Family Life: The Problem Corner

Family Life, in print since 1968, is one of the most widely-read Amish publications (circulation for 2010 was a reported 31,000).  You won’t find Family Life in all Amish homes, but you will in many, if not a majority of Amish households.

Family Life Plain Amish PublicationOne of the most interesting  parts of the periodical is a regular feature called “The Problem Corner”.   It’s essentially an advice column where readers generate the answers to a question or issue posed by a fellow reader.

“The Problem Corner” appears once every 2 or 3 months and features one question and usually 6-10 responses (and sometimes more).  They are sometimes narrow issues, but more often general problems of wider concern.

Questions may be directed to Amish readers, or more often, couched in a manner in which they can apply to all Christians.

Cornering Problems

Here are a few examples from the past year’s worth of issues, along with excerpts of some of the answers:

1) Can anyone explain the difference between forgiving oneself for past mistakes or merely excusing oneself? (February 2013)

  • “The phrase “forgiving yourself”, like many popular phrases, is somewhat misleading.  Forgiveness is about relationships.  When a person asks forgiveness and receives it, a relationship is restored.  This is not something that operates within a person.”
  • “It is with deepest sympathy that I pick up my pen to write.  Until recently, I battled with just the thing you described…I found no relief until I was treated for depression.  Then the relief was unbelievable.”
  • “In forgiving, it is imperative to be honest with God and with oneself about the facts.  Then we must accept God’s grace and forgiveness as being for us personally.  When we accept that God has forgiven us and we believe that He loves us truly, it makes it much easier to “forgive” ourselves.”

2) In our community many people make a living building fancy homes for the wealthy.  Many of these jobs are gotten through contacts with designers and architects who include eye-pleasing extras in the latest trends.  Is this violating our Christian principles? … There seems to be a popular mindset that if we build something for those outside the church, and take no pride in it, there is nothing wrong with doing so, regardless what it is.  Is it still possible to live humbly as pilgrims and strangers if we have such an occupation? (August/September 2012)

  • “In answer to your question, I find it a gift of God to be a craftsman, although we are in carpentry instead of cabinetry…There are some occupations that most of our people would agree to stay away from.  For instance, would we make race cars, slot machines or tables for gambling?  Would we make poker cards, or build a gambling hall? Should we make whiskey barrels?”
  • “Christians should never be found growing, building, or marketing a product that is contrary to a godly life.   If we labor to feed the lusts and idolatry of the world, we are no better than Demetrius, who crafted shrines for the goddess Diana.  See Acts 19.”

3) Is it right to discipline or correct someone else’s child in front of the mother in the child’s own home?  Maybe she thinks the parents aren’t doing their duty, but is it in her place to train other people’s children? (November 2012)

  • “A mother cannot successfully discipline her children if another person steps in and does it for her.” 
  • “When done within our extended family, correcting each other’s children to me represents a strong family bond and a common goal.”
  • “I don’t quite know how to feel about telling children to behave.  After all, I don’t have any of my own.  But I would want other people to make mine behave.”

In past years “Problem Corner” issues have included natural remedies, gender imbalance in Amish settlements, reporting crimes to the authorities, multi-level marketing, and ministerial involvement in cases of domestic abuse.

Wisdom from a wide “community”

Since Family Life is read by Amish of many different affiliations, as well as Mennonites and non-Amish, the answers printed will vary, and there is not always (or even often) agreement on the best course of action.

Family Life Problem Corner ColumnThus you get a pretty good feel for the idea that there is rarely one “Amish opinion” on most issues outside of core beliefs like non-resistance and adult baptism.

Since some letters are anonymous, you can’t always tell who the Amish respondents are, but you can often get an idea from the response itself. Frequently readers will share from their own experiences, especially if it is an issue with which they have also struggled.

The idea of “Amish community” is something we often think of on the level of church and settlement. With “The Problem Corner” we have an example of Amish tapping into a wider “Amish community” which spans the magazine’s large readership.   Interestingly it is one which also incorporates ideas from non-Amish, though often similarly-minded people.

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    1. Renee

      How much in US dollars for a yr subscription to Family Life? Still $12.00?

      1. Allyson L

        I replied but not to your post. Sorry.
        The link did not remain highlighted either so I will post it again in hopes it does this tune!

    2. Allyson L

      Renee, yes it is still $12.00.
      Here is the link and you can now order it online!


      1. If you have any interest in the other publications from Pathway, Young Companion (geared to youth/adolescents) and Blackboard Bulletin (teachers), you can get all three for around $25.

    3. Katie Troyer

      Family life online?

      1. Allyson L

        Hi Katie,
        They have a website and you can now ORDER online and make payment.

        1. Pathway does not have a website. The online sales is through Scroll Publishing (David Bercot) who simply are a retailer of Pathway’s products. This is probably not officially sanctioned by Pathway, but on the other hand they probably don’t care. Bercot’s other materials are by and large within the general conservative Anabaptist framework. Mike

    4. Naomi Wilson

      I just love Family Life. It helps me to be a better wife and mother, and I find it so reassuring to know that many women out there who I would probably regard as role models share my struggles. Apparently there is disagreement in some Amish communities as to whether or not they should read Family Life, because of the history of the Amish bishop Elmo Stoll, who was one of the founding editors and left the Amish to form a Christian Community. His story is so interesting, and you can read it on Ira Wagler’s blog.

