Aging and retirement in the Amish community is similar in some ways and very different in many other ways from that which we have come to expect from the typical English family. The vision of a grandmother putting together an Amish quilt for her grandchildren is one that we can probably apply to both an Amish grandmother, as well as an English grandmother. Watching a grandfather working out in the garden for a bit or building a cedar chest as a gift for a newborn grandchild are things you might imagine an Amish or English grandfather doing in his golden years. However, in the Amish community the elderly are both revered and respected as valuable members of the Amish community. They are considered wise and full of knowledge and their many children and grandchildren often go to them to learn how to sew traditional Amish quilts or how to fix a horse drawn carriage properly.
The term retirement is not really an appropriate term for what Amish adults do as they become older. Instead, the Amish refer to this time of life as the slowing down period because the Amish generally continue working in some form or fashion for the bulk of their entire lives, whether it is in the home or outside. Many Amish women spend their entire lives perfecting their skills as Amish quilters and continue teaching Amish quilting techniques to their daughters, daughters-in-law, and granddaughters. Many Amish grandmothers continue making their Amish quilts well into their eighties and nineties or passing on their Amish quilting skills in community Amish quilting bees. Many Amish men have spent their entire lives working the fields, building a business, or making wooden crafts, and they continue to remain important members of the community by passing down their knowledge to their sons and grandsons. So, the concept of retirement is not really a part of the Amish lifestyle because they never really stop doing what they have been doing for decades, they just start making room for other activities in addition to their Amish quilting and farming work.
This is mostly due to the belief that the Amish have regarding staying busy and being a productive part of a thriving community. The Amish believe that it is important to stay active in order to please God, as well as working together as a family for the greater good of the community. The Amish apply this to every aspect of their lives, from birth to death, and take pride in being an active member of the community as a whole. For aging Amish women, this might mean sewing Amish quilts to be sold at the local market, teaching Amish quilting to the younger members of the community in Amish quilting bees, or making Amish quilts for newlyweds or newborn babies in their own family to pass down their own Amish quilting heritage from generation to generation. For aging Amish men, this might mean helping to run the family farm in some capacity, teaching a traditional woodworking skill to the young Amish men of the community, or repairing the wheel spokes on the horse and buggy carriage of his neighbors. It is all a part of giving back to the community in any way you can while passing on the knowledge learned in years past.
This slowing down period can actually begin fairly early in a typical Amish family, in comparison to that of an English family. The average American usually retires around the age of 68 and typically stops working altogether as a result. In an Amish home, the transition between working fulltime and slowing down to a more limited work load usually begins in the late forties or early fifties. This is the time that the Amish father and mother will pass over the fulltime duties of running the farm or family business to the oldest son or married children of the family. Since most Amish families have anywhere from five to ten children each and forty or fifty grandchildren, by the time the parents are in their forties or fifties, there are plenty of available hands to work the fields or business. As these duties are passed on to the children, the Amish parents will start to take a backseat role in the day-to-day operations in exchange for more advisory roles. It is all a part of the cycle that the Amish depend upon to carry on their traditional ways of life and religious beliefs that have kept the Amish so united for hundreds of years. Just as an Amish grandmother was taught how to make Amish quilts by her grandmother, so too will she pass on the traditional Amish quilting skills she has learned over the years to her own children and grandchildren. It is this tradition of passing down ones knowledge or skill, such as Amish quilting, to the next generation that makes the Amish so unique and deeply tied to their past.
Retirement communities or old age homes are nonexistent in an Amish community. If you look closely at the landscape of a typical Amish town, you might notice that many of the homes have additions built on to their original homes. It may not quite match the original design of the stone or brick structure, but it blends in well enough. This is most likely an add-on that has been built to accommodate an aging grandparent, parent, or unmarried aunt or uncle. The Amish could never even conceive of putting one of their aging relatives into a retirement home to be cared for by paid strangers. Instead, the Amish will build additions to their existing family homes or add additional smaller homes to the family farm for aging relatives to live in. Of course, some older Amish do leave the community for a warmer climate, but when they do they are often visited by their children, grandchildren, and extended family members and keep in very close contact, even when they move outside of the state.
In the end, the aging Amish grandmother will still make her Amish quilts for her family or make a little extra money selling Amish quilts in the local markets or even in online Amish quilting stores, well into the last years of her life. The aging Amish grandfather might still help with the farm, make wooden crafts, or serve as the community historian by keeping track of all the community activities in the local Amish newsletter. So, to say that the Amish retire is really a misnomer because the Amish choose to remain active and productive all the days of their lives.