I think I’ve only met Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak once or twice “in real life”, but when I received a review copy of their recent book Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood I was pondering how this dynamic husband and wife feel like trusted friends. This is probably because I’ve been a longtime fan of their books and their wonderful radio program. On many occasions, although they might not even know it, the Popcaks have aided me in parenting and marriage challenges. I refer readers to their work many times per month when I receive private emails from folks needing counseling from a faith-filled Catholic perspective. Today, I’m happy to share the following conversation with Dr. Greg and Lisa. If you don’t already know them, please definitely check out their website at www.CatholicCounselors.com. If you do already consider them “friends” as I do, today would be a great time to catch up with the Popcaks! Lisa
Q: Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak, welcome to CatholicMom.com and thank you for sharing so much expertise with our families! We’re happy to welcome you today for a conversation about one of your most recent books Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood. Before we dive into the book, please briefly introduce yourself and your lovely family.
Lisa: Greg and I have been married for 26 years and we have children from 22 down to 9. God has really blessed our family. We just have the best time together and all of our kids really love the Lord with their whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. The strength we draw from our relationships to one another is such a gift and we couldn’t be more grateful for the graces God has given us over the years.
Dr. Greg: When we were first married, Lisa was suffering from a chronic illness. Her doctors told us that we might never be able to have children. About 2 years after we were married, she received a miraculous healing, but we lost the first child we conceived after that. We went through a time of intense prayer and reflection after that and the grace that God gave us during that time challenged us to rethink a lot of our assumptions about parenting and family life. We were both always crazy about kids, but going through the illness and the loss really drove home how precious life truly is and what a treasure family life is in particular. Since then, of course, we’ve gone on to have children both biologically and through adoption. It’s been a great adventure! All along the way, God has been teaching us about the importance of never taking each other and our children for granted. I think that’s a theme that runs through both our personal life and our ministry
Q: What attracted you to the work you do? How has your faith impacted upon your career related decisions?
Dr. Greg: I was in secular, private practice for several years, but I was constantly praying to find some way to both serve the Church and to work from home so I could be more present to my family. Growing up, we lived above my dad’s photography studio. I used to love going downstairs to hang out with him in the darkroom. Even when he was busy, it was just nice knowing he was there. I wanted that for my kids.
Lisa: I thought he was crazy. I mean, of course it was a wonderful fantasy, but it seemed like an impossibility–especially doing the kind of work he did. I couldn’t imagine how it would all come together. But we kept bringing our desires to God and asking him to find a way for us to both bring Greg home and, to the degree that it was possible, for us both to work together serving the Church. We wanted to find a way to combine my background in education, teaching, and lactation consulting with his work as a counselor to serve couples and families.
Dr. Greg: Bit by bit, God brought it all together. With the publication of my first book, For Better…FOREVER! I was able to close my face-to-face practice and create the Pastoral Solutions Institute, a Catholic tele-counseling practice that has four full-time associates and provides over 10,000 hours of pastoral counseling services to Catholic individuals, couples and families around the world. Since then, Lisa and I have gone on to write almost 20 different books and programs between us, hosted three different nationally-syndicated radio programs, and hosted two television programs for Catholic television. All while getting to work from home and homeschool our kids. We praise God every day for allowing us to serve him in a way that also allows us to put our family life first.
Lisa: In fact, this year, we’re coming out with an expanded and revised, 15th anniversary edition of For Better…FOREVER! And this time, we’re co-authoring it. Time has really flown!
Q: This book, Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood is a true primer for parents. How would you describe the book to someone who hasn’t had the chance to read it yet?
Lisa: When we were finally able to start a family–especially after everything we’d been through–we were thrilled. But every time we told someone we were expecting, they would start telling us stories of how awful it was going to be. “You’ll never sleep again. ” “There goes the romance.” “You’ll never get a moment’s peace.” People seemed to rejoice in trying to kill our joy about having kids. We wanted to send a different message. Sure parenting is hard work, but we like to think of it as the hard work that goes into planning an awesome party.
Dr.Greg: Exactly. You could approach a party dreading every second. Resenting the time you have to put into decorating. Dreading all the preparation time and cooking, and effort. Or, you could allow the hard work to build the excitement and the joy and remind you of the specialness of the thing you’re celebrating. We don’t sugar coat anything in the book. We’re very real. Yes, parenting will be the most challenging thing you will ever do, but it can also be the most enjoyable, fun, loving, rewarding, soul-satisfying experience you will ever have. We want parents to know from day one that their baby’s life is worth celebrating and that every day you get to be a family is a gift from God, and what do you do when someone gives you a gift? You rejoice in it! We want the book to show parents how to rejoice in their family life from day one.