    5. Don Curtis

      Pathway Publications

      I asked Mark about this. He said that he subscribes to all three Pathway Publications: Family Life; Young Companion; and Blackboard Bulletin. Also, he said that Pathway Publications publishes books, as well, and has a mail-order catalog bookstore. If you want to read some non-fictions or fiction that the Amish actually read, not Amish romance novels, you might want to send for Pathway’s catalog. I can get the address from Mark if anybody wants it. The periodicals have to be subscribed for in Aylmer, Ontario, Canada but the bookstore is in Indiana.

      1. Sadie

        Pathway Publishers

        Don, it would be wonderful to have the address where I could write to ask for a catalog from Pathway Publishers.

        If you don’t end up posting it here, you can please always e-mail me at

        Thank you so much!

        PS — A question for anyone: didn’t Ira Wagler’s father ( David? ) found “Family Life” magazine, then pass it onto Elmo Stoll?

        1. Pathway Publishers catalog address

          Sadie and Debbie here is the address for a Pathway catalog:

          To receive a Pathway catalog, write to Pathway Publishers, 2580N 250W, LaGrange, IN 46761.

          Not sure that there is cost involved, but nothing is mentioned about it on the Amish Studies site:

          1. Sadie

            Thank you, Erik! I appreciate it.

    6. Debbie


      Don I would like the address for the catalog.
      Thanks in advance

    7. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      I think I like the idea of The Problem Corner, just judging by the examples here it seems like it is different from the famous and widely syndicated advice columnists as it appears as though the responses are written by real Amish and Mennonites for real A&Ms.

      I think issue example number one is a universal thing that, although maybe worded differently, everyone experiences from time to time.

    8. Alice Mary

      Don, I’d appreciate the address for the catalog, too. Thank you!

      I found the question about disciplining another’s child in their own home interesting, and also a concern among us “English”!

      Alice Mary

    9. And in the recent issue of Family Life the problem corner approached the issue of whether it was acceptable for women to shave hair from their chins or upper lips since “Women are not to cut their hair.” Interesting responses. So do Amish women remove underarm hair ?

    10. Debbie

      Carol, I have always wondered that myself. Also if they shave their legs. Anyone know?

    11. stephanie

      I know!! Most Old order women (in ohio!)Amish do not shave legs or under arms! I found this out from my best friend who is Old order and I aabout croaked when she actually showed me! Her dad is a bishop and husband a deacon and this is considered wordly and the hair was rightfully put there by God and should stay there. Now, we are Beachy AmishMennonite and rest assure we shave!!! So do the New Order. If we have face hair we wax it off. If a man in our church is required to shave his mustache then by George we are going to wax ours lol!!

      1. Sadie

        To Stephanie / and / Hair and Such

        Stephanie, your post made me laugh!!! I love the way you phrased that last thought: “If a man in our church is required to shave his mustache then by George we are going to wax ours lol!!” LOLOL! I have a friend originally from Central Europe, and in her family at least, the women don’t shave. It’s just not part of her culture, and doesn’t bother her. To her, neither is more or less “attractive”, one is just a lot more work than the other!

        I wonder why most American women DO shave this way, and whether it is because of societal expectations, men’s expectations, or simply our own desire to do so. I wonder when and why it came the “norm” to do so, and why. I also wonder how many Amish women and girls living in districts where women’s shaving is prohibited ( or even living in other cultures who restrict it ) just shave anyway. I mean, other than a spouse or possibly immediate family, who would know the difference, when one is always going to be wearing at least short sleeves, fairly long dresses, and often opaque stockings? Maybe it would be noticeable in warmer months if someone went barefoot or such, but who is going to look that closely? Wait, maybe I don’t really want an answer to that! LOL. I think it’d be nice not to have to shave, personally. *grins* But here I am bordering on too much information, and think I’ll end this here, haha!

    12. Daryl

      There are ways around the shaving restrictions. One way is to burn away the hairs with the flame of a candle. I have heard tell of rolling something like an elastic band or twisted string or something over the legs to pull out the hairs, also of using lemon juice to make darker hairs more invisible. I suspect some women buy over the counter hair removal cream.

      At the end of the day, whether a woman shaves or not will be determined by her husband, if he is willing to accept it and turn a blind eye. Most men will for peace in the home.

      I’m sure that in the dark of night, hairy legs are less irksome than prickly legs. It is only in a society who runs around immodestly dressed that we will find a need for women to shave.
      I have noticed that secular men have also started to shave under their arms since it became acceptable for them to wear sleeveless vests in public.
      I wonder what people have against body hair?

    13. Daryl–I’d say that minimizing odor is certainly one reason that underarm shaving is done. Even the strongest anti-perspirant doesn’t eliminate what happens when bacteria mix with sweat.