For the past few months, I’ve had the great pleasure of a biweekly radio chat with Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak, Directors of the Pastoral Solutions Institute and authors of Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids. As a major fan of Dr. Greg and Lisa’s work, their writing, and their show, I have learned so much over the years from their faith-filled, and yet “real world” vantage point and advice. Theirs is a brand of consultation that takes into account not only the pressures families face today (they’ve successfully raised their own!), but also comes with a truly informed perspective on our Catholic faith and the Theology of the Body.
With their book Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids, the Popcaks have given our families a true gift in the form of counsel and wisdom on how to faithfully address some of the most important issues of our time. Today, I’m thrilled to share my recent conversation with Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak. I invite you to enjoy it, and urge you to purchase a copy of Beyond the Birds and the Bees for your home today.
Q: Please briefly introduce yourself and your beautiful family to our readers.
Hi! We’re Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak. We direct the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled answers to life’s tough marriage, family, and personal questions. Through the Institute, we direct a group, pastoral tele-counseling practice that provides over 8000 hours/year of ongoing psychotherapy/counseling to Catholic couples, families and individuals around the world. Together, we host More2Life, a call-in, Theology of the Body-Based advice program that airs M-F, Noon-1pm Eastern across the US on the Ave Maria Radio Network. Between us, we’ve authored over a dozen books (including Parenting with Grace, For Better…FOREVER!, and Holy Sex!) on different life-application topics that integrate cutting-edge psychological insights with solid Catholic theology.
Our mission is to help people live more abundantly by applying their Catholic faith to every aspect of their life and relationships.
In addition to our speaking, writing, broadcasting, and counseling ministries, Dr. Greg serves as adjunct faculty for Franciscan University of Steubenville in both the Psychology and Graduate Theology Departments.
Q: I’d love to hear a bit of background on how you and Lisa met, and how you found your way to your current vocations?
We met when we were both students at Franciscan. Within a month of beginning to date–although Greg hadn’t yet(!) proposed–we’d reserved the chapel on campus for a tentative wedding date (just in case - we were pretty sure where things were going to end up right from the beginning (although both of us couldn’t have been more surprised at the time!). Greg proposed on our second month anniversary! Everyone thought we were crazy–and of course we were. We got married the day after graduation in the Spring of 1989. It was the best, craziest thing we’ve ever done and it’s just gotten better from there.
Q: Congratulations on the relaunch of your newest book Beyond the Birds and the Bees – what’s new in this new edition of one of your classic works?
The new Beyond the Birds and the Bees is completely revised and updated. This book is not just about fostering healthy sexual development, it’s really about what it takes to raise moral kids from the ground up–birth through young adulthood. In the last ten years, there have been some remarkable developments in two areas that impacted the original book. First, so many more people have learned about the Theology of the Body. While the first edition of the book drew from TTOB, this edition is much more TOB integrated. We really show parents what it means to raise children who don’t just understand TTOB as a concept, but who know how to live it in their bones.
Second, brain science has helped us understand what it takes to train a child’s “moral brain.” Everyone wants to raise kids who don’t just know right from wrong, but who can make great, healthy, moral decisions on-the-spot, under pressure, even when mom and dad aren’t looking. Parents can do a lot to train their children’s “moral brain” to do just this. The techniques and ideas we present in the book not only make parenting easier, they make it possible for your kids to completely internalize and “own” your moral values on an emotional, relational, and neurological level!
Beyond the Birds and the Bees isn’t just a guide for the moral education of your kids, it’s a guide to help parents form the next generation of authentic, whole and holy, moral persons–kids who will have the strength and courage to bring the world to Christ and his Church through the example of their lives.
Q: What do you hope parents will take away from their reading of this book?
First, that it’s possible to raise strong, loving, responsible, moral kids in this crazy world. Parents don’t have to be afraid of the world. God’s grace and the teachings of his Church will prevail–not just at the end of time, but right here and now in your family and in your kids’ lives.
Second, effective moral training involves much more than giving your kids good, faithful information. It involves training your child’s brain to use that information in the moment, under pressure, when you’re not around to make them behave. Kids can’t just know the right thing to do, they have to feel it deep inside in their neurology and muscle memory. Drawing from TTOB and brain science, we show parents how easy it is to raise moral kids from the inside out!
Q: With your own children growing and maturing, what words of wisdom would you offer to parents of young children who are just beginning to discuss theology of the body issues with their little ones?
