So, wait. Defense of marriage is a life issue?

As I mentioned in my post on gender from the other day, I have a dear friend from childhood who is, now, a professor of queer studies.   Over the years we’ve managed to build a deep mutual respect despite our deep differences.  That respect has enabled us to have some frighteningly direct conversations with each other.

This past weekend we had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time together as he was in town visiting family.  He surprised me by bringing up the topic of marriage equality (I’m usually the one who can’t help himself).

After listening to–and largely agreeing with– some of his points about the dignity of the homosexual person, I had the opportunity to share that my opposition to gay marriage had nothing to do with homosexuality. Of course he thought I was trying to play him.  I assured him that I was sincere.   I explained that the point of marriage is to create a social institution that protects children’s rights to know and be provided for by their natural mother and father.  Children born in any other arrangement (cohabitation, surrogacy, donor-conception) do not have any right to find their natural parents (especially if their natural parent’s don’t wish to be found) much less be provided for by them.  That leads to two problems.

First, saying that gay marriage is “equal” to marriage is the same as saying that children raised in households with only one parent or any two parents is, in fact, “equal” to the experience of children raised by a mother and a father and that it is wrong to even suggest that children raised by their natural mother and father have any advantage over children raised in any other context.  Children raised by single parents, or grandparents, or divorced parents or adoptive parents can grow up to be “just fine”, but we recognize that they have had to struggle at least a bit more than their counterparts raised in homes with their natural mother and father because they are missing something; because those home arrangements are not equal to those homes in which a child is being raised by his natural mother and father.   Saying that gay marriage is “equal” to traditional marriage means that a same-sex couple can provide everything that a mother and a father can provide, and that as long as a child has at least two caregivers of one sort or another, that child has no right to feel sad the absence of a natural mother or a father. Currently, there is no other context in which we think it is appropriate to tell a child that he shouldn’t feel sad about not having a connection to his natural mother and father.  Gay marriage would change that.  To say, “you must not feel anything about the absence of the parent we could not provide you with because, after all, we are equal” would be a serious injustice against a child and do violence to the child’s emotional and psychological well-being.

Second, to say that a same-sex couple’s relationship is the same as (literally “equal to”) a marriage between a man and a woman is to say that both couples must have the same rights to try to have children.  Of course, that means that more and more same-sex couples would feel obliged to turn to artificial reproduction so that they could be truly “equal” to straight families.    There is just no way to support gay “marriage” without also supporting the massive expansion of IVF, donor conception, surrogacy and other forms of immoral, assisted reproduction technologies which, in turn, leads to countless more children who would be denied the right to know or be provided for by their natural parents.

It was at that point that my friend, who really does try to be a sincere and faithful Catholic despite his struggles on these issues, had a lightbulb moment.

“So, wait.  You’re saying, that you see this as a life issue?”

I admitted that, yes, I do.

And a remarkable thing happened.  He looked at me, blinked, and said, “Well, you got me there.”  It honestly hadn’t occurred to him before.  Especially as a pro-life Catholic, this argument really stung him.

I don’t pretend that I “won” anything.  I really wasn’t in it to “win.”   I also know that we are still miles apart on a lot of the fundamentals in this debate, but what happened in that moment was both honest and more than a little miraculous, and I wonder if taking this approach wouldn’t be a lot more effective on the whole than much of the other ways people attempt to discuss this issue.

Male and Female He Created Them–Gender and the Catholic Difference.

I have been reflecting a great deal on Eve Tushnet’s excellent article in The Atlantic that many of you have probably, already read (and if you haven’t, by all means, check it out).  I’ve been thinking of her article, in part, because she’s a great writer, but also, because I spent the weekend with my best friend from childhood with whom I remain very close despite the fact that we have many very different views, me being a promoter of the Catholic vision of the person and sexuality and him, being an expert on and professor of queer theory.  Obviously, we have a lot of interesting and vigorous discussions on the nature of the person, sexuality, gender, and our shared Catholic faith.

In light of all this, I’ve been thinking a lot about a minor point in Eve’s article referencing her struggles with what she referred to as, “repressive ideas of gender which would leave no room for St. Francis and St. Joan. (n.b., follow the link for her expansion on this point).”

