Our Pseudo-Amish Family

Religious or not, we all must make decisions on how to raise our children.  Just as religious folks vary widely in their child rearing styles, so do us atheist folks.  The difference being, atheists are free to change their style any time without getting excommunicated from their church — though some choice may cost them a few friendships. 🙂

As I think of the choices my wife and I have made in raising our children, I chuckle thinking of how we oddly share several practices close to the choices that the Amish make.

Here is a short list of ways my family has somewhat distanced itself from common culture:

  • Television & Commercials:
    We don’t get commercial television or cable.  We watch movies and programs on DVD — so no commercials and highly filtered material.  We also limit TV time.
  • Sports:
    Because of the TV issue, my kids are not exposed to commercial sports and are not the “fans” of any team.  We also do not go to local baseball, hockey, and football games for which our city is famous. (Mind you, we have gone to a few, but as mere exposure trip).  But my kids participate in sports, as do my wife and I.
  • Music & Dance:
    Because of TV, my kids don’t see music videos and all the sexually dance culture.  Similarly movies with adolescents kissing and such are still not allowed.  But we dance a lot in our house and my kids play instruments, as do I.
  • Food:
    We eat fairly naturally.  We don’t keep sweets, soda, and very few processed foods.  We buy whole animals, coop vegetables and such.  We talk with our kids quite often about the bad food choices people make.  We have to also teach them to not point out these bad choices to their friends or others.  It is a delicate balance. For fun, see my post on my pre-mastication choice.
  • Animals:
    We raise chickens for their eggs and meat — previously we had ducks but just switched over to chickens.  My wife slaughters them here on our property and my children watch.  We also raise dogs.  These exposures to animals and my interest in biology meant, to the chagrin of many adults that my kids understood the biology of sex from the age of about 7 years old.
  • Religion:
    We don’t send our kids to a church and I don’t hesitate to tell folks I am atheist if asked.  To the chagrin of other adults, my kids will sometimes tell their kids that the don’t believe in any god, tooth fairy or Santa Clause.  We try to teach our kids to hold back sharing this stuff, but it is tough.  Our kids also are exposed to Buddhism with statues and practices in our house.  For a fun example, see my Itadakimasu post.
  • Authority:
    I teach my kids to question many of the common explanations for history and politics they hear in school.  We teach them that not all laws are good laws and not all adults are wise just because they are adults.
  • Co-Sleep
    For the first 3-4 years of life, we co-slept with out children.  I don’t think the Amish do this, but I thought I’d list it here.
  • Vaccines:
    We elected for an alternative, more gradual vaccination schedule for our children.  Many Amish (especially the younger) now vaccinate, but many have opted out too — and sometimes with dire consequences.

When explaining our choices to folks, I try to soften the explanation by calling ourselves “Pseudo-Amish”.  Some just laugh and move on to other conversations, but a rare few pursue discussion.  But because of these choices, our kids are intentionally rather culturally naive.

We are happy with our choices and try to make our kids understand the values behind the choices.  We also try to educate them about the surrounding culture with measured exposures and lots of discussions.  We may change our strategies as our children get older and desire more freedom — but for now they don’t complain and are proud of the lives they have.

Note:  I respect the Amish choice to pull out of culture.  We use to live in the middle of Amish country and would buy from several local Amish producers.  However, there is also much of the Amish culture that I also do not respect, but my use of the word “Amish” in my post title was not meant as derogatory.  I was merely trying to point at the practice of intentionally pulling out of common culture.  But it should be clear that, like the Amish, I too do not hesitate to judge much of common culture as undesirable.  To soften the self-righteousness of my choices, I intentionally picked an image for the post that kind of hints at the possible downfalls of my family’s choices. HT for cartoon from here.

Questions to Readers:

  • If you have kids, is there any way you also pull your family out of common culture?
  • What do you see as the pitfalls in our choices?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

23 responses to “Our Pseudo-Amish Family

  1. I have two kids, 12 and 13, and my wife and I don’t really remove our kids from common culture. Every month there is a dance at the community centre for kids ages 10-14 and I allow my kids to go, whereas a friend of ours (goes to church every week) does not.

    In answer to your second question, I will admit that the first year my oldest qualified to go, we, too, did not let him go. Here’s what changed my mind:

    I forget where I saw or read it but it occurred to me that I don’t have the right to control the minds of my children. They have the right to decide their own values, wants and needs. However, I do have a responsibility to teach them HOW to balance these values with the world around them.

