Growing up Amish

Kevin Cederstrom Anna Olson gave up the life as she knew it 15 years ago. She walked away from her family, a strict upbringing and everything she had been taught. Now Anna's publishing a book describing what it was like to grow up ...

Kevin Cederstrom

Anna Olson gave up the life as she knew it 15 years ago. She walked away from her family, a strict upbringing and everything she had been taught. Now Anna's publishing a book describing what it was like to grow up Amish.

Anna lives in New York Mills with her husband and two children. She left the Amish culture in 1992 but it's still very much a part of her. "Growing Up Amish: The Insider Secrets" is the first of a series of books Anna plans to write about her journey away from the Amish culture. The book is in the final stages of editing and is available online this week. She hopes to have the hard copies published some time this summer.

To most outsiders the Amish are still a mystery, with the buggies, the bonnets, beards and uniforms, but truly don't understand the day to day lives of the Amish. Anna hopes to share many of those unknowns through her books.


At 24 years old Anna made the most difficult decision of her life. She left the sheltered Amish culture behind to create a life for herself in this unsheltered world.

Anna grew up near Hewitt in a typical Amish home. No electricity. That meant no television, radio, computer or refrigerator. No television. No warm running water. What the home did have was discipline.

"In my Amish home, discipline was taken to an extreme level with little or no explanation as to why the rules were in place," Anna writes in her chapter overviews. "Community isolation coupled with a rule set that bordered on vindictive taught me to re-think how I would raise my own children. I always knew that I did not want to run my home the same way."

Also in her chapter overviews, Anna writes of crimes we commit against others, real childhood fears multiplied by guilt, and sexual abuse.

"Sexual abuse is about as scary as it can get for a child," she writes. "Growing up Amish did nothing to prepare me for the trauma and of this. Why would God let this happen to me? What on Earth did I do to deserve this? Anger, ashamed, dirty, and humiliation were just a few of my feelings while this was happening."

Anna is the fifth of 10 children. She has five sisters and four brothers. Six of 10, including Anna, have left the culture and are no longer considered Old Order Amish. The latest, Anna's younger sister Ella and her husband, just left about a month ago and live in Montana.

Anna has a photograph of her and Ella as teenagers standing in front of a china hutch. They are dressed in the traditional bonnet and dress. The photo looks innocent enough, but at the time Anna defied the Amish way and purchased the camera. She took photographs without her parents knowing.

That was just one instance leading up to her decision to leave her Amish upbringing. In a Wadena Pioneer-Journal article published in 1995, Anna said she broke free from the rigid rules of the Amish community to forge a new life in modern day society.


"I feel like I've come a long ways," she said at the time. "I guess I'm proud of where I'm at today."

According to the article, as an Amish person Anna struggled with uncompromising rules that she felt lacked consistency, hinted of hypocrisy and generally stifled her ability to find happiness. Her ultimate decision to leave the Amish community, and her family, did not come easily.

Anna knew if she left there would be consequences. It was a struggle for her to go against everything she was raised to believe in, and her parents were sure to face criticism from the community.

After spending the early part of her life living near Hewitt, Anna's family moved to Wisconsin. And at 24 years old, and with only an 8th grade education, Anna left the community in 1992. In the spring of 1993 she earned her GED and started college in the fall. Having grown up in such a strict, sheltered home, Anna had trouble in college. She wasn't used to making her own decisions.

"I became very lost and didn't know how to study," she said.

She moved to Wadena and in 1995 graduated from Minnesota State Technical College. Anna earned her second degree - medical secretary- from MSTC in 2005.

By writing this book she wants to tell her story and inspire others to work through whatever issues might be holding them back.

"The whole message here is, yeah there were some hard obstacles to overcome, but look at who I am today," Anna said. "God has a plan for me."


Anna's parents still live in Wisconsin and she does see them. Anna and husband, Tom, along with their kids stay with friends when they go back to see Anna's parents. And the visits are usually kept to one or two hours.

"When I first left and went back it was very hard," Anna said. "It was very hard for them to see me in non-Amish clothes."

Anna has relatives in the area and she says it's still difficult to see them and not get to talk to them much. If she sees a relative or someone else from the Amish community Anna knows they don't approve of what she's doing. She's either ignored or the conversation is kept to a minimum. As is custom with the Amish, once someone leaves they are excommunicated from the church.

"They don't approve of what I'm doing and have to show me it's not the same as when I was still part of the community."

Anna says not everything about growing up Amish was bad. She carries with her a lot of good memories, along with the difficult ones, and has used some of the principles she was taught in raising her kids today.

Along with writing books, Anna is available for speaking engagements and would like to create a coaching program to help people work through some of the difficult issues in their lives.

For a closer look at what's in her book, go to

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