Teaching our Children What the Flag Stands For

How A Funeral Reminded Me of the Importance of Teaching our Children to Respect the Flag

A funeral is always an emotional event.  A recent funeral flooded me with such a mixture of emotions.  Sadness for the family, pride in seeing my friend honored for having served his country, and sobering thoughts of how in some ways we are missing the mark with the current young adult generation.

I recently attended the funeral of my friend John.  He was a good man, a man who loved God and loved his family well.  He was also a veteran who had served in the US Navy.  Although it had been many years since his time in the Navy, it was an emotional moment to witness that his service still had value in the eyes of the Navy and our country. It was meaningful to me to see him honored at his funeral.  

I have always considered myself a patriotic person but I realize that the older I get, and the more folks I know who have served in the US military, the more fully I appreciate the sacrifices they have made. Sacrifices the whole family has made.

There are many ways in which the military is so regimented, so structured, and precise in a way that I haven’t always appreciated. I saw that structure in a different light on this day.  

This wasn’t my first military funeral, but for a whole bunch of reasons I see things a little differently the older I get.  After three shots were fired, I stood captivated as a man and a woman, both in Navy uniform, folded the US flag with such precision and care.  It was a slow process.  A precise process. Such great care was taken.  

When this carefully folded flag was presented to the widow, sincerity and compassion could be seen in the eyes of the presenter. “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Navy and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

It really got to me and it was obvious I wasn’t the only one that was affected in this way. 

Many eyes were wet that day. We were sad for my friend who lost her husband. We were sad and concerned for her that she is now the only parent to her adult son with Down syndrome.  We were sad remembering how John had so worried over his wife having to care for him and worried about leaving her on her own.  He was diagnosed soon after Margaret lost her mother after being her caregiver for several years.  Unselfishly, his only concern wasn’t for himself or anything he faced, but for Margaret.   

Although seeing him honored didn’t take away any of that sadness and concern, I was also struck with the reminder that although this friend’s time in the Navy was many years ago; he had willingly put his life at risk for the good of all of us that get to enjoy the safety and freedom that we have in the US.  

I couldn’t help but contrast the care taken on this day, with both sadness and a bit of anger that some callously and purposefully disrespect our flag.  The flag is a symbol; a symbol of our country and our freedom.    A symbol of all that is fought for by those willing to leave their homes and families and risk their very lives for the good of all.  

How is it that some have so little thought of the very thing, our flag, that is treated so carefully by others as a revered symbol?

“And a grateful Nation.”  

We must teach our children that our freedoms and our safety aren’t without cost. That freedom isn’t free. The reverence for our flag and appreciation for our military is learned when we understand the cost.  

I remember a day many years ago now when my husband and kids were watching the Olympics.  My husband stood when the national anthem came on and covered his heart with his right hand.  He did this so that my young children would see him showing reverence for the flag and the national anthem being sung.  They were young and impressionable and he spontaneously decided this was a good way to begin to teach them.   To be honest, on that day I thought it seemed a little overboard, a little silly.  I don’t think so anymore.

When I graduated high school I had a general appreciation for our military and our flag.  I do remember that pledging allegiance to the flag all my school years taught me a feeling of respect for what it stood for.  History, for the most part though, felt like a bunch of dates and events that happened a long time ago that didn’t seem all that real to me.

When we homeschooled, we didn’t do history the way I had learned it, with a textbook and dates to memorize.  We read biographies and historical fiction. We also read stories of real people with real families with real struggles making real sacrifices.  For me, this inspired much better understanding of the price paid for the life I am able to live.  I was thankful too that this helped my kids come to a different and deeper understanding much earlier in life than me.

This isn’t a post about homeschooling; my husband attended public school his entire school years and he is one of the most patriotic people I know.  When I asked what had influenced him the most he said: 1) saying the pledge of allegiance at school every day and 2) the example set for him by family members that served in the military.  Those family members knew firsthand that freedom isn’t free.  They showed respect for the fought for symbol of our freedom and safety.  

Whether they go to school or homeschool, we the parents must teach our kids what is most important for them to know.  We teach them the most by our example.  It is humbling and scary to think about that our kids are always watching us.  

In all areas of life, what we do matters so much more than what we say.


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