What Does the Church Teach about Men and Women?

I have to say that while I am aware that many people share her opinion of the Church’s vision of men and women, and while I have met many pious Catholics who I think, personally,  have rather retrograde views of masculinity and femininity, I don’t think they got them from an honest reading of the Church’s thinking on the topic.  In fact, my reading of the Church’s teaching on gender strikes me as rather novel and counter-cultural (and when I say that, I don’t just mean counter-secular feminist culture, but also counter-conservative stereotypical culture).

Male and Female He Created THEM.

My understanding of the Church’s view of masculinity and femininity is that maleness and femaleness is not, as many conservative Catholics mistakenly think,  determined by the preferences you have, the work you do, the things you like or the toys you played with as a kid.  The Theology of the Body makes the point that Genesis 1:27 says, “Male and female he created them.”   TOB asserts that this passage does not mean that God created males and females.  Rather, it means that men and women have both masculine and feminine dimensions to their personalities.    Culturally, we may say certain traits (such as nurturance, gentleness, or sociability) are more “feminine” traits, and that other traits (such as assertiveness, ambition, or competitiveness) are more “masculine” traits, but from a TOB point of view, it would not be reasonable to then say that a woman who was assertive or ambitious was somehow less womanly or a man who was nurturing or gentle was somehow less manly.

The Body Makes Visible That Which is Invisible…

The TOB argues that what differentiates men from women is not traits, preferences, work, or habits, but their bodies and how those bodies allow them to express–in complementary ways–the virtues and qualities that evidence their shared humanity.  The short version is that being made in the image and likeness of God means that God takes all the virtues (i.e., all the qualities that make men and women human) from his own heart and shares them equally with men and women.  BUT he creates men and women’s bodies to be different and complementary to each other so that when they live out those human virtues through the bodies God gave them, they can emphasize different and complementary aspects of those virtues and, by doing so, present a more complete image of that virtue that reflects God’s face to the world.

So What?

Practically speaking, this means two things.

First, it means that men and women can both fully demonstrate all the qualities that make us human.  BUT because of the body (and mind, which is part of the body) God gave us, men and women will display complementary variations on those qualities.  For instance both men and women are called to be fully nurturing as a part of their human nature but he has created men’s and women’s bodies differently.  A woman, for example, is able to nurse her children and thus express nurturance in a particularly profound and intimately embodied fashion.  A man can’t lactate, but he is also required to be fully nurturing if he is to be fully human.  He also expresses his nurturance through his body.  For instance, because of greater upper-body strength, a man can more easily toss his kids in the air (and sometimes, even catch them!).  Likewise, even men who shave have more facial hair than the hairiest woman.  My little one loves to sit on my shoulders and rub my fuzzy face.  She loves when I put my scratchy, tickly chin under her chin and go “phhhhhhhhhhfffffffffffffftttttttt!”

My wife and I must both be fully nurturing to our children, but we express that nurturance differently through the bodies that God gave us.  Our respective efforts to be nurturing feel different to our kids.  The masculine and feminine versions of nurturance are both sufficient on their own, but together, they are a more complete presentation of the virtue of nurturance itself.  When a man and woman are both fully nurturing in their unique and complementary way, they do a better job of making visible the nurturance in God’s own heart.

The same applies to any other quality or virtue.  Catholics have never believed that there is only one way to be a man or a woman, which is why we have saints like St. Joan and St Francis as well as St Therese of Lisieux and St Ignatius.

The second example of the practical significance of all this is that  although both men and women are capable of being fully human and living out the fullness of all the virtues that make them human, men and women’s versions of those respective virtues/qualities are appreciably different and complementary.   A man who is fully nurturing will always nurture differently than a woman would.  Likewise, the most ambitious, assertive woman will still be ambitious and assertive in a way that is, somehow, more feminine than the way a man is ambitious or assertive. That doesn’t mean that one is inferior to other.  They are both perfectly complete, acceptable, efficient, healthy modes of being.  BUT they are substantively different from and complementary to one another.    Even if a man tries to be effeminate, he only ends up coming of as a caricature of femininity and the same for the woman who tries to be masculine.  Men and women can be fully human and live out the complementarity of the virtues that comprise their shared humanity, but they cannot ever be the same even when they try.

