's no one right way to discipline.
  • Different kids need different discipline. 
  • Kids feel loved when parents take time to set rules, boundaries, and limitations. 
  • The best parenting is a balance of rules and relationship.
So, I answered the lady's question by sharing about the Swartzentruber Order, of which I have many relationships and experiences. In this most reticent and remote order, birth control is verboten so women can have 12-19 children. Often the mother gives birth but the siblings raise the child. Consequently there's a wide chasm between parents and children. No meaningful relationship.

One ex-Amish man shared about his father who tied him to a fence post and beat him until the blood ran down his leg. And his mother, upon hearing him say a bad word, responded by kicking him in the groin! He didn't tell us his order.
After several answers to her question, this lady replied, "I'm pleased to hear from the ones who have positive things to say about their parents..."

Hear only positive things? Guess she won't read my good pal Kathi Macias' book Deliver Me From Evil about human trafficking or my friend Mary DeMuth who wrote of her childhood abuse in Thin Places.

Sadly, it happens and it's reality for some!

On this lady's behalf I'll confess, I didn't watch Schindler's List because it's so tragic and true. Nor did I watch any version of Titanic because, well, I know what happens at the end. I'm a compassionate, empathetic human and reading more about - or sitting for hours to watch - these disturbing, inhumane stories bothers me. For days. Sometime weeks!

It bothers me to know, hear stories, witness some Amish parents within the conservative Swartzentruber Order shun, beat, and belittle their children. Ignore birthdays. It crushes me to think that parents would mistreat their children - impressionable people - in such disrespectful ways. 

But it happens in Amish homes!

Our son-in-law Harvey is constantly sent mixed messages. First, his parents are nice to him when he visits the family farm. Then they refuse to include him in family weddings or reunions. His father - an Amish bishop - once told him, "I wish you hadn't been born." How do you get over that?

Sarah and Monroe's parents sent letters telling them they're not allowed home, unless they stay Amish. The Letter may be common among other Amish orders but, my experience is with Swartzentruber and some Old Order Amish (OOA).

Noah was repeatedly beaten with a buggy whip. Mosie with the rubber belt from an alternator. 

Uriah's dad burned his English-language Bible and told to stop talking to his siblings after he became a Christian. When he left the Amish, Uriah slept alone in a barn until he could locate cheap housing.

Dan's mother repeatedly burned his store-bought underwear. It was English. His Ordnung dictated the only "right" underwear and Dan sinned by buying convenient under garments.

I pray for, love, and encourage those brought across my path. Many have emotional bruises. Some function by suppressing their anger. Others act it out. Some survive by trying to forget.

And to those I don't know or will never meet, I pray that someone will stand in the gap to help! I don't know but, many Amish NOW may be in emotional, verbal, or sexual bondage at home. God holds me responsible only for what I know - or choose to acknowledge - and how I respond.

So I'll give grace to this woman who may be sensitive and empathetic, albeit in denial. 

There is ugliness in our world, and in the Amish world, too. To turn a blind eye to it and only want your eyes pleasured with romantic images is, as the Bible says, "sin." (James 4:17)
  • If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them. (NIV) 
  • Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. (NLT) 
  • So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (ESV)
How do you respond to what you have learned?

(C)Copyright, 2014. Brenda Nixon.


  1. The romanticizing of the Amish has kept the truth from being told. Thanks for your courage!

    I wrote a post on cults called "Sects and Violence." Virtually all cults keep their members in line with physical (and sometimes sexual) abuse. www.jameswatkins.com/cults.htm

    1. Thanks Jim, always appreciate you reading/learning/commenting on my blog. Uh, at times it is "courage" and at times it is "disbelief" and sometimes it is righteous indignation that makes me share the truth as I've experienced it.
      Best wishes on your post. I try to be reasonable & fair in saying that not all Amish are the same. It'd be as ridiculous for someone in Europe to say, "All Americans are the same." True respect is acknowledging that all cultures have strengths and weaknesses, good habits and injurious ones.

