Parenting: Kids and Vets

A Murphy child, a veterans' memorial.

Memorial Day is more than just a day off for the Murphy's.
May 25, 2011 8:30:49 AM PDT
Memorial Day is more than just a day off for the Murphy's.

With the Memorial Day weekend beckoning, I thought it would be a good time to talk about how the holiday can mean a little more to you and your kids if you take a few minutes to consider why we're getting the day off.

Memorial Day, originally known as "Decoration Day", has uncertain origins, according to Various towns and municipalities claim to have originated the idea, which blossomed from the ashes of the recently ended Civil War in the mid to late 1860s. What's undisputed is its purpose: to give Americans a day to reflect and memorialize those veterans who've given their lives in military service to their nation. The holiday was first officially observed with the laying of flowers on the graves of soldiers from both the North and the South at Arlington National Cemetery in May, 1868. The U.S. Congress officially designated the final Monday in May as the national observance in 1971.

There are numerous services and remembrance ceremonies on Memorial Day, usually held at regional war memorial parks and military monuments. I'm not suggesting that it's necessary to haul your kids to one of these, although you'd be welcome if you did. But a trip to a local monument outside of any ceremony is often a pretty simple exercise and adds some understanding of what having a military component to our country is all about, and why we pause to remember. Often, the memorials list the names of area residents who lost their lives during a given conflict, putting a personal aspect to our national identity and to Memorial Day. Explaining to your kids about the history of their nation, and how the military has played a pretty important role in the world they've inherited can add perspective, and perhaps set the table for a general respect for men and women in uniform that could serve them well down the road.

I try to make the point with my kids that war, always controversial and never an ideal means to an end, has at many times become necessary over the centuries we've been on this planet, as we have attempted to maintain order and liberty. But no matter what they come to believe about a given conflict or use of military force, the importance of the job of soldiering, and the honor with which our military usually performs the job, are worthy of acknowledgement and respect. I remind them that with the Memorial Day holiday comes a responsibility to take at least a moment to reflect on that work, and the reasons behind all those flags on the lawn. Then, they're free to go off and play as they please. After all, the holiday is also a time to relax, unwind, and have some fun! But it's nice not to allow the day to go by without giving some thought as to why we celebrate.

There are military memorials, small and large, in almost every township and municipality (my local memorial sits outside of the local post office). If you notice one nearby over the next few days, consider bringing your kids back for a visit over the weekend, and give them a little taste of history and what Memorial Day is all about.

---David Murphy

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