The Feminine Genius.

Which brings us to what JPII meant when he wrote about the “feminine genius.”  While I understand where Eve’s coming from (as well as other critics who feel the same) I have never read the Church’s writings on this subject as being patronizing.  (And you might say, “that JUST what a man WOULD say!” but that really would be patronizing).  To my way of thinking, the point of saying that there is a feminine genius is not to say, as Eve suggest (in the second link above),  “Oh, don’t worry your pretty little heads, ladies, of course you’re special too!”  Rather, it is to say that in contrast to secular feminism which tells the world that only the masculine versions of the various virtues count, that the feminine complement to these same virtues presents a full, dynamic, vigorous, and valuable contribution to the human experience and that women, as well as men, serve their humanity best, not by trying to imitate the other, but by exploring the fullness of their own humanity which is beautifully, powerfully, and more than adequately expressed by the humanity represented in their own gender.

I’m really not sure what is so retrograde about that.  In fact, this view of gender sounds like nothing else I’ve read on the subject.  The Catholic vision of masculinity and femininity, to my way of thinking, goes beyond the too easy stereotypes of  the conservative/historical patriarchal view of gender and stands in opposition to the reaction-formation that is the secular feminist view.  It is a fresh, exciting, and freeing view of the person that presents a mode of being that allows man and woman to both be fully human and completely unique.

For more information on living out this vision of the sexes in your marriage, check out  For Better…FOREVER!  or to pass this vision of masculinity and femininity on to your children, pick up a copy of Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Children

Mars, Venus, or Earth? What Planet are Men and Women REALLY From?

I love this article.  It is a terrific, thoughtful, scientific, and ultimately, (unintentionally) very Catholic view of the differences between the sexes.  When most people talk about gender  differences, they lapse into useless stereotypes.  For instance, “Women like to talk and men don’t”  Really? So if a man likes to talk to his friends does that make him less manly?   Or how about another example, “Men like to solve problems and women like to talk about problems.”   Really?  Women don’t want to solve their problems?  And if a woman is good a problem-solving, does that make her masculine?  Of course not.

Whether this article’s conclusions are absolutely spot-on or not (and I do think they are pretty good) it is at least asking the right questions.  If we’re going to talk about gender differences I think it is important to distinguish between dimensional differences (i.e., things that are often, but not necessarily, different between men and women) and taxonic differences (i.e., things that are almost always different between men and women).

Catholics argue that men’s and women’s differences are “complementary.”  That is, the differences between men and women are intended, not to separate or confuse them, but to help them serve each other and understand each other better.  When we view dimensional differences as taxonic, we exaggerate how difficult it is for men and women to be the partners to each other that God intended them to be.    Here’s an example that illustrates these two types of differences from the article.

Let’s say you have a new job at a mall. You have been put in charge of directing people to the restroom when they ask where it is. But you only get to know one piece of information about a person to tell them where to go when they need to go. You do not get to see or hear the person needing direction. You just know one small piece of information. It’s really a strange job, but in these times, you hang onto what you can.

Okay, on day one of your new job, you get to know how physically strong a person is before you decide which way to send him or her. In your awesomeness, you send most people to the right restroom. You miss some, but you are mostly on a roll. On the next day, you only get to know the scores of people on a little paper and pencil test of assertiveness. Therefore, you only really know how assertive each person thinks he or she is. It’s a much harder day and you do pretty poorly. In fact, you send people to the wrong restroom 45% of the time. Ouch. There are complaints. But you have renewed hope about the third day because, on the third day, you will get to know how much people say they love to have just sit and talk with their best friends before deciding which restroom to send them off to use. It will be a better day.
The strength difference really works more like a difference in type. An individual’s level of assertiveness is just not very informative about if they are a male or a female.

Check out the article and then, if you want to learn more about how men and women were intended to work together and how you can live that reality in your marriage, check out For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

The Pill Makes You Hate Sex and Want to Leave Your Milquetoast Man.

