November is a busy time of year. We’ve just barely gotten through Halloween, and we are still doing battle over all of the candy. Christmas is on the horizon, and for me, I have three birthdays to plan. It’s easy to let November 11th slip by without more than a cursory nod. Because who does it really hurt if I don’t fully embrace Remembrance Day? If I just remember without participating in the ceremonies and rituals around Remembrance Day, what harm am I doing?
The answer is that I’m hurting my children – not in a tangible way, not in a way that they’d be able to look back and point a finger at me and say that I let them down. But, if I allow Remembrance Day to pass without honouring the veterans with an outward show of remembrance and thanks, then I’m failing as their parent to teach them the importance of the sacrifices so many have made and are continuing to make to give my children the life they have.
So, how do I show them?
I’ll admit Remembrance Day always seems to sneak up on me. It shouldn’t, it’s the same day every year. It’s in every single one of my calendars in bold letters. Plus, it’s very personal and significant for me. I don’t usually mention that I’m a serving member in the Royal Canadian Navy in my blog postings. I normally like to keep my two personas separate. But, I am.
I’m proud to serve Canada, but I don’t want my opinions to be taken as a reflection of the opinions of the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole, so normally, I don’t refer to my experience serving my country.
However, at this time of year, as a future veteran, I have some thoughts about the importance of Remembrance Day, especially for our children.
WHAT’S GOING ON?
Facebook has been filled with pictures and words of remembrance. Many people have changed their profile pictures to poppies and white crosses. However, in amongst the positive statements, I read a comment from someone who suggested that he didn’t need a plastic flower to help him remember, because for him every day was Remembrance Day. And I certainly understand what he means. For me, I don’t need a day singled out every year to remind me of the sacrifices that have been made and are still being made to keep Canada free, but Remembrance Day isn’t about me.
Remembrance Day is about ensuring that future generations have an awareness of what it truly means to live in peace, even if it’s impossible for them to truly conceptualize the devastation of war. It’s about teaching our children to be grateful for the privileged lives they have. Because, even with the social issues that many Canadians face – poverty, homelessness, addiction, violence, etc. – we are still more fortunate than most of the world.This privilege was won at a great cost. Click To Tweet
WHY IS IT HARD TO REMEMBER?
It’s been so long since war has directly impacted the daily lives of the vast majority of Canadian citizens, making it easy to fall into thinking that it couldn’t happen again. Maybe it’s also a bit of a protective instinct. Ever since the invention of nuclear weapons, the mere thought of a global war has been terrifying to imagine. It’s easier to believe that the leaders of the countries holding those weapons are reasonable and would never actually launch them – but then why do they have them? Is the mere threat of them meant to keep the ‘bad guys’ at bay?
Much of the world is torn apart by violent conflict. I believe that it’s imperative for those of us who live in the relative protection of our first world nations, like Canada, to teach our children the importance of ‘fighting’ for peace.
My inspiration for today’s post came while I was at the school assembly at my children’s elementary school. And that inspiration was two-fold. First, it was mentioned that one of the other moms wasn’t attending because ‘she wasn’t really feeling it.’ Second was my reaction. My initial reaction wasn’t dismay at her lack of respect for the ceremony. Rather, it was to think that I could understand that. The assembly is at an awkward time and many of the school assemblies can be quite boring. I, truth be told, was only in attendance because my sons had asked me if I was coming and would I wear my ‘Navy Suit’ (their name for my uniform).
My response to the other mother ‘not feeling it’ shocked me.
If I, as a member of the military, was feeling blasé about attending a Remembrance Day ceremony, regardless of the fact that I was participating in a ‘real’ ceremony on Remembrance Day, what is the rest of the country thinking?
What are my children thinking?
My reluctance to attend wasn’t about ignorance. I understand how crucial it is. I think it’s about the fact the wars we are remembering are just abstract constructs to us now. It’s getting easier to think that it could never happen again – that it will never affect me directly.There are so few people left who actually remember WWII that it’s getting harder and harder to keep it personal. And for Remembrance Day to be effective it needs to be personal. Click To Tweet
Our children need to understand the effect that war has on individual people, because they can’t really conceptualize what it means when we say the whole world was at war. I can’t really conceptualize it, and I’ve been to countries that do not have the same freedoms as us. I have friends and colleagues who have PTSD and other injuries from the War in Afghanistan. I have done peace keeping. Despite all of this, I still don’t truly understand the horror.
