by Stefana Totorcea
Neculai and Georgeta Popa from Roznov village in Romania’s Neamts county, are parents to 13 children. For their joyful acceptance and hailing of life and for their constant sacrifice in raising theirc children, they were awarded the Patriarchal Distinction of “The Brancovan Holy Martyrs” of Romania’s Orthodox Patriarchy.
The ceremony was held in Iasi, after the Divine Liturgy celebrated on Saint Paraskeve’s feast on October 14th, 2014, in the presence of clergy and state officials.
Stiripentruviata.ro was able to get a quick interview with all of them right after the ceremony.
Could you please introduce yourselves?
Gabriela: Father, Neculai, 52, Mother, Georgeta, 48, farmers. And we are: Rebeca, 26, now a presbytera, graduated the Mathematics Faculty of the “Lucian Blaga” University in Sibiu; Ligia, 24, a painter, graduated the “George Enescu” Art University in Iasi; Cornel, 23, a web designer, graduated the Economics Faculty of the “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iasi; Gabriela, 22, a fourth-year student specializing in General Medical Assistance at the Medicine and Pharmacy Faculty in Iasi; Estera, 21, a third-year student of Pharmacy at the Medicine and Pharmacy Faculty in Iasi; Silvia, 19, a freshman at Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of the “Al.I. Cuza” University in Iasi, specializing in Primary and Pre-school Pedagogy; Mihaela, 17, a 12-grade student at the Theoretical Highschool in Roznov; Cristiana, 16, a 10-grade student at the “Petru Rares” National College in Piatra Neamts; Iuliana, 14, an 8-grade student at the Theoretical Highschool in Roznov; Paula, 11, a 5-grade student at the Theoretical Highschool in Roznov; Emilian, 8, a second-grade pupil at the Theoretical Highschool in Roznov; Matei , 6, 0-grade pupil at the Theoretical Highschool in Roznov; and Andrei, 3 years old.
How is it to live in a family with so many siblings? Don’t you fight each other?
Gabriela: We don’t. It is beautiful, but also hard sometimes. It’s beautiful when we all gather for the meal, when we are all together doing something, like singing for example. And it is hard because we need to work to earn our livelihood.
Did your schoolmates ever disparaged you for being far more siblings than average?
Estera: We were many, but our colleagues became accustomed to us. They knew we were siblings, as we looked alike.
How do you get on, don’t you dispute things among you?
Estera: We sometimes argue, but we try to get to terms in the end.
How did you feel at the awarding ceremony?
Cristiana: Excellent. We didn’t expect that much…
Matei: We felt good!
Mrs. and Mr. Popa, did you grow up in families with many siblings yourselves?
Neculai Popa: We were four.
Georgeta Popa: We were six who had survived. My mother gave birth to ten children, but four of them died in their infancy.
“If you have goals in life, you won’t pay attention to trifles anymore”
Have you ever felt like a burden, have you ever thought something like: “another child coming, it’s too much”?
Neculai Popa: Absolutely not! Our first daughter, Rebeca, was born in 1988, in Bucharest. I was 26 and my wife 22. If you have goals in life, you won’t pay attention to trifles anymore. We have established from the very beginning: we would receive all our God-given children. And then everything went smoothly. Everything became normal. A new child was not necessary something very new and unusual, something to negatively surprise us. No child will come to be poor. They all came bringing their own blessings and made us richer. With less children, we were poorer. We got richer with every new child born to us!
People say you need a lot of money to raise a child. How do you manage from this point of view?
Neculai Popa: You need money, but… God is not poor! Has anyone tested God and found Him poor? God is not poor. God is rich and He will give – it’s us who don’t know how to ask for as much as God can give. Because God is not a dabbler, He’s a king. He doesn’t give by the dime, He will give you plentifully. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
Have you ever felt discriminated against or reticently looked at because you have had many children?
Neculai Popa: When we moved to Roznov, we were indeed looked upon with reticence. But the situation soon changed when people saw our kids went to school, they came first in their class and greeted everybody in the street. Everybody started to love them and our image quickly improved. Just the first impact was more difficult, indeed, but it immediately changed. When people see the real thing, they give up preconceptions. In any case, I have never felt humiliated in front of those who at some point marveled that we had so many children. I saw them as persons who did not understand yet. I felt pity for them, because I knew the end in most of the cases… if they had just one child, that child would leave, or something happened and they would remain to deplore their loneliness.
Many young people today say they are not prepared for marriage or for having children. What is your advice to them?
Neculai Popa: There’s nothing to prepare for! Our only duty is to let ourselves in God’s hand and receive everything He gives us. What are we supposed to prepare? “God, wait, I’m not ready yet, please wait until I get a pair of shoes to walk to maternity with”?
Mrs. Popa, your children get along very well with each other; have you done anything special to teach them not to be selfish?
Georgeta Popa: I don’t know. I think it all came naturally, as they were in a large family… we never had any problems with them. The youngest one was always the most expected, the dearest. Nobody thought they had something to lose, like getting less things or less attention; on the contrary, they were all happy when we came back from hospital with the new-born.
Do you believe certain aspects of the relationship between boys and girls can be taught in school?
Georgeta Popa: Not in school, these are things to be learned in the family.
Have your children ever come back home from school with things that made you unhappy?
Georgeta Popa: There is a good reason for which they say the seven years from home are the most important. Everything starts in the family. Education starts in the family. Everything starts home. That is why there are so many problems at school. Children don’t have the seven-year upbringing, they receive no education in their family. Our children come home and say: “Look, Mom, what they tell us” or “Look, Mom, what the kids say…” We’re trying to raise their awareness related to what to avoid. Then it’s up to them. We do our duty as parents, we teach them. Then it’s their turn to do their part. But first we need to be an example for them.
What is the essential quality of a parent?
Georgeta Popa: He needs to be himself an example for his child. Talking is useless, words are nothing without deeds.
How have you managed to earn and keep their trust in you? How do you maintain a stable relationship with your children over time, even during teenage, the most difficult period in their development?
Georgeta Popa: This is a more sensitive part. I don’t believe I can always cope. I cannot divide myself to each of them, but they understand this much. They sometimes have this reproach for me, but they understand. We keep learning, keep trying.
Reproach is good, it means they still need you, they haven’t gone astray. Usually, they become more distant during teenage…
Georgeta Popa: They haven’t been distant. Each of them wants you to have time exclusively for each one. But they are understanding kids and they have always seen that we love all of them, there is not one less than another in our hearts.
How do you help them overcome the problems specific to teenagers?
Georgeta Popa: When I could not be there for them, they knew what to do. They did not bring their problems to me. They found instead a good spiritual adviser. It is very important to direct children to a good spiritual adviser. There are things they cannot tell their parents, we need to be aware of that. But, with a good adviser, to whom they can open their heart and from whom they can get good advice, they will be able to overcome everything.
Should we grant absolute freedom to our children, or should we keep them under tight control?
Georgeta Popa: Children should not be staked out. They will rebel when they are tightly controlled. We need to give them freedom. But a freedom in Christ I would say. This is true freedom, not the senseless purposeless freedom today’s young people are used to – the freedom to do anything. This is not freedom and one can see it is not good, because most often this sort of freedom will lead to destruction. You are not free if you are on drugs, you are the drugs’ slave. And it’s the same with all bad things.
How are you different from the families with just one child or maybe two?
Ligia: We’ve learned to share everything, we’ve had playing mates, we’ve never felt alone.
Cristiana: We help each other at school with homework: the elder help the youngest. We never needed private preparatory sessions, like the other children who have no brothers.
Emilian: We can play together and we don’t get bored ever!