New research by the Royal Society says that women taking oral contraceptives, “scored lower on measures of sexual satisfaction and partner attraction, experienced increasing sexual dissatisfaction during the relationship, and were more likely to be the one to initiate an eventual separation if it occurred.”

The study did also suggest that the same contracepting women were more likely to be satisfied with the non-sexual aspects of their relationships, but the researchers note that this is because the pill causes women to be attracted to lower testosterone men who lack passion and drive leading to a lower potential for conflict.

Superficially, it might appear that, despite the dissatisfaction in the romantic relationship,  the increased satisfaction experienced in non-sexual interactions would make oral contraceptive’s effect on overall relational happiness a wash, but I can tell you from professional experience that it is easier to teach a manly man to wash a dish than it is to teach a milquetoast man to be passionate.

So, ladies, if you want passion and partnership, you might want to rethink that resistance to doing Natural Family Planning (or rethink marrying that man who resists NFP).   Here’s where you can learn more about how NFP can work for you.

To get more out of your sexual relationship with your spouse, check out Holy Sex! The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

Men Can’t Read Women’s Minds

From NBC News:

To see whether men really did  have trouble reading women’s emotions, Boris Schiffer, a researcher at the  LWL-University Hospital in Bochum, Germany and his colleagues put 22 men between  the ages of 21 and 52, with an average age of 36, in a functional magnetic  resonance imaging scanner, which uses blood flow as a measure of  to measure  their brain activity.

They then asked the men to look at images of 36  pairs of eyes, half from men and half from women, and guess the emotion the  people felt. The men then chose which of two words, such as distrustful or  terrified, best described the eyes’ emotion. The eye photographs depicted  positive, neutral, and negative emotions.

Men took longer and had more  trouble correctly guessing emotion from women’s eyes.

In addition, their  brains showed different activation when looking at men versus women’s eyes.  Men’s amygdala — a brain  region tied to emotions, empathy, and fear — activated more strongly in  response to men’s eyes. In addition, other brain regions tied to emotion and  behavior didn’t activate as much when the men looked at women’s eyes. 

The findings suggest that men are worse at reading women’s emotions.  This “theory of mind” is one of the foundations  for empathy, so the deficit could lead men to have less empathy for women  relative to men, the researchers write.

But exactly why this happens  isn’t clear. While men could be culturally conditioned to pay less attention to  women’s emotional cues, another possibility is that their differential response  is hard-wired by humans’ evolutionary past.

“As men were more involved  in hunting and territory fights, it would have been important for them to be  able to predict and foresee the intentions and actions of their male rivals,”  the researchers write in the paper.

The Mother of All Battles: How to End the Mommy Wars

As I mentioned below, my post on sleep training netted some deeply anguished and angry responses, most of which I didn’t post because while I’m happy to permit critical comments, I tend not to publish comments I think you’ll regret when you calm down.

One commenter welcomed me, tongue-in-cheek,  to the Mommy Wars.  Of course, I’ve reluctantly been on the front lines of the Mommy Wars for over a decade now, since Parenting with Grace (the first and only book to apply the theology of the body to family life and parenting) came out.

Since we’re talking about anger today on More2Life, I thought I’d reflect a bit on the mommy wars and what’s behind the anger that drives them. I want to say, up front, that although I am very publicly alligned with certain factions in the battle, I have never intentionally tried to antagonize or shame any parent for the way they parent and, at any rate, everything I’m about to say applies equally to every combatant in the mommy wars no matter what side you find yourself on.  If you have ever felt caught in the mommy war crossfire or ever borne a banner in battle, this post is for you.


The more I read about these parenting battles the more I’ve come to see that they entirely miss the point.

You see, parenting is supposed to be about children. Period.  We wouldn’t be parents without them , therefore it makes sense it should be about them.  Regardless of the approach you take, the parenting style we choose should reflect our belief that this the best approach to take, not in general, but with this particular child.  God gives us the children we need.  We accept that gift by responding to the unique needs that child brings to the family and responding generously to those needs.  If we do this, we create a “community of love” wherein we grow into more loving, responsible, people, and our children are challenged to be more loving and responsible people–first by our example, and later by the requirements we place on them through good discipline.

