Today's Setbacks are Tomorrow's Victories: Life Lessons From Good Ol' GW
“Animated with the Goodness of our Cause, and the best Wishes of your Countrymen, I am sure you will not let Difficulties not insuperable damp your ardour. Perseverance and Spirit have done Wonders in all ages.” -From George Washington to Major General Philip Schuyler, amidst the Revolutionary War, 20 August 1775
Perseverance. Wow, is that a quality we have needed these last 12 months! And as a Front Porch Parenting character staple, it’s a life-long virtue we hope to develop in ourselves and one we desire to build in our kids -- but how? Make no mistake, Front Porch Parents are no “helicopter parents.” We are all for involvement, guidance, and encouragement, but not sheltering, hovering, and coddling. Perseverance is one of those traits that we can only gain by practicing it, by going through difficult situations which require exercising it.
Think about lifting weights. Each time a muscle lifts a weight, it is strengthened so that the muscle can carry a heavier weight in its next lift. The same “strength-training” applies to perseverance. When we encounter and overcome a challenge -- mental or physical -- we are better equipped to face greater challenges ahead.
No one gets this better than the "father" of our country, George Washington. He was no stranger to challenges. When you think of this Founding Father, what comes to mind? First president. Successful military commander. These are true, but did you know that he also experienced several gut-punching” setbacks earlier in his life? Before you read on, take heart. Because Washington learned to persevere, he not only overcame obstacles, he also was able to achieve his successes.
On the personal side, Washington’s dad died when he was 11 years old. At age 19, he lost his big brother, the man who became like a father to him, to tuberculosis. Whether it was because of the smallpox he contracted as a teenager, or the birthing injury Martha sustained when delivering her final daughter (conceived with her first husband, before he died less than two years later) the Washingtons were never able to bear children. Nevertheless, he embraced his two step children -- ages 3 and 4 when he married Martha -- as his own. Tragically, one of them suffered from epilepsy and died in Washington’s arms when she was only 17.
On the professional side, Washington had leadership roles in the Virginia militia (a force within the English militia system) but he never achieved his childhood dream of a commission in the British Royal Army. In his early adult years, he (obviously) clashed with British politics, making such a goal impossible for him. While he ultimately saw some successes in the French and Indian War, he actually mistakenly incited it when he was only 21 at the Battle of Jumonville Glen. As History.com accounts, “The first military action of Washington’s life resulted in the deaths of 13 enemy soldiers and launched the French and Indian War.” That tragedy, combined with his surrender at Fort Necessity were resume wounds that haunted him for years.
We’ll leave it to you how / if you choose to describe those adverse experiences to your kids; but suffice it to say, George Washington experienced incredible setbacks leading up to the American Revolution and his presidency. It was Washington’s perseverance which led him to overcoming such obstacles and achieving all the successes for which we revere him today.
If Washington didn’t learn perseverance by allowing struggles to be his teachers, who knows what (or if) the story of America’s founding would be. Experiencing tragedy in family life taught him to persist for a greater purpose. Experiencing defeat in battle, taught him how to achieve victory. Experiencing the challenges of politics taught him how to navigate deftly when in office. Similarly, if we don’t allow struggles to be our teachers, we forfeit the opportunity to impact the next generation of Americans. We forfeit the opportunity to positively impact our own destinies, and that of future generations of Americans. Imagine this: what if the things that we think are holding us back now, are actually the things that will propel us forward in the future?
Your kids, thankfully, are far from serving on a battlefield; but to their little hearts and minds, these times can make them feel as though they are up against big battles. While we wish our kids didn’t have to experience this COVID era, physical distancing practices, and less-than-desirable schooling situations, who knows how you can turn these difficult days to produce the perseverance they need to tackle bigger challenges ahead! It takes perseverance to develop more perseverance, and you are just the person to give your kids the encouragement to do it.
George Washington’s tragic approach to Jumonville Glen paled in comparison to his leadership in planning the legendary crossing of the Delaware. His humiliating surrender at Fort Necessity on July 4, 1754, was nothing compared to him and his lifelong colleagues ratifying the Declaration of Independence exactly 22 years later. Washington’s makeshift garrison was aptly named because it was truly a “necessity” for him to endure those setbacks in order to make future advances. Historian Fred Anderson explains, "Washington at age twenty-seven, was not yet the man he would be at age forty or fifty, but he had come an immense distance in five years' time. And the hard road he had traveled from Jumonville's Glen, in ways he would not comprehend for years to come, had done much to prepare him for the harder road that lay ahead." We’re grateful for Washington’s experiences which prepared him to lead our country up those "harder roads" otherwise known as the American Revolution and U.S. Presidency!
Want to know how we’re encouraging our kids to persevere? Get inspired by these 4 phrases here.