    Another way to put it is that I need to not act as their censor, but teach them how to self-censor. Once they leave my house they will be surrounded by things I may personally disapprove of but I want to feel confident that they will make good decisions on how to respond.

    So, I think a pitfall of your lifestyle may be that you may be teaching your children to hide or even look down upon those who choose to live differently. The reality is that most people in the world will not (and can not) live the way you do so it’s important they see the value in other ways of life and decide for themselves how they will live in the future.

  2. In America, people create their own culture. That is the culture, diversity. People have the freedom to do their own thing and they do. Sure there are certain practices, behaviors, and memes within a society that are more popular, modern, and common than others, but ultimately it is a melting pot of cultures. American society is made up people from of a large variety of ethnic backgrounds and traditions. Certainly popular conditions contribute to determining the behavior and activities of others but popular memes is not all that creates a culture. By cultivating your kids the way you are, you still are not outside of America’s “common” culture, you are only another example and contribution to it as being a culture of cultural diversity as is my family and every other.

    In America, we cannot pull out of the culture; we only contribute to its spectrum. Many think that they are going against the grain and that this means that they are not part of the culture, but on the contrary, it is part of our culture to be independent and go against the grain, we have the freedom to do this, we do, this is our culture. Given that no matter what we do, we create, contribute to, and determine American culture, so the pitfalls of our choices are directly causal relative to the subculture we have been determined to.

  3. geoih

    No hockey!?

  4. IMO, this is a great way to raise kids. Sounds very similar to how I was raised. I was raised without a TV, and wish I had been able to convince my wife to form a TV-free household.

    Obviously, I think it’s important for mine to learn fluency in Christianity, but other than that, your kids will have more in common with our ancestral roots than most kids being born today. More time outdoors, less processed foods, taking care of animals, reading books, etc.

    In addition, you’re showing by example that it’s important to make conscious decisions about lifestyle choices, and that it’s not necessary to follow the crowd. That’s really important, IMO.

    There is no such thing as “too late” for kids to learn about dancing, partying, relationships, etc. but there is most definitely such a thing as “too early”. In my experience, the kids that started earliest ended up worst off, so I see nothing wrong with isolating them from that stuff.

  5. @ HumanistDad
    I actually do try control the minds of my kids — you are right on. I try to help them avoid poor minds as they mature. I will continue try to guide their minds as much as I can (remember, my kids are only 8 and 10 yo). I will do it mostly by example and love but also by discussion.

    I don’t let my kid do shooting videos or fast TV — studies clearly show that these effect learning skills. I don’t let them drink and eat the crap that companies are cleverly scheming to make them desire.

    Maybe you’d be happy to hear that when we travel or are at others houses we bend the rules. Occasionally we playfully break them at other times too. I think my kids get it.

    I totally agree with what Travis said also.
    But I must say, many of my acquaintances (and a few friends) agree with your criticisms of my lifestyle with my kids — you are in good company.

    @ Travis Morgan
    Superbly said !! I totally agree. I stress this to our kids all the time, “We make our own culture.” And many friends love coming and joining our culture occasionally and we have found them adapting things from our culture as we have adapted from them. The free flow on conscious sharing is fun!!

    @ geoih
    Here I wrote about my Sports Allergies. And my town recently won football and hockey championships.
    Don’t worry, we love sports, but commercial sports with the commercial superficial personality cults is bizarre.

  6. “If you have kids, is there any way you also pull your family out of common culture?” (Sabio)

    I don’t have kids so this one I cannot answer.

    “What do you see as the pitfalls in our choices?” (Sabio)

    I like your choices – they are very healthy.

    However I can see some drawbacks.

    Culture is history at some point – disconnecting from it won’t change it – and can make one even lose touch with what is happening in it. At some point your kids will go out and experience the world on their own and will likely adapt to the culture. Not knowing what it is they are referencing can drive a wedge right between parent and child.

    I also think your kids could experience a form of culture shock once they leave your house and live in larger city or attend school somewhere. Now although your actually on the forefront of a few things, pop culture is learned through the tv, internet, and other mediums. Will this catch your kids unawares?

    I wonder if it is better to expose someone to all the grit in the real world or not? I was raised with all of the grit and I find I can maneuver in many situations because I am knowledgeable of the references and other seedier aspects of life that exist. Just an observation.

  7. @ JS Allen
    Well said, JS. I agree.
    Also, I can’t tell you how often I tell my kids that they can choose to become any religion they want, any day and they will still be my dearly beloved child. They get that too. We shall see.

