My sister recently wrote a short piece on the impact of our parents' becoming Jehovah's Witnesses in the 1950s. She was a teenager at the time. What is so striking and disturbing is that the same predicament faces so many teenagers to this day. I think my sister's reflections may be of some help to any who are currently facing the issues raised when a parent or parents become JWs. Here is her story:
"It was the middle of my junior year in high school. Academically I was doing very well. I had been invited to join Alphas, the honor society, I was elected class secretary, my boyfriend had given me his pin, I had joined Students for Stevenson, my introduction to politics, I taught Sunday School at All Saints Episcopal Church …. in other words I was the poster-perfect teenage girl of 1952 .… until I went home after school.
"My father had become a Jehovah’s Witness and my mother was seemingly following in his footsteps. Almost every night I had to attend Bible studies to learn the “truth.” As my biblical education progressed, I became the unwitting victim of their manipulative abuse as one by one, I was separated from my activities, some friends, and even certain visits with my grandmother, especially if they were church-related.
"Although I might have been considered a child, I had experienced almost sixteen years of a contradictory belief system. When I offered an opinion, it was trumped by their black and white interpretations and was considered resistance and negativity. I was being steamrolled into agreeing with their point of view. I found their beliefs to be self-serving, blaming others for their own failure. It was awful to have all those adult things forced upon me and feel powerless to fight back. I begged them to allow our former minister to come to one of our studies to strengthen my arguments. He came, and they treated him with total disrespect, refusing to listen to him or even allow him to respond to their pomposity. My parents were cutting off all possibility of real communication between us and I was left afraid and anxious about my future.
"I was ashamed of my parents as they went door to door preaching, and so for months, I kept my fear and anger to myself until I felt I would burst. Finally, I tearfully shared everything with my boyfriend, Bob, and my closest friend, Lorraine. It was an immense relief to reveal what I had been living through. They had difficulty understanding what it all meant, but were both completely supportive and urged me to speak with the Dean of Girls at school. As a result, I made an appointment to see Romaine Pauley and found her to be a compassionate and wonderful listener.
"I explained how I had been ordered to resign from my class office and my membership in Students for Stevenson because the only government in which one should participate was Jehovah’s theocracy. I could no longer belong to the honor society because its project was to assist at the Red Cross blood bank serving juice and cookies to donors, and the Witnesses did not believe in blood transfusions. I was no longer allowed to attend church. But the biggest blow of all was that their Bible studies took precedence over education. I could only prepare for my classes if there was time after I studied with my parents or attended their meetings. I would not be allowed to go to college because only the study of Jehovah was important. Armageddon was looming and the world was about to end.
"By the time my junior year was complete, Mrs. Pauley had urged me to continue taking college required classes, explained that I would always be a member of the honor society even if I didn’t participate in its project, that I should go ahead and apply to colleges and would probably receive scholarship offers, and that after I finished high school, I might consider leaving home. She invited me to come and talk with her at any time. It was this wonderful support, her encouragement, suggestions and her availability to me, that guided and inspired me throughout my senior year.
"At home, I had to attend bible studies, our family social life revolved around the Witnesses, I had to attend their meetings, listen to their inflammatory rhetoric and go out in the service, knocking on doors and passing out Watchtowers on street corners. I was only allowed to see my school friends when it didn't conflict with Bible studies or meetings.
"I made the decision that I would leave home as soon after graduation as I could work out a plan. The summer after graduation, I had an unforeseen and wonderful visit from a cousin who understood and witnessed my plight, and agreed to drive me to Denver where I had an offered home with my aunt and uncle. I had not applied to any colleges because I couldn’t picture a scenario that would make it possible. Yet, a year later, with the help of all those who had supported me, I had a new home and a new vision. I did receive a full scholarship and I did go to college."
My sister has had and is having a wonderful life, having obtained a college education, having nurtured two children to productive adulthood, having traveled the world and being married to an adoring husband. She used her brain, her sense of right and wrong, her optimism and whatever support she could find to have a successful and fulfilling life. I hope her thoughts give support to others.