Lisa: We really hope that parents will come away from Then Comes Baby with the sense that all the long nights and sacrifice is about more than that, it’s about opening our hearts to grace. It’s about growing into the people God is calling you to be. It’s about creating the kind of home life that fills your heart with love and your days with laughter. If you can just allow yourself to turn off the inner-critic, and tune out all the people who are lining up to tell you “you’re doing it wrong” and just learn to hear God speaking to you through your child–just as St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body teaches–then you can discover a path to an uncommonly joyful, loving, grace-filled family life.
Q: Why is this book NOT just for first time parents?
Dr. Greg: Because whether you’re having your first or your fifth or your fifteenth kid, you can never discover enough new ways to make your family life as rewarding as your heart says it ought to be.
Lisa: We’re living in a time when family life is a lost art. People think that family life “just happens” when you have kids. But it’s not. Unless you’re intentional about creating an actual family life with real time to work, and play, and talk, and pray together, then what you end up with is a bunch of people living under the same roof and sharing a data plan. Catholics know that family life is meant to be more than that, but many of us don’t know how to begin to create it. Today’s world does not tend to offer a lot of great examples of healthy, happy, intact family life.
Dr.Greg: We want Then Comes Baby to show parents of every size family how they can raise, faithful, loving, joyful kids and enjoy themselves while doing it. What parents wouldn’t want to learn more about that no matter how long you’ve been at it?
Q: What might some readers find surprising about this book? What do you hope they will learn by reading it?
Lisa: We’ve gotten tremendous feedback on parts of the book that focus on the spirituality of parenthood and family life. We really try to show readers how to discover the grace hiding behind every aspect of family life. God is reaching out to moms and dads through even the most mundane aspects of parenting. We get so many emails from moms that say, ” On those days when I just feel run down and like I’m burning out, your book helps me remember how important what I’m doing is to God. Thanks for helping me rediscover the joy of being a mom.”
Dr.Greg: We also talk a lot about the research that shows how the first three years of the baby’s life lay the foundations for your child’s future relationship with God. In many ways, parents really do represent the face of God to their children. The way we relate to our kids in general, but especially in those early, first years, really do serve as a kind of early catechesis that teaches your child what to expect from his or her relationship with God and faith. We teach parents how to take advantage of this knowledge so they can begin teaching their children how to love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength from before they can even walk and talk.
Q: How have your own parenting challenges helped you to be more effective in your writing, speaking and counseling?
Dr. Greg: I think the most important thing I have learned as a parent–something that really makes a difference in my clients lives as well–is the importance of avoiding power-struggles with your kids. It’s such a trap. Some parents live in fear of their children manipulating them from day one. The more you buy into this idea, the more you give up your real power as a parent, the more you reduce yourself to acting like a child, and the more you undermine any effectiveness, much less any joy, in your parenting role. We really believe in empowering parents to be parents.
Lisa: In John 13:3, right before Jesus washes the feet of the apostles, it says that Jesus, “knowing that the Father had put everything under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, took of his cloak, wrapped a towel around his waist and began to wash his disciple’s feet.” What a great model of authority! In other words, John is saying, “Jesus, knew he didn’t have anything to prove to his apostles, and so he freely served them and taught them by his example.” Parents can take a lot from this. We waste so much time trying to convince our children of our authority, of being afraid that they are going to get something over on us, or play us. We forget that God has given us all the power and all the authority and we don’t have to prove anything to anyone, least of all our kids. Realizing that is what allows us to stop all the heavy-handedness and power-struggles and game playing with our kids and just relax, love them, serve them, teach them, and guide them.
Dr. Greg: Parenting becomes a lot more joyful and freeing when you learn to stop worrying about your 2year old (or for that matter, 12 or 20 year old) getting the upper hand.
Q: What are your hopes for this book?
Lisa: We hope that it will help readers rediscover the art of family life and help them realize the power that Catholic family life has, in particular, to both fill their hearts with joy and to transform the world with their example of love.
Dr. Greg: We are speaking at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia on the need to rediscover the unique vision that the Church has for family life. As we mentioned earlier, people in general, and Catholic people as well, have largely lost a sense of family life and most people would be hard-pressed to articulate what qualities are supposed to make Catholic family life stand out. We hope that Then Comes Baby will help readers create a family that enables them to celebrate family life to the fullest and be a living witness to the abundant love that springs from God’s own heart.
Q: For readers who would like to learn more about your telephone counseling practice or who would like bring you and Lisa to speak in their parishes or dioceses, how can they get in touch?
They can reach us through our website at www.CatholicCounselors.com or, to make an appointment with one of our staff of professional Catholic therapists, they can call the tele-counseling line at 740-266-6461.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
Dr. Greg: When it comes to parenting–especially parenting infants and toddlers, there are only three words you need to keep in mind. “Be not afraid!” Seriously, enjoy the experience. And if you aren’t enjoying yourself, then get the help you need to make that changes necessary for it to become enjoyable. Children are a gift, if we, as Catholic parents, don’t celebrate that gift and revel in our role, who will?
Lisa: Dare to change the world, one well-loved little one at a time.
Copyright 2015 Lisa M. Hendey