An Amish Family's Story Opened My Eyes To How I Was Raising My Kids
On a lazy Saturday morning, I lie in bed and scroll through Facebook.
I’m mostly disinterested, social media burnout presenting more often than not lately; still, it hinges me to a sense of weekend idleness and I take another sip of my coffee, procrastinate the day a little longer after a hectic week. I’m about to resign myself to the impending chores when my eyes are drawn to an SMH article called Meet the McCallums, one of Australia's few Amish families.
The name is familiar; I realise this is a family I have met and known in earlier years of homeschooling my own family. I read on, fascinated by their complete turnaround from modern day life to Seventh Heaven meets Little House on the Prairie.
What captures me the most about their story is the awareness of how similar our lives once were; yet having both landed at a crossroad of 21st century burnout, seeing how they have chosen a life so disconnected from society -- such a contrast to the life we have chosen where I often wonder if my family have become too connected to it all.
I ponder this as I begin my day; the lifestyle of the McCallum family running at a constant parallel to my own lifestyle; so vastly opposed, yet not that different at all. While we may not have eight children, we have four -- still quite a large family by today’s standards.
We live a remote life on a 2500-acre farm, 350 kilometres from the nearest capital city. Many of our values are shared; we lean toward self-sufficiency as much as possible through growing our own fruit and vegetables, raising chickens for eggs, consuming our own grass-fed beef and lamb, our house is heated with wood fires, we buy recycled clothes where we can, teach our children happiness is not found in consumerism, live a life of less is more, and prioritise spending time together to remain connected and engaged in each other’s lives.
Yet we also have a car, electricity, and an embarrassingly unnecessary number of phones, tablets and computers; rarely disconnecting from the internet.
We watch too many videos on YouTube, ask Alexa to switch off our television at night, message one another using GIFs, keep up with the news via social media, live trash-tweet Eurovision every May, group-chat our kids in the next room when we can’t be bothered to get off the couch and speak to them, and have a possible borderline addiction to Netflix.
I rationalise our use of technology -- how, if my children aren’t in touch with technology now it could negatively affect their careers later, the way the world is changing so rapidly it’s important they understand the function of technology within that, that surely binge-watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine seasons and sending funny cat memes is really just the family bonding of the 21st century.
I want to think I’m doing the best for my children; that it would be a disservice to raise them distanced from technology in this current day and age, that I am giving them the best chance at becoming adults who will be successful in their future lives.
Except, it’s a beautiful sunny Saturday morning; a morning that as a child I’d have been outside riding my bike or climbing a tree or catching butterflies. My children are inside; watching Fuller House episodes they’ve seen before, Snapchatting, playing Candy Crush, texting their friends, shooting bad guys on the PS4.
I’m allowing it because I’m tired, busy, stretched thin, and having them occupied enables me to get through my chores without interruption. Once, I would have made them help with the chores.
Once, I would have dragged their indolent backsides outside and locked the doors. I’m not sure when it became easier for technology to babysit my children, but here in this millennial age of too-much-to-do-and-never-enough-time, I find I’m just grateful to be undisturbed for a few hours.
A thought enters my mind and I wonder where the disservice actually lies -- in raising a family disconnected from the ways of modern society, or in raising a family dependent on them. I choose to ignore it.
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A number of weeks later I’m still thinking about the McCallum family. I have imagined their everyday life as I go about mine. I have considered the pros and cons of their lifestyle compared to ours, and that of the average Australian family.
I’ve reflected on family life in the wake of technology; whether the benefits outweigh the negatives, whether the McCallum family and those like them are onto something and do we all need to undertake some kind of radical change to break our addiction to technology and find our way back to traditional family values.
And my answer is no.
What I’ve come to realise is disconnection is not caused by technology but becomes a product of it only when we allow that to happen. Staying connected to our family doesn’t have to be found in such a drastic resistance to society, but in our willingness to become more mindful of how we integrate technology into our lives.
It’s setting clear and consistent boundaries around screen time. It’s eating meals together. It’s committing time each week to do things as a family -- bike rides, board games, planting a vegetable garden, going for a Sunday afternoon drive together. It’s having regular screen-free time.
It’s switching phones off at night to alleviate the temptation to reply to work emails. It’s saying no to more things, eliminating the hurry from our lives, making time to not just cohabit with our children, but consciously raise them. It’s finding the balance between being in control of technology, and allowing it to control us.
It’s tough, raising a family in this day and age; we’re the first generation to face these challenges and there’s much to learn as we continue to find our feet. My fascination with the McCallums hasn’t been about wanting to sell our belongings and move to the mountains far away from the evils of society -- tempting as that may be some days -- but about becoming aware of the disconnection that has crept into my own family and the need to realign our lifestyle with our values; to pick up the ball I dropped somewhere along the way when life became too busy to continue to hold in just two hands.
To not isolate ourselves from society as the answer, but find better equilibrium while living within it.
I won’t always get it right. But in the meantime, as I figure it out, I’m off to do some chores with my kids before we hang out and watch more episodes of B99 together. Noice.