We are seeing the fruit of Beyond the Birds and the Bees in all our kids, but especially the oldest. They have such incredibly healthy views about faith and relationships that it, frankly, blows us away. The approach we advocate in Beyond the Birds and the Bees works even better than we’d ever dreamed possible thanks to God’s grace. We couldn’t be happier with the fruit its bearing in our children’s lives.
When the first edition of Beyond the Birds and the Bees came out we believed that we were presenting the best moral training program available for parents and kids. Now, we have the life experience that really proves it. And not just our lives, but the stories of so many other moms and dads who have shared the fruit of this approach in their own families. The fact is, with God’s grace and the ideas we share in Beyond the Birds and the Bees, parents really can raise amazingly faithful, responsible, moral, and loving children.
As far as specific advice, in the short space we’ve got, we’d suggest three things to parents.
First, BE. NOT. AFRAID. Yes, the world is scary. Yes, there are lots of things in the world that threaten to pull your kids away from you and from God and from a moral path of life. But we have a faith against which even the Gates of Hell cannot prevail. There is no reason to fear what the world thinks it has to offer. As Catholics, we have the truth of what it takes to live a life of authentic freedom and real joy rooted in God’s all-consuming love. Beyond the Birds and the Bees will show you how to make this possible in your kids’ lives.
Second, BE POSITIVE. Catholicism is NOT the wagging-finger “Church of No” that everyone has been led to believe it is. Pope Benedict XVI proclaims that Catholicism is a positive option. It is the path to a joyful, loving, authentic life. When you talk to your kids about morals, don’t focus on what they can’t do, focus on what being a moral person enables them TO do; namely, be genuinely free, joyful people who have what it takes to creates relationships founded on a love that the rest of the world can only dream of.
Third, BE A MENTOR. If you want to be effective at forming your children, you cannot be a scold. You definitely cannot be aloof. If you want to pass your values on to your kids, you must maintain the kind of strong relationship that makes them want to ask you your opinion on life, the universe, and everything. Your kids have to feel it in their bones that you love them if you want them to really internalize the lessons you are trying to convey. The embodied love you demonstrate to your kids and the investment you make in knowing their hearts makes them not only receptive to what you are trying to teach them, it actually makes them want to ask you to teach them and follow what you teach! Parenting should be a discipleship relationship. Catholic parents are, first and foremost, mentors for Christian living. Beyond the Birds and the Bees shows parents how to create the kind of loving mentor relationship with their children that makes kids genuinely receptive the gifts parents want to give them in the form of their faith and values.
Q: If families have not made this a priority with children who are teens, is it too late for them to make this a priority? How would you advise them to begin prioritizing it in their homes?
It is never too late to become your child’s mentor. In fact, teens need their parents to mentor them more than any other group of kids. To start, begin by getting regular one-on-one time with your teens. It doesn’t have to be a ton of time, but it has to be regular and fairly frequent. Mentors and mentees need time to foster their relationship. If you’re just beginning to create this kind of relationship with an older child, you will need to back off the lectures and lessons for a while. Concentrate on winning their hearts back. When their hearts are open, then you can start to teach the lessons that will last a lifetime. You won’t have to argue. You won’t have to pressure. You just have to lead with love and courage. Beyond the Birds and the Bees will show you how.
Q: As a parent, what have your children taught you that has impacted upon you spiritually and professionally?
That relationship is everything. It’s really what St. Paul says in Corinthians, you can speak with the tongues of angels or have the wisdom of the ages, but if you don’t have love–the kind of love that you don’t just acknowledge but can feel in your bones– it all amounts to nothing.
Q: Please share with our readers about your professional practice and your radio show.
We’ve really been blessed to see how so many people’s lives have been transformed though the work of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. Our motto is “building a Civilization of Love by helping Catholics find faithful answers to life’s difficult family, marriage, and personal questions.” It has been such a blessing and an honor to see this happening everyday in the lives of our clients and callers to the show. It can be extremely difficult to find a faithful place to turn to help when life gets tough. We’re pleased to be able to offer people an oasis of healing and encouragement that allows them to really begin to experience the love God wants us all to live.
If folks are interested in learning about working with a faithful, professional, Catholic counselor, they can contact us through the website at www.CatholicCounselors.com or give us a call at 740-266-6461 For anyone who would like to tune in to More2Life, our radio program that airs every weekday from Noon-1pm Eastern, you can check your local Catholic radio listings (if we’re not on in your area, ask your station to pick us up!). They can also listen to our online simulcast, via podcast, or via the AveMariaRadio IPhone and Android apps, all of which can be accessed at www.AveMariaRadio.net