  2. I guess this is why my Amish novel, World's Apart, makes little headways in sales.

    1. Hmm, I don't know why this blog post (or maybe Jim's comment above) makes your novel have little headways in sales. Guess I don't get the connection but, I appreciate you reading it Jerry! Thanks.
      Perhaps since this is your first futuristicnovel, that your readers aren't used to it and they want the "old Jerry" back. In any event, best wishes from one author to another.

    2. The blog post brings up the reason why. People don't like negative/dark stories.

    3. Oh, OK. Yeh, well truth is sometimes ugly. Turning our eye to it is neither mature nor Christian. Not saying we must soak in the negative but, we must be realistic that it exists.

  3. Do you think some of these parents would be abusive whether or not they were Amish? I once read a memoir titled "fathermothergod" from a girl who grew up in a Christian Science home, and a reviewer said she felt the issue wasn't Christian Science, but the abusive nature of the father, and that he would have been abusive in any context. I'm not trying to excuse behavior, just wondering. I grew up in a fundamentalist home, and I came to believe that the doctrine of the particular denomination appealed to a certain type of person, particularly male.

    1. Provocative question Nancy. You're correct in that some parents would be abusive in any cultural or religious context.
      I know of abused children - and the abusive parent hides it well - in Christian homes. And the news has reported on beheadings of children in Muslim homes.
      One explanation may be, most Amish orders don't teach child development and parenting skills. And parenting styles are copied from one generation to the next; if a parent beats his children, then most likely the child, grown and now a parent, will beat his children. Unless the cycle is broken through counseling, education, conscious effort, and prayer most abused children will abuse. Dr. Karl Menninger said, "What is done to children, They will do to society."

      My point in this blog post is to remind readers that respect for a culture includes acknowledging both its admirable and deplorable qualities.

    2. And a good point that is, Brenda!

  4. I don't even know how to respond to this. I am also of the empathetic, sympathetic, can't-watch-violent-movies type. But I also believe in the truth that sets free. I wonder if there are Amish orders (or at least individual families) who decry this type of abuse or teach their children a better way?

    I'm learning so much from your blog, Brenda. I don't always like what I learn, but that doesn't mean I should avoid it. Again--the truth always sets free.

    1. To answer your question, if there are Amish orders (or at least individual families) who decry this type of abuse or teach their children a better way?, I asked ex-Amish Sarah W.
      Sarah W. answered, "I didn't. From my own family experience, the Bishop knowing about it doesn't do a damn good. All it does it make sure the whole church finds out about it because if the abuse is bad enough, the parents will be doing a confession in front of all the church members. But nothing is changed. The abuser will abuse again. He has no tools to change his behavior.
      Now, if I know about abuse I'd be reporting to the proper authorities."

      Marti, you have it straight from the horse's mouth - sorry, Sarah, just an expression. lol

    2. Former Amish, Lori, answered, " The abuse is hidden in so many ways. One old man can abuse every young girl in the church he lives in and when he gets caught, the church still shields him from the law. They said they would take care of it. Really?! How?! He's still on the street."

      And ex-Amish, Rebecca, answered you, "And if the abuser is reported the abuse might get worse cause the children have nowhere to go except leave the system and they have no clue how to do that or are too coached in the fearful consequences if they leave that they wouldn't dare..."

    3. I appreciate the continuing conversation. I always hesitate to point fingers because I know we have problems in our own churches--and yet, the ones who truly follow Christ also follow Him in their care for the "least of these." My heart and prayers go out to those who have suffered such hurt.

  5. Thanks again Brenda, I know about this all too well...


    This is an older video, probably like 20-30+ years old, but it shows the harsh reality of this situation.

    1. Joseph that video has nothing to do with Amish?

  6. Great post, Brenda. Standing with you, my friend! Life is tough and it's not fair...but God is good ALL the time! Love to you!