Unfortunately, for many parents, and especially those parents who are most vocal in the parenting wars, parenting is not about childrenIt is about them. It is too tempting to choose a parenting style that is going to make me feel good about me.  To pick on my own crowd for a moment, I know too many parents who choose attachment parenting not out of a real desire to get to know their child better but because they have friends who do it at church and they want to fit in.  Or because they feel like if they don’t do it they’ll be “bad moms” or bad Catholics.  I also know plenty of moms (and dads) who choose Guarendi, or Dobson, or Ezzo, or Brazelton, or whomever for the same reason.   The wars between the people who think this way about parenting are so intense because their parenting choices do not reflect a desire to be present to their children as much as they reflect a desire to find validation through their children.


Look, everyone is insecure about their parenting choices.  I get that.  That’s normal.  Everyone wants to do right by our kids and we’re all afraid, deep down, that we’re going to screw them up.  Again, that’s normal.   But people who exhibit this normal degree of parenting insecurity can look at other parents who are doing things differently, engage those parents in respectful discussions, and learn from each other.  They evaluate what other parents are doing by how responsive those parents seem to be to their children and how they imagine behaving similarly might make them more responsive to their own children.

By contrast, parents looking to find validation through their children tend to act as if kids are secondary to other goals.   They tend to ask questions like, “How can I parent in a way that allows me to have the life I want?”  Or, “How can I parent in a way that allows me to have the family I imagine I’d like to have  (as opposed to dealing with the family I actually have)?”  Now, there’s nothing wrong with parents getting their own needs and wishes met…too, but these parents tend to buy into the idea that “as long as I’m happy the kids will be too” and they parent that way–whether its good for their kids or not.  And if it’s not good for their kids, then its their kids’ fault for not getting with the program.

And then, they get online and fight with each other, because, “How dare you tell me that what I want for my life is wrong.”    The Mommy Wars are so vicious because there is a subtext that no one is willing to admit.  The Mommy Wars are really not fighting over the best way to take care of kids or being a good parent.  The Mommy Wars are really about fighting over  best way to get what parents really want (e.g., validation, a sense of accomplishment, psychological healing,  etc.) while they also take care of their kids.


I would like to make a respectful suggestion.   I fully acknowledge that parents have needs and, furthermore, that parents have a right to have those needs met.  But we can only find true happiness when the means we employ to meet our needs are respectful of the people we are in community with, including our children. When we try to do something else, inevitably it all falls apart.  Whatever parenting style you choose should respect the best interests of your unique and unrepeatable child first.  Then pray about the rest of the desires of your heart.  Scripture tells us that if we seek first the Kingdom of God then the other things we desire will be given to us (Matt 6:33).  Scripture likewise tells us that we seek the Kingdom of God in our lives by fully attending to the least (our children) first (Matt 25:40).  When we do that, if we have other desires remaining (and most of us will) then we can bring them to God and let him teach us how to meet those desires in a manner that is respectful of our call to be fully present to the least first.  And if we do that, the Mommy (and Daddy) Wars will cease because we will all stop trying to seek fulfillment through our kids, or in spite of our kids, and find fulfillment in meeting our needs while being present to our kids.

—Dr. Gregory Popcak is the founder of the Pastoral Solutions Institute which provides Catholic tele-counseling services for couples, families and individuals around the world.  Call 740-266-6461 to make an appointment with a professional, Catholic counselor.

Why Children Need Moms and Dads–Culture, Complementarity and a Whole Bunch of Other ‘Portant Bidness.

I’m planning a post–probably after Easter–that gathers some of the research that illustrates the different gifts mothers and fathers bring to the parenting table.  But for now, a commenter, Lucy, asked a question that is more philosophical in nature that I thought merited a longer answer than a simple combox reply could give.

Essentially, she wanted to know what I meant by the rights of children, and why having a mother and father was more a right than, say, having two parents who the same ethnic/cultural background.  Here is my attempt to answer that.

Hi Lucy (and by extension, anybody else who cares about this stuff),

What I mean by “right” is that it is right and reasonable for a person–especially a child–to expect to be given whatever is necessary for them to become a fully-functioning, healthy,  human person.

