Becoming a daddy for the first time was awesome. But after the high I had in those first weeks passed, I had a second reaction: fear! I had begun to realize that while I could handle the parts about changing diapers and providing material support for my family, I was still pretty clueless when it came to a lot of parenting issues, including how to further my kid’s spiritual growth. I started to read books and listen to talks on parenting, and they helped a lot. I picked up advice on some of the pieces of parenting, like discipline, family rituals, family fun times, and prayer. What I didn’t get was a good feel for how to put all of these together in a coordinated way that would guide my children toward becoming active disciples of Jesus. Although my kids are grown, and it’s a little late for me, Discovering God Together by Dr. Gregory and Lisa Popcak will go a long way to help you fill in this gap.
Dr. Popcak and his wife and co-author, Lisa, have co-hosted several nationally-syndicated radio call-in programs, addressing topics related to marriage, family, parenting, and sexuality. They are popular public speakers, and between them, have authored or co-authored nearly twenty books. Dr. Popcak is the founder and Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He is also the Chair of the Marriage and Family Studies program at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and serves as an adjunct professor of both psychology and graduate theology at Franciscan University. Lisa is a professional educator, a lactation consultant, and Certified Family-Life Coach, as well as an expert in learning styles/strategies, early childhood development, adoptive family issues, and women’s spirituality.
The book begins by pointing the reader in the right direction: how to develop a vision for what it means to be a faithful, Catholic family. The authors help us understand how we can prepare our child to receive formation as a disciple. From there, you’ll venture into practical considerations related to rituals and routines during work, play, talk, and prayer; how you can use stories to build your child’s faith; making prayer part of your family’s life and helping your child develop her own devotional life; identifying and developing your family’s charism; and how to recognize and promote both your mission as a family and your child’s personal mission.
There’s a lot to like about this book. One unique feature I appreciate is how the Popcak’s have taken the research by Christian Smith on faith development in emerging adults and use it to guide parents in forming their children’s faith. There are lots of books about family prayer, and while I while I haven’t read enough of these to say how this compares to those works, the approach they offer is an easy one to apply. I also I like the practical advice they give on encouraging your child to develop his own devotional life. Other chapters I found helpful tell how to help your child grow in virtue and how you can reinforce the Sacraments.
The book has a chapter for single and divorced parents, and it addresses the problem of fathers who are absent in their child’s spiritual development. The book is an easy read and highly practical. You could finish it in an afternoon and start applying the content that evening.
I see a few weaknesses, as well. The book gives almost no direction concerning discipline, and while a detailed discussion of discipline belongs in a separate book, I think the authors could have given the reader more advice in this area. The book is written for parents who are active disciples. After all, they are the ones most likely to read this book. But many parents are distracted and misdirected by all the concerns and messages of secular life. I would like to see how to draw these parents toward active discipleship. I wish the authors gave us more about how the parish and families can work together. Finally, while adolescent faith development gets some attention, if you have teens, I think you’ll wish the authors had given you more to go on.
Having said all that, if the Popcaks had put in everything I wanted, the book would have been three times as long and not nearly as useful. I highly recommend Discovering God Together for any parent who is interested in discipling their kids and developing a Catholic identity as a family.