    But I do think teaching the fear of hell and God’s punishment (as we have spoken before) is detrimental to good mental health. I have repeatedly shown them how adults try to manipulate their children with these stories in every culture. So I imagine if they ever embrace a religion they may have some pretty heavy filters before they get there. But ya never know. All it takes is a religious lover and BANG everything is up for grabs! 🙂

  8. @ societyvs
    I agree with Travis above. Culture is what you do, it is not history. I watch Chinese culture destroyed in 2 generations by Mao while it was preserved in Taiwan. Culture can change tomorrow — it is very delicate.
    If enough disconnect, it changes — culture is not history.

    My kids get enough TV at hotels on trips and neighbors houses so there won’t be a culture shock.

    At least my kids already know how to shoot guns, so they won’t have to learn that when they are culture shocked into joining a gang. 😀

  9. “At least my kids already know how to shoot guns, so they won’t have to learn that when they are culture shocked into joining a gang” (Sabio)


  10. I may not agree entirely with the way you’re raising your kids, but you do have the right to live any way you like. And you do. And I like that.

    I think it’s important that we live the way we want to, without trying to fit in with society at large or wanting to receive praise or approval or preaching to others that they should live the way we do.

    If folks looked down inside and figured out how they really would like to live, we would see all kinds of alternative lifestyles.

  11. @ Lorena
    I agree with your points.
    But I know you’d admire my lifestyle choices much more if I only tolerated commercial hockey & tennis.

  12. Ed

    Sabio… I was a single dad of two daughters from ages 2 and four. There was no church. We were vegetarians that also stayed away from dairy products and refined sugar. I never used TV as a “babysitter” although I was frequently tempted to do so. It all hit the fan when they joined society at around age 5 or 6. They were invited to a birthday party and came home crying because the kids were “eating animals” and drank milk and ate ice cream and candy. So I said that most people did those things but we did not. They insisted loudly. I said OK. The next birthday party you may each make your own choices. And they did. Came home very ill… throwing up and the whole thing. It was never an issue again… You and your wife raise your kids any way you believe in. American culture is pretty vacuous and shallow and there is no reason to participate unless that is your conscious choice.

  13. That was fun, Ed. Thanks. Agree.
    I take my kids out to stores for ice cream and candy occasionally. It is a treat. I know folks for keep soda in their house for daily consumption. Some serve it for meals because “Our kids don’t like water”!
    Commercial culture is indeed vacuous at best, insidious when successful. Conscious living is considered weird. It is nice to have fellow weird bloggers! Thanx again.

  14. Ben Finney

    Thank you for telling us about how you raise your children, presenting good and bad points and inviting critique.

    I am concerned about one theme: you seem to be suppressing your children’s desire to discuss their opinions with others. An example:

    > To the chagrin of other adults, my kids will sometimes tell their kids that the don’t believe in any god, tooth fairy or Santa Clause. We try to teach our kids to hold back sharing this stuff, but it is tough.

    Why would you want them to avoid sharing their position on these matters? Is it for fear of giving offense? I don’t think that’s a good policy to be teaching.

    You might be interested in Dale McGowan’s “Parenting Beyond Belief” weblog; the archives are a wealth of anecdotes and articles about raising freethinkers.

  15. @ Ben
    Our kids would share some information and then come home crying because of being made fun of or worried that other kids won’t play with them. We discussed the pros and cons of sharing information. I let them know that sometimes people can be very attached to their beliefs and that being frank with them may not get you what they want.
    I hope that evens out the story for you.
    I have been to Dale’s site in the past — he is another guy like me fumbling his way through it. No formulas exist for what a “freethinker” should do, each family has different dynamics and different subcultures and values. But reading his site and other helps. Similarly, I hope some folks reading this site may walk away with ideas — to embrace or avoid! 🙂

  16. Douglas Adams has a character in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series that goes by the handle Wonko the Sane. Wonko has built a unique home for himself in that it looks kind of inside-out. If I remember the passage right, when you drive up his driveway it looks more like his living room. When you go through the door you find a place that frames the Pacific Ocean in a beautiful, natural way. When asked to explain his house, Wonko says something like, “I built that to keep all the crazies inside.”

    I bring this up because I see parallels between your frames of conscious choices with constant educational moments and Wonko’s inside-out frame. The near-impossibility of containing or changing the world has to be tempered with what is possible to manage in our individual worlds, I guess.