Having two parents of the same ethnic/cultural background doesn’t rise to this level.   Culture is the way we live out our humanity.  Culture can certainly shape the way we express our humanity, but it isn’t what makes us human.  Culture proceeds from humanity.  That is, a fully human person can move from one culture to another and retain their humanity despite adopting the traditions of the new culture, but someone who is not a healthy human person cannot participate effectively in any culture.

I believe the research pretty clearly shows that motherhood and fatherhood is essential to developing a healthy sense of human-ness.   The absence of one or the other due to any number of circumstances tends to lead to any number of problems or impairments.  It seems to me that’s pretty clearly borne out by the research as well as my clinical experience.  But why?


I suspect you would agree that both man and woman have masculine and feminine attributes.   How does man or woman develop a healthy relationship between their masculine and feminine selves?   I would argue that there is good evidence that mothers and fathers show them. (and this, of course, is where feminist theories of gender would want to argue with me.  It just isn’t possible in this space to take that battle on.  Suffice it to say that even though cultures do influence the specific ways traits are integrated, there obviously remains something that is consistently masculine and feminine across cultures.  Even the most affectionate, expressive Greek or Italian man is still considered a man by the most stiff-upper-lip Brits or Germans.  I believe this ontological, cross-cultural sense of masculinity and femininity is biological and is resistant to cultural programming.)

At any rate, I would argue that fathers model the masculine form of that combination of masculine and feminine traits, and mothers model the feminine complement of that combination of masculine and feminine traits.  But to be fully, healthily human, a man or woman has to learn how to integrate the qualities that make them fully man or woman.

MEN ARE MEN & WOMEN ARE WOMEN (no matter how hard they try to be otherwise) 

Now, you might think that where I’m going with this is that gay men aren’t fully masculine and lesbian women aren’t feminine.  But I DON’T mean that at all. In fact, I would argue the opposite.  I would argue that there remains something masculine about the most effeminate gay man and that there remains something feminine about the most butch lesbian.  No matter how it is masked, men and women cannot be other than what they are.  An effeminate gay man cannot model the unique combination of human traits that make a woman “mother” no matter how effeminate he might be.  He is still going to nurture in a more masculine way than a woman would.   He can certainly be fully nurturing, but it is still going to be masculine nurturance in a real and palpable way.  The most butch lesbian is still going to approach the role of father in a more feminine way than any man would.  She can’t help it.    She is a woman despite the object of her sexual attractions.

Man and woman are both capable of living out all the qualities that make them fully human.  Men and women can both be fully nurturing.  Men and women can both be fully analytical.  Etc, etc.  But there remains a more masculine approach to nurturance and a more feminine approach to analysis, for instance, that are both efficient in their own right and complementary to each other.  Catholics refer to this as the “complementarity of the sexes.”  That is, man and woman are made in God’s image.  We literally, image God.  Let me break this down.


Man and woman are both fully human–and exhibit all the virtues that make them human– but they live out that humanity–and the virtues that make them human–through their masculine or feminine body.  Let’s go back to nurturance.  My wife and I can and should both be fully nurturing to our children.  But her body gives her ways to express nurturance that I can’t.  For instance, she can nurse.  No matter how much she might want me to nurse our kids at 3am, I am never going to be able to lactate.  Likewise, my greater upper body strength allows me to toss my kids high up in the air–and sometimes even catch them.  And my facial hair–or even my 5 o’clock shadow if I shave–allows me to tickle my kids when I zrrrbrrrrt their chins or tummies.  My wife can’t do either of those things.  We can both be fully nurturing to our kids but our complementary nurturance feels different to our kids in real and meaningful ways.  The differences may be subtle, but they are real enough to make kids prefer one type of nurturance or another depending upon how they’re feeling and what their needs are at the moment.   Returning to the idea of complementarity and the Imago Dei, my wife and I are both fully capable of being nurturing, but when we nurture together, we are a more complete image of the nurturance of God for all of humanity and we present a more complete “nurturance package” (so to speak) to our kids.

Imagine that subtle difference spread out across the thousands of virtues that make us human and you’ll get a better sense of what I mean when I say kids need both mothers and fathers.

