Parenting With Grace-A Book Study

I recently found this book (I don't remember how), waited forever for it to come into our library, and then loved it so much I went out and bought my own copy.  I have read it, and re-read it, and have highlighted, turned down corners and created some notes for myself that I want to remember.

The book is called Parenting With Grace-The Catholic Parents' Guide to Raising Almost Perfect Kids by Greg and Lisa Popcak.  

The first time I read it, I told Jeff that the book, in essence, combined every favorite book I've read on parenting (from infant to teen), baby care, child development, education and Catholicism.  (It has a foreword written by Dr. Bill and Martha Sears.) It is deep and thoughtful, but useful and practical.  I have no idea how many readers of my blog are Catholic, and although this book is deeply rooted in our faith, I think that many parents of different faiths would find it as inspirational as I have.

I thought I would share my general notes from each chapter as I write them (and as time allows) because I think this book contains powerful messages about parenting-different from what we parents often hear today. I highly recommend this book, and I am a little worried I won't do it justice-I have so much highlighted!, but I want to stick this information into my brain.

Everything in quotations can be directly attributed to the authors, unless otherwise noted.  These are my own very brief personal notes/interpretation/things I want to remember

Introduction Notes:
What's So Special About Catholic Parents?
(this is a long heavy chapter just to warn you)

-If a television crew filmed in your home would the viewers be able to see that your Catholic Faith formed the way you talked to, interacted with, taught, disciplined, played with and responded to your kids?

-Parent kids as the Church parents us-the family is called the "domestic church".

-Our primary job as Catholic parents is to foster the kind of attachment with our children that makes them want too look more like us than they do their peers (just as we want to look more like His children and model Christ.)

-Self-donation: a virtue (mentioned often in the book) that is a kind of heroic generosity that empowers us to use everything God has given us: our time, treasure, talents and even our bodies to for the good of the people in our lives....to work for the good of our children and to raise saints.

-High Standards/Gentle Discipline-The Church has high expectations for our behavior, on the other hand, when we fail, she is an extremely gentle disciplinarian-like the parable of the prodigal son, her discipline strategy comes consists of strengthening our relationship with the Father so that we will never want to leave "home" again.

-We rely on two Holy Books-our lives must be grounded in the Sacred Scripture but we are different in that we recognize that there is another source of Divine Revelation-the "Book of Nature" (Father is the Author of nature)-or science.  "...while the secular world seeks to bend creation to its will, Catholics seek to use the knowledge we gain from science to learn how to cooperate with creation and use it in the manner God intended."-this is called natural law.

-We "can have a clearer picture than ever about what the "Book of Nature" says about the kind of parenting methods that lead to healthier brain development, stronger moral reasoning, and a deeper capacity for intimacy and empathy in our children."

-Theology of the Body (insight of Pope John Paul II, reflection on how God made the human body) is known for is mainly applied to husbands and wives but is much broader and Pope never intended it to be restricted to that context, but for all relationships between people, including parents and children.

-Many evangelical Protestant literature on child-rearing often refers to children's wills which are oppressed and evil and must be broken or subverted.  (James Dobson-"infants are inherently evil")...a negative view that usually leads to corporal punishment.

Catholic Church has more optimistic view of human nature:
Best way to corrects bad behavior is not to tell the child what NOT to do, but rather teach the child to DO instead-actively teach instead of merely punish.  Catholic will must be taught, disciplined and channeled but never disparaged or broken.  DIGNITY of human person important.

"There are no bad boys or girls.  
There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example and bad thinking." 
 Fr. Flanagan

On Obedience:
Obedience is a relationship "between persons of equal dignity."  Obey is not a four letter word.

St Therese wrote "that she never wanted to do anything to offend her parents because the love and service they showered upon her compelled her to offer nothing less than her best behavior."

Christian parents must "command" obedience the same way St. Therese's did-"by demonstrating self-donation in meeting their needs, responding to their cries, giving generously of our time, our bodies, or energy and our love, and leading them to do the same in return."

Attachment is the source of obedience, not just for babies, but for every stage and age-position yourself as the person most tuned in to your child's needs and most capable of helping those needs get met.  Your child will offer her obedience to who she is most attached whether it's you, a caregiver or a peer.

Attachment/Self-Donative parenting NOT spoiling-parents who spoil don't expect much, if anything, from their child.  Self-donative parenting serves the child to inspire and teach child to serve the family, community, Church and world.

