Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Come Out From Under My Parents’ Shadow?
“My father is a well-known elder in a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I respect him, but at times I have resented the fact that everywhere I go I am known just as Bill’s son.”—Larry.*
“Because my father is a prominent elder, I felt everyone had high expectations of me, and it was very difficult for me just to be myself.”—Alexander.
AS YOU get older, it is only normal for you to desire some independence—to be able to establish your own name, or reputation. At your birth your parents chose a name for you that appealed to them. Now, as you develop as an adolescent, you want the chance to choose your own “name”—that is, to make a reputation for yourself.
King Solomon wrote: “A [good] name is to be chosen rather than abundant riches; favor is better than even silver and gold.” (Proverbs 22:1) Even while you are young, you will probably want to begin to establish your own identity.
Living in Their Shadow
Like Larry and Alexander, some youths feel that they live in the shadow of their parents’ name or achievements. Perhaps their parents are prominent in the community because of their jobs or education. Or it may be that they are well-known in the Christian congregation. If either is true of your parents, you may sometimes feel that you live under a spotlight and that everything you do is under constant scrutiny. You may resent the pressure you feel to behave in certain ways simply because of who your parents are.
Ivan’s father, for example, serves as an elder in a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Ivan says: “Because my father was widely known and respected, I always felt I had to be an example at school and at home. I felt that I was used as a benchmark by other parents for how they expected their children to act. While flattering, this put me under great pressure to perform in front of others. As a result, I sometimes lacked modesty and failed to recognize personality flaws in myself.” Alexander says: “I felt that I was being watched all the time and that if I made a mistake, fingers were always ready to point at me.”
Larry, quoted in the introduction, tried to avoid the spotlight of attention by hiding his family name. He says: “When I met new people at social gatherings, I would say, ‘Hi, my name is Larry,’ and stop there—not mentioning my surname. When possible, I would even sign forms with just my first name. I was afraid people would treat me differently if they knew who my father was. I wanted to be treated as normal by my peers.”
Of course, it is only reasonable that others might have high expectations of you if your father serves as a Christian elder or a ministerial servant. After all, men in such appointed positions should be “presiding in a fine manner over children and their own households.” (1 Timothy 3:5, 12) No wonder, then, that people expect you to be exemplary! But is that entirely a bad thing? Not when you consider that the Christian youth Timothy, while perhaps still a teenager, was chosen by Paul to travel with him and to share in vital ministerial work. (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3) So you should strive to be an example, whether your father is an appointed elder or not.
Rebellion a Poor Choice
Still, some youths try to come out from under their parents’ shadow by rebelling. Ivan says: “There were times when having to be an example irritated me. I rebelled by seeing how long I could grow my hair before someone said something.”
Absalom, one of King David’s sons, followed a rebellious course. His father was famous for his devotion to Jehovah and was loved by many in the nation of Israel. Much was expected of Absalom as David’s son. But instead of living up to reasonable expectations, Absalom chose to establish a name for himself by rebelling against his father. Since David was Jehovah’s anointed representative, Absalom was really rebelling against Jehovah. His actions brought shame on the family and disaster on himself.—2 Samuel 15:1-15; 16:20-22; 18:9-15.
Rebelling could likewise have devastating consequences for you. Consider what the Bible tells us about Nehemiah. Some of his enemies tried to trick him into ungodly behavior. Why? “So that they could ruin my reputation and humiliate me,” said Nehemiah. (Nehemiah 6:13, Today’s English Version) Rebelling could give you a bad name—one that people may find difficult to forget.
Not to be overlooked is the effect rebellious behavior can have upon others. At the very least, you would cause your parents needless grief. (Proverbs 10:1) Your actions could also adversely affect other youths. Admits Ivan: “My conduct had an adverse effect on my brother. For a time he left the Christian congregation entirely, pursuing all the things that he knew did not measure up to Bible standards. Thankfully, he came to his senses and is now serving Jehovah again and is happy.”
A Better Way
Absalom’s half brother Solomon took a different course. He was willing to learn humbly from his father, David. (1 Kings 2:1-4) Rather than seek to promote himself, Solomon sought to make a good name with God. As long as he did so, he brought honor to his family and established a reputation as one of Israel’s greatest kings.—1 Kings 3:4-14.
Solomon’s good example highlights two important facts: First, you establish your own identity, not by seeking to distance yourself from your family, but by learning from your family’s strengths. The journal Adolescence says: “By no means must adolescence be a time of detachment from parents in order for youth to achieve a strong sense of identity.” Your ability to establish your own identity “is not disrupted by parental support,” the journal continues, “but rather [it is] nourished [by it].”
Interestingly, Solomon himself exhorted: “Listen to your father who caused your birth, and do not despise your mother just because she has grown old.” (Proverbs 23:22) Solomon was evidently not writing to young children because by the time parents have “grown old,” the child is likely an adult. The point? Even when you are older and have established your own household, you can still benefit from your parents’ wisdom. Ivan came to realize that himself. He says: “As I grow older, I try to copy the strengths of my parents while trying to avoid their mistakes.”
A second point to consider is that Solomon’s priority was, not establishing his own “identity,” but pleasing Jehovah. True, much was expected of him as David’s son. But Solomon’s reliance on Jehovah enabled him to shoulder his responsibilities. Alexander has adopted a similar view. He says: “I now accept the fact that more is generally expected of elders’ children. I decided to use this in a positive way, and it has proved to be a protection for me. I have come to realize that Jehovah’s view of me is the most important thing. He knows me for who I am and not just who I am related to.”
Daryn, whose father is a graduate of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead*—a school that trains missionaries—has also learned to cope with having well-known parents. He says: “When I was baptized, I dedicated myself to Jehovah and not to anyone else. By living up to my dedication to the best of my ability, I have inner peace that comes from knowing that Jehovah is pleased with me, even if I am unable to accomplish all the things my parents did.”
King Solomon made this observation: “Even by his practices a boy makes himself recognized as to whether his activity is pure and upright.” (Proverbs 20:11) When all is said and done, people will remember you for what you say and do. Be an example “in speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness.” If you are, people will love and respect you for who you are!—1 Timothy 4:12.
For other youths, though, the challenge is to come out from under the shadow of brothers or sisters who are high achievers. A future article will discuss how you can face this challenge.
Some names have been changed.
Gilead School is managed and directed by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Blurb on page 26]
Rebelling will only bring your parents grief and damage your reputation
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Your good example can benefit others