It isn’t, as you said,  that men “tend to be this way” and women “tend to be that way.” (i.e. men are aggressive and women are gentle)  I would say that that is demonstrably false, because all you’d have to do is find one man or one woman who wasn’t “that way” to disprove the thesis.  I’ve known plenty of aggressive women and gentle men.  It is that men and women are fully capable of living all the traits and qualities that make both fully human but that men and women live out those qualities in a more masculine or feminine “style” that is dictated by their neurobiology.   Together they present a fuller picture of what it means to be fully human and an image of God.  Together, they model for their children how to be fully human and image God themselves.

In order to become a healthy, fully-formed, human person, a child needs to experience this subtle difference in an up-close and personal way.  And that’s why both mothers and fathers are important.

What is parenthood?

One dimension of the debate about what homsexual unions should be called is “What is parenthood?”  What are parents?  What is their function, exactly?  Who are the “best” parents and is there even such a thing?

Family Scholars Blog is having an interesting discussion of that question.  The best contribtution IMO is by Laura Rosenbury, a Law Professor at Washington University in St Louis.  In sum, she says that the question, “What is parenthood?” is the wrong one.   Instead, we should be asking, “What is childhood?”  In other words, what do children need from us, not what do we want to give them.  It’s tought provoking stuff and I encourage you to read it.

My own reaction to Prof. Rosenbury’s piece is…

YES! ABSOLUTELY!   The biggest issue I have with the “new” conversation on marriage is that I do not see anyone in the new conversation speaking for the children. In the rush to help adults get along with each other and see that adults “rights” (i.e., desires) are protected, no one is asking these essential questions that Rosenbury has presented. The fact that there isn’t a ready answer to Diane M’s (one of the commenter’s) question, “What does this mean, practically?” is just evidence of my point. How dare we make changes in the only institution intended to protect the rights of children (and this applies to divorce law as well as homosexual unions) without really giving children’s voices a major seat at the table.

What does this mean practically? I don’t know either. Does it mean that, in divorce cases, children should be assigned an attorney (paid for at their parents’ expense) who represents their needs? Does it mean that there should be a methodological review board made up of people of varying opinions that judge–not the findings–but the strength of the methodology of various studies used by both sides to support their arguments?

I think most honest people on either side of this issue would agree that research and facts are really not driving this debate. Opinion and sentimentality are. I find that fact deeply distrubing because I have a tremendous heart for children. When I was a kid, the big experiment was “new math.” The result of this experiment was that my generation displayed the worst math and science scores ever. The new conversation is just the new math applied to family life and the ones who will pay the price are the children.

Regardless of the side you fall on, we all owe it to children to commit ourselves to asking the hard question, what is genuinely BEST for children. Not, “what can they get by with?” or “what’s good enough?” The question must be, “What is best?” That is what must define the terms of the conversation because children deserve our best. We can make exceptions from there, but the exceptions prove the rule, not the other way around.

We can say, for example, “breast is best” because we know the research supports that. At the same time, we make allowances for bottle feeding,because some kind of nutrition is better than nothing, but we do not say that bottle is best or even as good as breast milk because we know it is not true. In the same way, we ought to be able to say that a two-parent, heterosexual, married family is best for children because all the data shows that is true. We can make exceptions for other family forms because life requires it of us, but we should not be pressured to say or forced to pretend that alternative family forms are as good as traditional, heterosexual married households. It is simply not true and to say otherwise is politics, sentiment and folly, not fact. Our children deserve better than that.

Once we settle the “what is best for children?” question, exceptions can be made from there, but the bar cannot be lowered to meet the exception and it is irresponsible to try.

Post-Partum Depression: More Common than Previously Thought

A new study finds that 1 in 7 moms experience post-partum depression, many of whom are not identified with traditional screening.  Being a new mom is a tough job.  If you aren’t feeling what you think you think you should toward your baby, yourself, or your life, don’t hide it.  Talk to your doctor or a counselor.  Seeking help doesn’t mean you’re crazy or a bad mom.  Transitions to new states in life are always difficult–especially transitions that involve wildly fluctuating hormonal states.  It’s the good mom who recognizes that she shouldn’t have to do it all alone and gets the help she needs to make the transition as smooth as possible.  Even Jesus allowed Simon of Cyrene to help him.  Let us, or another counselor you trust, be your Simon.

