I grew up in Northern Virginia. It’s important to note the “northern” part. Because Northern Virginia is a different world from the rest of the state. We consider ourselves an extension of Washington DC. The pace where life is faster, the obsession over politics is greater, appreciation of government and country is larger.

This isn’t necessarily the case for everyone who lives there, but for me and my family? We were patriots. Bona fide lovers of the US of A.

The only song that would soothe my colicky little brother was “You’re A Grand Old Flag.”

On long car trips instead of playing Mad Libs or the license plate game, we listened to “Wee Sing America” and learned every verse to Yankee Doodle Dandy.

We participated—and won, I might add—the yearly bike-decorating contest held on Memorial Day when we were judged on how patriotic our bikes were.

We—well, I—had America themed birthday parties growing up—where attendees had to come dressed as their favorite character in American history.

(It didn’t seem weird at the time.)

Lucky for me I had one of the best friends in the history of the world who agreed to dress up for this particular birthday party as George Washington so I could wear my exceptionally designed and executed Martha Washington costume.

So July 4th has always been a family favorite holiday. It’s in my blood. And maybe, the reason I love it most, is because as divided a country as we may be at times, when it comes down to it, we can all agree to celebrate the most American thing of all: freedom.

It may be a bit of stretch, but I think there’s a connection between July 4th and parenting, between the freedom we celebrate in our country and the freedom we direct towards the raising of our kids.

Stick with me.

When I think about our fledgling nation, I think about the things our founding fathers wanted so badly to embody, and how they would never have known what they wanted or how they wanted to do it, unless they had experienced the years they did under the power and governing of Great Britain. Freedom is only as treasured and handled responsibly as the experience leading up to it allows.

And that’s our job as parents. To restrict freedom for a season, then to unleash it a bit at a time, so when the day arrives of declaring independence, flying the coop and leaving the nest, branching out on their own and taking on the brave new world, they aren’t floundering and failing in it because we failed to prepare them.

So how do we prepare?

We take our cues from them.

What are they capable of?

What are they ready for?

Not what do they tell us they can handle, not what does their age dictate or their friends say, but what does our children’s behavior communicate about the kind of freedom they need now, and the kind of freedom they are working towards later?

Restrict freedom too much and we end up with teenagers declaring independence to be followed by a metaphorically bloody revolution. But give too much too soon, we end up with kids incapable of handling the responsibility and privilege freedom requires.

Freedom well timed and well allotted is one of parenting’s greatest challenges. It isn’t always a straight line in one direction. Some days allow for more freedom than others. There are times we think our kids are nearly ready for a declaration of independence all their own. And times we think they’ll never be equipped to bear what freedom asks of them.

Just remember, independence doesn’t happen over night. It can’t. It shouldn’t. So don’t ask it to.

Remember my Martha Washington costume? I got to wear it again on September 17, 1987, when our elementary school celebrated the bicentennial of the Constitution being signed. Meaning, two things:

  1. Dreams do come true.
  2. Even though the Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776 it took eleven years for the Constitution to be written and signed. Eleven years from the time independence was declared and independence was fully executed.

Freedom takes time. So give it time. Give a bit at a time, and watch what happens. Let a bit out, maybe take a bit back in, all the while working towards that day when our kids don’t just declare their independence from us, but are fully equipped to handle what that independence asks of them.

Work at making them ready for the day they get it, and work on being ready for the day you give it, when it finally arrives.

And if all else fails, never underestimate the power in a well-timed rendition of “It’s a Grand Old Flag”.