Story and Photo by Emily Parrino
After leaving the Amish community in southern Michigan where they grew up, Edwin and Frieda Yoder relocated to Kentucky with their six children for a fresh start. After moving to Christian County, the Yoders had two more children, bringing the total to eight, and eventually joined a non-denominational church. Edwin works nights at a local factory, while Frieda stays home with her brood.
Frieda was interviewed at her home on a Thursday morning, when the Yoder schoolhouse was in full session. Children scampered in and out of the cozy living room with their workbooks, waiting to be tested or asking for help with their assignments. Lena, the Yoders’ oldest, helped some of her younger siblings, in between doing her own work and rocking newborn Elmer.
Q: Can you explain why you moved?
After Edwin decided to leave the Amish church, he didn’t know where he wanted to go. So I continued to attend. But the way they treated us — they didn’t want to allow us to figure things out on our own. They didn’t let us make our own decisions. And they tried to convince me to get a divorce. That’s when I really knew it wasn’t right to stay.
Q: What struggles did your children face during this difficult time?
The biggest thing we needed to get away from was the gossip. My three oldest children were in public school with many other Amish children, and they would come home crying because of the things the other Amish children said about us; they were so mean to them.
Q: Despite leaving the Amish, what aspects of culture have you maintained from your upbringing?
Clothing. It’s like trying to tell me to go outside with my underwear on if you tell me to change the way I dress. Plus, the clothes are still good, so why get new ones?
Q: Did you always know you would have a big family?
There were eight of us in my own family, so it was not a foreign thing for Edwin and I, but I never dreamed about how many children I would have. But it is kinda fun. There’s never a dull moment. I knew I’d be content with however many God gave me.
Q: Would you like to have more?
If they’re as easy as Elmer has been, sure! Actually, it is however God decides, not just when it is easy.
Q: How does your background influence your parenting?
I wasn’t aware that many people discipline their children differently than we do until we left the Amish. For example, when we go to the store, we taught them they’re not going to throw fits or beg for things. I don’t even know how we taught them that, but they all know. They also know not to touch Edwin’s cellphone. One time my son asked another mom at church if he could play with her phone and she handed it over to him. I was horrified at his behavior because, to me, it was very disrespectful, but it didn’t even faze her.
Q: How has your parenting differed from the way you were raised?
One difference from when we grew up is that my parents tried to teach us what was right, but never brought scripture to back it up. So if her children asked why this, why that, my mom never explained why. If I would have seen scripture, it would have made more sense to me. Since moving to Kentucky, we’ve learned to discipline with love.
Q: How do you handle mealtimes with eight children?
We have a system. The three older ones make breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each has a specific meal they’re in charge of. We used to all sit around the table but now it’s hard. I try to make the little ones eat together at the table, but when we moved from Michigan, it was a super small house where we could only fit a small table. So we got out of the habit. But I hope to have family dinners at the table again someday.
Q: So, wait, does your son Jesse cook?
Yes, Jesse also cooks. And it is a little unusual for the Amish. His meal is breakfast. I had him do breakfast because he likes to make pancakes.
Q: In addition to your own family, you’ve got a number of nieces and nephews. What is the largest number of people you’ve had at your house at once? Describe the scene.
Actually, this past Christmas we had Edwin’s sister, her husband and their eight children stay with us. Then, my brother texted us to say, “If we happened to be driving by your way, would you have enough beds made up for us?” We already had enough food planned, so I said, “Yes, I think we can do that.” Five minutes later my parents and two of my brothers were at the door. We let Edwin’s sister and brother-in-law stay in our bedroom, we had a mattress in the school room for one of my brothers, while the other wanted to sleep in his sleeping bag in the dining room. All of my nieces stayed in one room with our girls and all the boys stayed in the other bedroom. My mother and father wanted to sleep in the recliners and that left the two couches for Edwin and I. That was 24 people!
Moms, moms, everywhere
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