    1. Deeply appreciate your interest in & support for all facets of the Amish culture. Thanks for your support Kathi. I'm happy to recommend your book in this post & to recommend any of your many books!
      Yeh, life IS tough and it isn't easy to tell the truth. Especially when publishers of fiction are under-educated and want to keep their readers that way.

  7. I don't get the Amish, honestly. The more I read about them, the more it sounds like religion and lack of education is just a way to keep everyone under control. I'm not sure I would go so far as to call the Amish a religious cult, but honestly it has a lot of earmarks of one.

    I'm glad you're out there to help these kids. To show them that hard work is important, but that it pays off. To show them that it's okay to be appreciated and that it's not a sin to celebrate a birthday or accept a gift, or to show and be shown affection.

    1. People often refer to the Amish in terms of a religion, I prefer to call it a culture. Truth is, in many of the Amish orders I experience, true religion isn't a part of their daily life - rigid rules are. Lack of education (8th grade only) is one way to narrow their opportunities outside the culture.
      Thanks Babs for your genuine interest in learning more about the Amish. Of course, there are many Amish orders so I encourage you to continue your learning quest by reading more non-fiction and joining some ex-Amish groups on Fb.
      Of those I have in my home, I do show them that it's okay to be appreciated - I give lots of "mom" hugs and hope to make a positive difference in their lives. We give each a birthday party and include ex-Amish in our holiday celebrations.

  8. It's difficult to understand values and relationships in other cultures. Interactions within Amish family groups are probably as varied as in any other group. Everyone has heard the horror stories about every culture. However, I find this kind of behavior specifically in the name of any religion to be disturbing. Calling it ironic doesn't describe the depth of what goes on, but this behavior Brenda writes about seems more culture driven than sociopathic. I'm not even sure that accurately conveys my take on what I've read. Evidently, this sect relies more on and is more concerned about the religious aspect of their culture than it does on the family as an independent and willing contributor to that religion.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Tony. It reminds me of the scripture, "he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." Ecclesiastes 1:18.
      Unfortunately, there are those who are contented in their lack of knowledge. I guess if they don't know, they don't have to feel responsible to act.

  9. Brenda, you have a unique ministry and it encourages me to see you follow God's leading, no matter how hard or difficult it is. I applaud you for shining light into the dark places. :) Blessings, friend, as you lead by grace.

  10. What a story Brenda. I commend you and your family in this ministry. I have to admit I was kinda shocked to hear this. Amish Fiction is so popular now and most of it is idealized to the point of making it sound like paradise. Many people today are looking for a simpler way of living and the Amish Fiction books give that to readers. Thank you for opening my eyes to some of the facts of particular orders of the Amish. I found it interesting that you said their is not so much a religion, but rules that "rule" their everyday life. I see where you get calling it a culture instead of a religion. Once again keep up the good work.

  11. Ah ha, you're an active learner Deborah. Thanks for reading & leaving your comments! It's encouraging to me to have people read & those who take time to leave a comment are extra specia.
    It was a Mennonite author, Doris Janzen Longacre, who observed, "The trouble with simple living is that, though it can be joyful, rich, & creative, it isn't simple."

    Stay up-to-date with the stories by subscribing to my blog. Enter your email in the right column & voila, each post will conveniently come to your inbox.

  12. Brenda, I agree with Jim--I admire your courage in speaking the truth so clearly and lovingly even though it may offend those who are only interested in an idealized version. God has certainly placed you in a unique ministry that gives you firsthand opportunity to see the reality. Praise Him for using you to help guide precious souls into a personal relationship with Him! I've been meaning to subscribe to your newsletter and finally did it just now. Looking forward to reading more so I can uphold you and your ministry in prayer.

    1. Hello Brenda,
      I have been reading your blog all day and all I can say is you are a blessing to a lot of Amish children that needs someone that cares and you are doing that.
      God Bless
      Charlie Huff

    2. Reading my blog all day? So that's how you spent your snowy day. Thanks much!