    But also, I’ve seen this very same frame used to justify how other Wonkos have pulled out of common culture. An older friend’s daughter-in-law married a reclusive guy that later insisted on buying a house in the woods, home-schooling the kids, shunning the use of all hydro in the house, and rejecting (rather than questioning) all forms of outsider authority. It’s an uncomfortable story, provoked I think by some psychological issues and an inconsistent education from his own background. He did feel completely justified though, even when the family tore itself apart finally.

    You both have rights in raising your children as you both see fit, of course. But, I trust your frame more than his. And I can think of no way to even help him think about changing his.

  17. I like your choices, Sabio. I have no kids and no plans to have any, but think I would adopt a similar style if I did.

  18. @ Mike:
    thanks !

    @ Andrew
    My wife is thinking of contributing a note to this thread that may answer your comment on weirdness. I have a post in reply coming up too. Your concerns and those of others are very valid and bring up a good question I want to address in my up-coming post. Thanx

  19. Ben Finney

    > You both have rights in raising your children as you both see fit, of course.

    Not quite. Raising children is not a right. I’d say that parents have a *responsibility* to raise their kids to be healthy adults in their society. That allows for great leeway in method, but it’s strictly limited — not “as you see fit”.

  20. @Sab
    Just to be clear, I have used Wonko to describe myself on many occasions. His response to the world seems the only sane thing to do when confronted with just how reckless the un-listening world can be.

    I don’t mean to keep anticipating your thought-process. The trouble with following a blogger that has a similar mindset is that I end up agreeing a lot (which can be problematic for sure), but I am trying to make the comments non-cheerleader-like. Dialogue over debate at least I guess, but still trying to challenge?

    I will cheerfully concede to the point about responsibilities, as long as we can agree to the old adage: “Every right has a responsibility, every freedom has a duty…”

    I did use the words “rights in raising your children” and not “the right to raise your children”

  21. Jessica

    o Television & Commercials:
    Up until the last year we did not have a converter box, cable, or a satellite dish. This means we got all of our movies or shows from the library and most were educational and I was able to pick and choose everything my son watched. I found we watched television less, interacted more, and had more quality time. Our birthdays were a lot less “commercialized” (I love gifts that don’t take batteries) and I didn’t get requests for mainstream items (ex: This year he asked for Skechers Illuminators. Why he had to have that brand of light-up shoes can only be explained by the cool commercial.) I would love to revert to that. It changed when we moved to be with my elderly grandparents. I think exposure to television and commercials have been educational to a point, but could be destructive to his creativity and to his unique personality. It promotes conformity. I like my child to naturally evolve into his own person.

    ** The most controversial topic we covered was in a grocery store when my son viewed the cover of a Maxim magazine with a girl in a thong swimsuit was on the front. My son was age 3 and asked why men liked to look at girls’ “hineys”. I think that if my child is old enough to ask a question, he deserves an honest answer. I answer as simply as possible and expand upon that answer as more questions arise. We have most conversations about sex in the car. I have a feeling I will have to go into great detail in the next year (by the time he is 7). I think sex education should begin early so that children will not be ashamed of their bodies and will know enough to protect themselves from sexual abuse.

    o Sports:
    My son plays soccer and I play with him (very ineptly). He has been exposed to live sporting events and I must admit (abashedly) he cheers just as loud as his mother. He is loyal to the teams I like. I suppose it is his family loyalty coming out. He knows which teams his grandfather played for and is a die-hard fan. It’s something manly I can provide for him/do with him to replace things he should be doing with his dad.

    o Music & Dance:
    We do not listen to the radio. We listen to CDs. My son’s musical knowledge comes from music to which I expose him. I played the cello for years and he was exposed to classical music early. He likes Opera music and Broadway musicals. His favorite is the Phantom of the Opera. He also likes Tom Petty, Ricky Scaggs, Cindy Lauper, Tina Turner, Black Eyed Peas (he’s only allowed to listen to one song), Billy Currington, George Strait, Elvis, and C&C Music Factory. Ecclectic, is it not?

