In an era when a popular response to aging is to take elderly relatives to a nursing home or an assisted living facility, the Amish stand out as a unique subset of society. Of course, anyone who knows anything about the Amish would make that statement—and be correct—regardless of whether they are referring to their stance on education and technology, or their family structure, or any of a number of the other facets of Amish life that stand apart from the cultural norms of American society.
However, with regard to their approach to caring for their elderly loved ones, the Amish are decidedly unique. Perhaps they are even exemplary.
Aging in an Amish community
The Amish community is a very closely-knit one, emphasizing—among other things—strong family ties and traditional gender roles. A part of this is their approach to family, including extended family. The extended family members of an Amish family continue to maintain close ties to one another and interact with one another on a regular basis. From the cradle to the grave, an Amish family works together and lends support to one another.
From the cradle to the grave, an Amish family works together and lends support to one another.
As children, the Amish are taught to look after and care for one another. It is not uncommon to see an older child assisting in child-rearing duties such as bathing the younger ones, watching them while the parents tend to chores, or even assisting in teaching and disciplining them.
This attitude continues throughout their adult lives, when Amish adult children will frequently gather together to assist one another with things such as harvesting crops, engaging in labor-intensive propositions such as erecting buildings, and so on.
During all of this, the patriarchs and matriarchs of the family are present. Whether it’s assisting with watching grandchildren, lending guidance to adult children on technical matters, or imparting their hard-earned wisdom to anyone who seeks it, the elderly Amish men and women remain an important and integral part of the family dynamic.
Elderly Amish men and women remain an important and integral part of the family dynamic.
The Amish do not have anything resembling retirement homes. Instead, they believe that the family should stick together. Just as the parents cared for the children, so too the parents should be cared for by the children when the time comes.
Many elderly Amish live in the same house as the children. In some cases, the children return to the family home once the elderly person gets to the stage of needing more frequent attention. In others, the elderly mother or father will move in with the adult child. In either case, the presence of an elderly person in the home is something that is both expected and welcomed.
Some Amish people prefer to maintain a little bit more independence; however, they still believe that it is the duty and privilege of the adult children to help look after the elderly parents. So they will build a Grossdawdy Haus, a small house built close by the house of the adult children. This arrangement preserves the elderly parent’s sense of independence while still keeping him or her close enough to the family to allow constant interaction and support.
Rather than seeing the care of the elderly as a burden or something to be endured, the Amish consider it simply a part of life. Just as a parent doesn’t think twice about providing care for his or her child, neither does an Amish adult child think twice about providing care for his or her elderly parent.
Just as a parent doesn’t think twice about providing care for his or her child, neither does an Amish adult child think twice about providing care for his or her elderly parent.
This arrangement tends to result in a higher level of satisfaction and peace for the elderly. Further, because of the close-knit family structure of the Amish, the adult child rarely feels burdened by the need to provide care for the elderly parent because the child’s other adult siblings are frequently around, pitching in to assist whenever necessary.
The Amish view the elderly as an integral part of the family structure. To this end, rather than entrusting their care to a complete stranger—such as the staff at a nursing facility—they endeavor to provide elder care for their own parents.
Amish Studies (website). Family. Available at http://groups.etown.edu/amishstudies/social-organization/family/. Last visited November 5, 2015.