How a “Friday” Can Change Your Child Forever

What in the world is a “Friday” you may be wondering? A “Friday” is actually one of the most important things you can do for your children. To illustrate what this is, I’d like to share a special story that happened when I was working at a mental hospital.

During my first group counseling session, I introduced myself and then fielded several questions from the patients. One question was if I had any children. With pride, I displayed a photo of my two-year old daughter, Taylor. Several hours later, I then had one of the most meaningful interactions of my life.

Her name was Michele. However, this fifteen year-old wasn't your typical teenager. There were terrible scars covering her arms from where she'd repeatedly tried to kill herself. Michele was under heavy medication and could barely talk. Nevertheless, she was determined to speak with me. “I saw that picture of your daughter,” she announced emotionless. “So I want to give you some parenting advice!” As a father with two master's degrees in psychology, my first thought was, “What could this hurting teen possibly teach me about parenting?” I quickly learned, however, that Michele would become one of my greatest teachers. The encounter with Michele lasted only a few seconds–long enough for her to hand me a small note. Here is the “parenting advice” I received that day:

“Ever since I was a little girl I spent time with my father on Friday. “Fridays” were not just another day of the week for me. It was a special time with my father. We would go places, and it made me feel happy inside to know that my father liked being together. Sometimes we couldn't go out–but my father always apologized and made it up to me later. Being with my father was very special. He died a few years ago. I truly believe that I would not be in the hospital if he were alive today. When we went out, we talked about my problems and he listened to me. I just want to say since you’re a father–have a “Friday” with your daughter.” – Michele

Tragically, Michele would never again experience a “Friday.” Several weeks after I received her note, Michele took her own life. Thankfully, she left a small legacy behind–several words that I’ll cherish forever.

1. Why is a loving, Christian father so important for children?

The same thing that Michele learned as a young child is that fathers can have a tremendous impact upon their children. Having a “Friday,” that is, spending time with our children, provides the opportunity for many wonderful things to happen. For example, when we are with our children we can pass on our values and beliefs, model what it means to be a Godly man, prepare them for future relationships, and it can strengthen our relationship. Also, spending time with children helps to provide them with a solid foundation and a cherished place to belong. Urie Bronfenbrenner, Professor at Cornell University found that children who know they belong to a family have a decreased need to adopt the values and behaviors of others. As a result, they are more resistant to peer pressure in the adolescent years, reducing the risk of promiscuity, substance abuse, and suicide. Furthermore, not only is a child benefited from fatherly involvement, but the father is blessed as well. There is hardly anything that can compare to the great feeling of knowing that you were important in the life of your child.

2. What are some special activities I can do with my child even though I’m so busy with work, my marriage, and other things?

Spending time with our children can be difficult because we all have more to do than can be done in one day. But as parents, we can spend meaningful time with our children by doing several things. First, we need to make a distinction between quantity time verses quality time. In the midst of a busy day, it’s nearly impossible to provide a vast amount of time with each child. Therefore, what children need is quality time and not just “time.” Simply spending time with someone does not ensure that it’s time well spent. How often are we home, but not present. In order to be present with our children we need to set aside special times for them each week. Much like a “Friday.” One of the best illustrations I’ve ever heard of providing a special time was found in God's Little Devotional Book for Dads. As a young boy opened up a Christmas present, he found a note from his father inside the small box. “Son, this year I will give you 365 hours, an hour every day after dinner.”

“This simple present became the greatest gift I ever had in my life,” explained the boy as an adult. “Because my dad not only kept his promise, but every year he renewed it. I am the result of his time.”

Although involvement with your children needs to be a frequent life experience, it does not have to be extensive. Perfect activities include waking up with them in the morning, eating meals together, developing a family night, conducting a family Bible study, having a special moment before bed, or having a “Friday.” When doing these kinds of activities, it's important to discover each person’s most meaningful activity. This can be accomplished by asking each child to list the activities he would enjoy most. You might use the zero to ten scale, with ten being the most fun and fulfilling.

Michele's letter will always remind me of the power available to fathers. “Fridays” can strengthen your relationship and can bond you closer together. But it can also provide you with an avenue to pass on your beliefs and teach valuable lessons. You can then be a tremendous influence in their life because with so many negative influences out there, someone or something is going to impact your child. The question is, will that person be you?

Greg Smalley, PsyD
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Dr. Smalley previously served as the director of Marriage Ministries for The Center for Healthy Relationships. He is the author or co-author of twelve books concerning marriages and families, and currently serves as the executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family.

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