Every year all across America, millions of people take time off from work, school and responsibilities to gather in back yards, pools and parks to hold barbeques and parties to celebrate Memorial Day (AKA, the start of summer)
We happily engage our children in the traditional activities associated with the holiday; we toss water balloons and play volley ball, plant gardens, host cook outs and go camping…but if you really think about it, NONE of these activities alone are in alignment with the true meaning of the Holiday, which was created to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. The holiday was first called “Decoration Day” because it was the day all of the grave sites of US Service Men and Women were decorated with flags and flowers to honor their ultimate sacrifice for our Country.
But how many of us teach that truth to our children?
Instead, we take our child(ren) to Memorial Day events, Parades or celebrations where there is candy and games and “distractions from the seriousness of the topic”. Unless we are personally celebrating our own military family or friends, we choose to shelter our children from the true meaning of the day because it’s too much of a bummer. Yet how many adults do you know who complain because children today are disrespectful, unappreciative and lack empathy? And, how many of those same adults talk to their children about the feelings of children or spouses who have lost a parent or loved one in the military and how they might be celebrating on Memorial Day? I’d bet not many, because most parents today would say that’s too traumatic…that celebrating death is too macabre. But if you asked the families of those who have given their life, they would probably see it as a beautiful lesson in recognizing how we as human beings give and sacrifice for one another so we can all be free, safe and honored.
My belief is that in our attempt to shelter our children from fear and sadness, we don’t give our children enough opportunities to be thankful for all they do have. If we as parents put forth the effort, we have endless opportunities to make this Holiday fun, respectful and rewarding for ourselves, our kids and our Military.
A great place to start is by talking to our kids about the true meaning of Memorial Day, listening to their thoughts and feelings about it and then, planning a way for the whole family to celebrate and HONOR those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and their families. Help them brainstorm ideas like initiating a flag placing ceremony at your local cemetery, or starting an “Honoring you” letter writing campaign for a local military family who lost a Dad, Mom, Son or Daughter. Plan a Thank you card party to a Veterans organization. Put on a play, write a poem, make a video, create a banner or bake and decorate a cake to honor those who have died for our freedom. Then encourage them to share their idea or creation ceremoniously at your neighborhood picnic or party. Would that be too traumatic? Would it be too macabre? Or would it be teaching our kids that when someone is willing to do, give or sacrifice for us, we honor them by celebrating their gift.
Perhaps, this year we can all take an opportunity to allow our children to learn, feel, and display empathy by teaching them about and encouraging them to celebrate the true gifts of Memorial Day…Those who served, fought and died for the USA.