And if you’re pregnant or post-partum, even if you don’t think you’re depressed, take a brief depression test to make sure that you and your baby will be as healthy as possible.  Check out this study…

A surprisingly high number of women (fully 1 in 7)  have symptoms of postpartum depression, according to a new study by a Northwestern Medicine researcher.   The study included a depression screening of 10,000 women and a full psychiatric assessment of the women who screened positive for depression.

“In the U.S., the vast majority of postpartum women with depression are not identified or treated, even though they are at higher risk for psychiatric disorders,” said Dr. Katherine Wisner, director of Northwestern’s Asher Center for the Study and Treatment of Depressive Disorders.

“It’s a huge public health problem. A woman’s mental health has a profound effect on fetal development, as well as her child’s physical and emotional development.”

A lot of women do not understand what is happening to them, according to Wisner.

“They think they’re just stressed or they believe it is how having a baby is supposed to feel,” she said.

In the study, 14 percent of the women screened positive for depression.

Manning Up Through NFP

Here’s a sneak peak at an article I have in the upcoming edition of Family Foundations magazine.  What?  You don’t subscribe?  Well, there’s a simple fix to that problem!

Regardless,  check it out.

Manning Up Through NFP. 

Dr. Greg Popcak


We hear a lot about the benefits of NFP and there are many.  But it’s also true that NFP requires a great deal of sacrifice and struggle that is neither fun nor easy.  Worth it? Sure.  Fun?  Not really.

That said, I think that NFP helps a man become more manly.  I’ve seen this in my own life and in the lives of the men I’ve supported through the struggle to make NFP the blessing it is supposed to be in their marriage.  When I say that NFP helps a man become more manly, I mean that, as Catholics, we believe that manliness is tied up with a man’s ability to work for the good of others and especially to work for his wife’s good.  Inevitably, that means putting her dignity above your own needs and wants.  Incidentally, that’s not the same thing as giving up on your needs and wants as some men do.  That’s not a man, that’s a martyr. The difference is this.

The Martyr says, “Honey, can we be together tonight?”

She says, “We’re still in phase two.”

He says (mostly to himself),  “Fine.  We can’t be together tonight.  Fine.  Just one more thing getting in the way.  FINE.  I’ll just let it go.”  We tell ourselves we’re making some huge sacrifice for the good of our spouse, but then we pout about it for the rest of the night as if to say, “See what a pain in the butt taking care of you is?  See how sacrificial I’m being?”

Nice, right?

In contrast to the martyr, here’s what a man does.  First, he doesn’t have to make his wife the sexual gatekeeper because he’s already taken the responsibility of either recording temps himself or has at least read the chart for himself and knows what it means.  Second, if they can’t be together, he realizes that its actually hard on her too and tries to be empathetic and sensitive about that.  Third, he makes as much of a gift of himself as he can.   He helps her with the kids.  He looks for ways to be emotionally present.       He seeks out ways to show her that she is important to him.  He initiates affection that’s not designed to “sneak” her into sex, but just about being loving together.  He is respectfully playful.  Fourth, when it does get too hard for him to bear his frustration alone, he’s honest about it in a non-blaming way. He invites his wife to share how she’s dealing with her frustration so that maybe they can support each other. They respectfully talk and pray through it together. Finally, he takes care of her and plans for when they can be intimate again.  He lets her know how desirable she is without pressuring her or trying to guilt her. He just loves her.  He desires her, but he doesn’t prey on her.

While all that seems like a tall order, channeling frustration in these directions is exactly what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was referring to when he wrote, “True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasytowards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification.”  When a man can channel the sexual longing he feels in a direction that creates connection between him and his wife, the pain of the longing decreases and is replaced by a purer desire that leads to transformation; the transformation that takes us from needy, hormonally driven adolescent to man of God.


Dr. Greg Popcak, the author of Holy Sex!, directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute which provides Catholic tele-counseling services to couples, families, and individuals.  Contact him at 740-266-6461 or