Detachment-world we live in attempts to seduce parents into making out babies cry it out, training to be more convenient to us in other ways-to put our social and work schedules first instead of our responsibility to our children.

Great Catholic educators have led us: St. John Bosco, St. Maria Dominic Mazzarello, St. John Baptist de la Salle, St. Benildus, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Maria Montessori, Boy's Town Fr. Flanagan, Fr. Leo Trese, Dr. Herbert Ratner (force behind La Leche League) and Pope John Paul II's writings on family.

Why all parenting advice isn't equal-
-different parenting styles support a particular culture's values  (cites Dr. Meredith Small, Our Babies, Ourselves-I want to read this-so interesting to me!)

-Attachment vs. Detachment styles-quests to inspire "individualism", "self-reliance" in modern parenting practice don't do so, but create problems.

-Our Western culture has so many material blessings but we have a disposal attitude towards others-"culture of death" towards youngest, oldest, weakest members of society-the more detached a child is, more likely to exhibit depression, acting out, promiscuity, estrangement, criminal behavior.

-In US family life has been significantly devalued since 1960's-could 300 percent increase in adolescent suicide rate between 1960-90?  Parents spend 40 percent LESS time with their children than they did in 1960?

"You've heard the saying "the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world".  Once upon a time this maybe have been true: but perhaps the more appropriate sentiment for contemporary civilization is that the world is being rocked because no one has time for who's in the cradle."

Is there a Catholic way to parent?
-there are some "values that stand at the heart of Catholicism"
-training a child in Faith is done in daily family life, not just prayers, rituals, customs, doctrine
-and the greatest value is LOVE

Self-donative love is a specific kind of love-like the "self-gift" of Jesus Christ-it can make us "squeamish" requires us to make personal sacrifices, but more more too-it is about "finding ourselves" by doing the work God created humans to do.

-"we believe that any parenting method that wants to call itself "Catholic" must be one that invites parents to suck the marrow out of every stage of family life."

"No man or woman can deem himself or herself a success in life, 
no matter how far up the ladder they have climbed, either socially, mentally, or materially, 
if they cannot say that they have the confidence, comradeship, and love of their children."  
Fr. Flanagan


  1. Is the title of the book supposed to be a joke? (about the perfect kids)

    1. The authors explain what they mean by 'perfect' in the next chapter-it's not the mainstream definition of perfection.

    2. and it says "almost" perfect :)

  2. Oh, Sarah, thank you. Your post came up in my reader right after a link to the blog post written by Amy Glass. Raising children in this way, with respect and dignity, is certainly the hardest job I will ever have, and the most important. I am so grateful for the sanity and devotion displayed by my "internet mom" role models. We need every one of you to counteract the insanity.

  3. I just finished this too and love it! Will re-read several times throughout my parenting journey I am sure.

  4. Thank you, Sarah! As I sit and read your notes from this book, I read about the mother I want to be and replay all the mistakes I made just today! I guess the goal is to keep working! Just went to a Dynamic Catholic workshop this weekend and we were left with the homework of trying to read just 5 pages of a Catholic book a day. When I am finished with Dynamic Catholic I will be moving on to this! Thanks again for all your mommy guidance!

  5. I love this book. I've had it on my bookshelf for 12 years, but was afraid to follow it for so long, that I ignored it. For so much of my parenting, I couldn't stand the idea of baby wearing or co-sleeping or anything that sounded like attachment parenting. Now, I'm reaping what I've sown. Its amazing, and sad, how difficult it can be to break away from the parenting we've been trained into believing is the right way. Whenever I heed the advice of the Popcaks, I find things work much more smoothly in our home and family. Thank you for sharing this book-- its a gem!

  6. Sarah, Thank you for sharing this. I have read lots of parenting books but not this one and I am not Catholic. As an Evangelical Christian I have been directed a lot to the Pearls and Dr. Dobson but I just never was comfortable with the style. My mom let us all "cry it out" and we are okay but I couldn't do it. My mother was also opposed to co-sleeping and thought I was crazy and it would ruin my marriage. I believe that the closeness I share with my daughter has helped a lot since we entered into the pre-teen and teen years. She talks to me and asks me things I would never discuss with my mom. It makes me so happy when she shares her heart with me and comes to me for advice before her peers which I consider a success! Don't get me wrong, I am not her friend, but I am her confidant. Anyway, thanks for sharing I will recommend to friends.