So how do we help our children to understand the importance of peace and the importance of remembering the sacrifices made to give us peace, so that when they are the decision makers, they will make choices that will favour peace and not armed conflict? And how do we do that without traumatizing them?
5 Strategies I Use To Teach My Children to Remember
Taking them to a Remembrance Day ceremony.
No child is too young to attend. Don’t worry that your children will make noises during the moment of silence. Children are the fundamental reason to ‘fight’ for peace. Before you go talk to them about why Remembrance Day is a solemn time and that there will be times when they must be quiet – but, if they aren’t, it’s okay – it’s through attending that they’ll learn.
Many elements of Remembrance Day are sorrowful, so explain to them that it’s okay to feel sad. But also remind them that the men and women who died did so for peace and that makes them heroes.
The ceremonies are important because it is through the gathering and remembering together that it becomes a part of our tradition. However, there are many reasons that can make attending a ceremony with your children challenging. This doesn’t mean that you can’t participate in Remembrance Day. If you aren’t able to take your children to a ceremony, there are other options, such as watching it on TV. The ceremony in Ottawa is broadcast on the CBC, making it possible to join in wherever you are.
Telling them stories about the heroes of the wars.
Most of our children don’t know anyone who fought in a war, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not important for them to hear stories. Stories are what makes it real for our children. They help them understand how difficult it was for the men and women to leave their families, how scary it was to be in the trenches, and how devastating it was to have their friends die beside them. Our children don’t need to know the gory details; it’s not appropriate or helpful, but they can hear stories about living in trenches, leaving home and brave deeds.
If you don’t have any stories from your own family, look on the internet or find a book about Remembrance Day that was written for children. And don’t solely focus on the wars of the past. There are recent and current wars that might feel more relevant to them.
UPDATE: 13 Nov 17 – The Canadian Letters and Images Project from Vancouver Island University is a great resource for finding real experiences to share.
Taking them to war/military museums.
A visit to a museum is great way to open up dialogue about war, and why it’s so terrible. Our children are exposed to a lot of images of sensationalized violence in movies, TV shows and video games, by taking them to a military museum, you open up a chance to talk about the reality of war – just remember to keep it at an age appropriate level.
Many cities have a war museum. If your city or town doesn’t, check with the local reserve force units; many of them have small regimental museums. The legions are another potential location.
Taking them to other military ceremonies.
Remembrance Day isn’t the only time during the year that the military comes out and honours the past. Individual units or Regiments might have ceremonies throughout the year that honour particular battles or campaigns. One example is the Battle of Atlantic Sunday when the Navy honours the ships that were lost in the Atlantic.
The ceremonies don’t have to be focused on remembrance for them to have an impact. By attending open houses or other military functions, children gain awareness of the role of Canada’s military in today’s world.
By taking your children to other events, it keeps the conversation open year round, rather than just popping up out of the blue every November.
Talking about it.
The key is to talk about it at other times too; Not just on Remembrance Day and the week leading up to it.
As parents, we want to protect our children, so talking about war can be challenging. We don’t want to traumatize our children – and that’s not the point or helpful.
The ideal situation is for the concept of remembrance to be a regular part of their lives, not a once a year thing that is both a bit scary and confusing. If remembrance is just part of our culture and traditions, like Halloween and Thanksgiving, then it will naturally carry forward to future generations.
TAKE AWAY MESSAGE
In my opinion, Remembrance Day is one of the most important things that we celebrate as Canadians. It’s easy to let it slip by unnoticed in our busy lives; because for most of us war has never directly impacted our lives. We blissfully take our freedom for granted.
I caught myself today doing just that. I briefly lost sight of the importance of every ceremony of remembrance, even if it’s just the one at the local elementary school. Arguably, it’s the ceremonies at the elementary schools that are the most important, because if we can instill the values of remembrance and reverence in our children at a young age, then we’ve honoured the veterans that gave our children their freedom.
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