Hitler was once reported to have said that he was bound by duty never to father children, for “the children of a genius inevitably turn out to be fools.” While Adolf Hitler can be seen as being wrong in a number of things, there are several instances in history where the children of proclaimed geniuses did turn out to be disappointments. However, one should be careful to note that these “failures” may be a combination of their famed predecessor’s reputation causing performance anxiety or status anxiety to take root and not matters of true incompetence. In the end, Hitler may or may not have understood that the children of a person known to be a genius inevitably buckle under the strain of having to live up to their famed parent’s reputation.
A reputation can be a daunting thing to have to go up against, but some believe that it can be even worse to have to live up to. The children of a military genius will find themselves stereotyped and pressured into entering the military, as a means of preserving their parent’s “legacy.” However, performance anxiety can step in when the pressure is too great and the child begins to fear the idea of failing to live up to that formidable reputation, or if the child begins to believe that it is an obstacle he cannot overcome. Some studies and comments have shown that performance anxiety caused by being the child of a genius stems from the psychological perception that, no matter what the offspring has done, it will never really match up to the achievements of the parent.
Status anxiety, however, may have an opposite effect. Having the reputation of famous forebear might push the child to excel in a different field, both to prove that he is just as good as his parent, while ironically escaping the inevitable comparisons that will be made if he entered the same field. Status anxiety can also push a child in the same field as a famous parent to excel in their chosen field, taking the reputation of the parent and re-shaping it into a family reputation. This is quite rare, with several generations being able to do more than just live off a reputation being rarer still. Historically, this was seen in long dynasties, particularly ones with great figures at some point in the bloodline. An example of this would be the Bourbon line of France, with the “Sun King,” Louis XIV, as one of the lineages’ most prominent figures. His grandson, Louis XIV, inevitably failed to live up to his grandfather’s legacy, though he did inherit a kingdom on the verge of revolution.
Regardless of which route the child takes, the burden to perform will always be present. Comparisons will always be made by outsiders and, at times, even the child’s own family. However, how the descendant chooses to deal with the ancestor’s reputation remains the child’s choice, even if external factors may force him to choose one course of action or another. As already mentioned, the child can allow himself to buckle under the strain of the reputation, or he can work through it and form a reputation in his own right.