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    1. I just went to Confression last week and the during the Confression the priest encouraged me to read and pray the Scriptures. So, yes, Catholics are taught and encouraged to read the Bible.

      Anyway, back to the book. I LOVE this book. Totally, totally love it. I bought it when my oldest was a baby and it really has influenced my parenting. A was raised a lot of how the Popchaks describe (although it wasn't termed attachment parenting or gentle discipline back then), but I definitely think that was factor in that fact that I my siblings I basically escaped teh whole teenage rebellion thing (and we did go to public school) and 4/5 of us are still strong, practiving Catholics.

  8. Oh I love this book !! I agree it's one of the very best parenting books out there. I love the Popcaks!

  9. Sarah, thank you so much for the time and love you put into your writing. I have been quietly reading your blog for a few years. My husband and I converted to Catholicism out of protestantism two years ago, and we have found such solace and beauty and comfort in it. I am going to order this book right away. Mitten Strings for God (which I believe I also read on your recommendation) has been my favorite general parenting book, right after the Anne books by L.M. Montgomery, so I'm excited you shared this lovely resource. Thank you!

    P.S. I just love Janey-pants. My youngest is a jolly, very busy 19 month old boy who still loves to nurse also, but can only pause from conquering the world for two feedings now, before nap and bedtime.

  10. Thank you for sharing this!! I am also CAtholic and so excited to get this book, love your recommendations! Such a blessing!

  11. Sarah, I wish there were blogs around when my children were young because I have learned so much from women like you and really could have used your perspective. My kids fall in the range (or near) of your kids; soon to be 19 and a 16 yr old. You seem to be so much wiser than me and we're the same age! I haven't heard of this book and although my kids are older, I'm still interested in reading it. Thanks for the info on it and all the great insight you give us! Your blog is the first one I've ever read and it's still at the top of my must-reads every day :)

  12. I LOVED this book. Actually, it changed our entire approach to parenting (for the better!).

  13. Thank you!! As an LDS reader (Mormon) I would love to read the book! I loved your recap and give it a big, AMEN! I had been thinking about the idea of Sacrifice and how so many buy into the idea that we should not be asked to Sacrifice anything, which is so crazy to me. I love the part about if someone looked in your home and watched your interactions, would they be able to tell that you are Catholic? I think this could be applied to all of us, no matter what our faith... Would they be able to tell how much we love the Lord? Wow, lots to improve upon in this household for sure! Thanks as usual for the great post! I am going to go read it again.

  14. You make a lot of good points but I take some offence at the depiction of protestant parenting. I would consider the parents in my church to be loving responsive parents

    1. Laura-the authors weren't talking about Protestant parents-they were referencing some evangelical Protestant literature on child-rearing which holds a negative view on children's wills-often said to be oppressed by evil and should be broken and subverted, usually by physical means.

    2. I found the first part of the introduction a bit rough at times, too, in tone. Once the Popcaks begin describing the ethnopediatric studies about attachment/detachment across cultures, I really started flying through the pages.

  15. Looks like an interesting read for my Holy Cross moms group.


  16. Hi Sarah.

    I bought this book on my own, several years ago, and I LOVED it. And I keep reading and rereading it…it is a permanent fixture next to my bedside. Sometimes, the loud voices of the modern world clammer for my attention…it is then that I reread this book, reminding myself of the significant job I have in raising these three little people. I think the line that I took to hear the most was, "you want to make your children WANT to look more like you than their peers! So difficult in this day and age…but I'm always striving for the goal with my three ages, 9.5, 7, 3. Hugs.

  17. So happy you're posting about this. I can not wait to get my hands on it and to read it! Your blog is lovely. And I just love that we share our Catholic faith:) I love learning from your life experiences...thank you.

  18. Wow. As I sat down to read your blog, I have fallen off for a few months, this is what I was looking for! Actually I was looking at what you were cooking tonight, but THIS is what I needed.

    I have 4 girls, 12-6 and I am in need of some guidance.Thank you for the referral I can't wait to educate myself!

  19. Sarah, thank you SO much for taking the time to write up this study!! I've had this book for years (although my copy looks a tad different), and got so much out of it when I read it years ago. Definitely a book to keep going back to, for sure!! Going to dust off my copy and follow along with your study!

    I also had to mention that I just made this connection.... that you "taught" me to how to make a blog banner recently! As a newer blogger, I SO appreciated you sharing that as well. Thanks for your sharing and inspiration!