Jebediah feeds the chickens and Jacob plows

Amish shop worker 2Living on an Amish farm, I get a daily look at the Amish grind.

The Amish work ethic is legendary.  It’s often one of the first things outsiders comment on.  Weird Al even sent it up, repeatedly, in his notorious parody of Amish life (recall the enthusiastic butter-churning, if you’ve seen the video).

But do the Amish really love labor?  What makes them so earnest when it comes to work?  And is that even an accurate picture?  Do the Amish ever get a ‘case of the Mondays’?

I recently came across an interesting passage that gives a little bit of insight on the Amish work mentality.  It’s from a book by Professor Richard Stevick of Messiah College.  Growing up Amish:  The Teenage Years was published just last year, not long after Tom Shachtman’s Rumspringa.  Stevick’s book is a deeper and more comprehensive look into Amish adolescent life and one I’d highly recommend.I’ve made bold some of the most interesting bits.

From Growing up Amish:

Work and leisure are less compartmentalized for Amish young people than for their non-Amish counterparts.  Most mainstream teenagers work almost exclusively to obtain the possessions and experiences they could not otherwise afford.  Their work is generally an unpleasant but necessary means to that end.  By contrast, when a customer asked a seventeen-year-old worker in an Amish bakery what she did for fun, she appeared to be puzzled by the question.  Her co-worker answered that they had fun baking and waiting on customers, and this on a frightfully hot August day with no air conditioning or fans.  Similarly, a twenty-year-old explained that on his annual seven-day vacation from the outdoor furniture shop where he worked fifty hours weekly, he helped his family on the farm or worked with a neighbor filling silos.

Amish children learn the importance of work early on, while observing bigger siblings and parents.  Most Amish youth have chores and generally are very diligent about getting them done.  But, as Stevick explains:

This does not mean that each family is an Amish paradise where the children and teenagers work without complaint.  Monday mornings may be difficult if the youth have been out until the early hours.  Given the choice, most Amish eighteen-year-olds getting home at 2:00 am from their courting would undoubtedly prefer to sleep in rather than get up before dawn for the 4:30 milking. Nevertheless, most manage to show up in the barn or at the job, with or without prodding.  After breakfast, the father generally outlines the day’s tasks for the boys, while the mother assigns tasks for the daughters.


PS: I’ve never actually met an Amishman named ‘Jebediah’ but look forward to the day…

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    1. Marcia

      OK – I’m heading to the library today (in the rain) to get this book. I also read Amish America’s book review. Glad we are getting rain, I’ll be in the mood to read.

    2. Great Marcia! hope you made it!

    3. Marcia

      Growing Up Amish was not in our library but I did get Rumspringa and am half way through. I learned how Amish parents differ from one family to the next and the growing pains of teens are similar to the English. The Amish kids that choose to party can go to the extreme. I was a child of partying parents (drinking/smoking/dancing) but my rebellious days consisted of drinking Fuzzy Navels one New Years Eve until I got sick – didn’t drink again for ten years. I refused the peer pressure of smoking (probably because I grew up with the stench) and feared doing drugs. Had I been born and raised Amish, I have no clue what kind of things I would have been up to in Rumspringa. I can’t wait to finish the book.

    4. Working with people you know from childhood is also much more rewarding than a random assortment of strangers. Many hands make light work.

    5. Adam

      I’m going deep into the archives. I am also enjoying the Weird Al references. (Lifelong fan of his).

      1. You’re right Adam, this is a deep dive (almost 10 years since the last comment on this post..!) but thanks for reminding me of this one.

        1. Adam

          It was written when I was 20. I am now 30. Getting the feeling you’ve had this site for a while. I certainly enjoy it.