    He has learned some suggestive dance moves at school. I have grudgingly accepted that I am not the only one now to write on his slate.

    o Food:
    My son didn’t know what Doritos were until last year. That’s to say that I cooked at home mostly and snacks were limited to fruits and veggies. Since he was going to be exposed to more and more at school I did introduce them and once we moved close to my family his great-grandmother gave him an extensive junk food education. I’m not happy about it but I pick my arguments. We eat processed foods with discretion when I am “in charge”, but he is a McDonald’s fan and will choose to go there if given a choice if we are having to eat out. He knows the foods that are good for strong muscles and bones.

    o Animals:
    We fish and I come from a family of hunters. My son recently got an education about where meat comes from after a fishing expedition. He was saddened by it, but after an extensive conversation about where food from the grocery store comes from, he has accepted it, if not come to terms with it. He sees farm animals frequently. It’s a great way to talk about bodily functions and segway into our own bodies.

    o Religion:
    I have failed to expose my son to other religions at this point. I probably won’t make this a priority until he is old enough to question me about it. I’m not sure it has been a conscious decision.

    We do play Santa Clause, despite the fact that I wish my parents had not. I wouldn’t play Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny if it weren’t so prevailent in schools and I don’t want him to feel “left out”. Weak sauce?

    o Authority:
    I agree re: teaching my child to question things and people. Living in the south, I am looked down on for this approach. Sometimes (especially older people) think my son is rude for exposing adults who may be untruthful or in the wrong.

    A recent example. My dad lied to my son about something. My son said, in a conversation with my dad, “You don’t have to lie about it, Poppy. You should tell the truth.” My grandmother told him he was being disrespectful.

    We talk about making bad decisions and that adults make bad decisions too. Jail is “big people time-out”. Your decisions affect other people. We talk about examples within our own lives. Some of them are hurtful, but they are just as hurtful if not understood and ignored. (Something that Southerners are very good at doing.)

    o Co-Sleep
    Did you cease the co-sleeping with your kids or let it happen naturally?

    I was never an advocate of co-sleeping (for reasons that probably aren’t relevant here), but ended up co-sleeping because my ex-husband was an advocate. My son is very insecure and, to this day, does not want to sleep alone. My circumstances are different and we still co-sleep often. I worry about him at night when he’s not with me, but hope, as he matures, he will be more secure, even though I will probably continue to worry.

    Co-sleeping is looked down upon. I don’t talk about it with most people.

    o Vaccines:
    We have followed a strict vaccination schedule. I closed my eyes, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best even though I worked with many families with issues re: vaccines including those who felt Autism was “contracted” due to vaccines.

  22. Humanist Dad

    Jessica wrote:

    “I think exposure to television and commercials have been educational to a point, but could be destructive to his creativity and to his unique personality.”

    Sorry, but very wrong. Our personalities and creativity are shaped by the world around us. Limiting exposure harms the natural growth. You seem to think creativity appears out of nowhere – in fact, creativity results though the synthesis of many ideas. Everything is a remix of things that came before. What’s new is how they’ve been remixed.

    “My son’s musical knowledge comes from music to which I expose him.”

    What gives you this right to deprive him of music that he may love more? By what right do you prevent him from hearing heavy metal? For all you know, he may have made a career in the future of synthesizing your beloved classical with metal. In trying to make him a clone of yourself, you are standing in the way of his own personal growth. He may grow to hate you for it.

    Tell your son that Santa, Tooth Fairies and Easter Bunnies are not real but they are fun fictional characters.

    I value my sleep so co-sleeping wasn’t encouraged. Amazingly, kids eventually do sleep on their own and most prefer it.

    As for vaccines (aka Immunizations) take all your doctor recommends when they recommend them. Would you ever consider NOT having a broken bone corrected even though the side-effects are more common? Of course not. Vaccines don’t cause autism.

  23. @ Humanist Dad (HD),
    Well, its been a year and a half since we last typed. At that time you disagreed with the way I raised my kids, as you are disagreeing with Jessica. There are many styles out there. Thanks for your opinion, but I disagree with some of what you wrote again. You will see that in what I write to Jessica.

    @ Jessica
    Thanx for your note. Here are my responses:
    1. Television & Commericals
    I agree

    2. Music
    I laughed when you said, “I have grudgingly accepted that I am not the only one now to write on his slate.”
    I agree.

    3. Food
    Yep, pickin’ arguments and fights are important.

    4. Religion
    Yeah, I get the left out thing. Sounds like you have found a good compromise.

    5. Co-sleeping
    No, kids naturally enjoyed their own beds. They occ sleep with us when scared or lonely but not often. But it is fun sleeping together. We feel it has been no harm at all — just the opposite. Just last week we finally gave the kids their own rooms — they love it.

    6. Vaccines
    I am sure the vaccines will work out well with you. We have to pick our fights — as you say, and I only had trouble with the schedule and certain unnecessary vaccines.

    Thanx for your note.

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