Four lessons from a Russian cat herder to help achieve your dreams for your family

Gregory Popovich herds cats. Sort of.

He created a world-famous circus show with cats and other animals pushing strollers, walking tightropes, answering phones, and putting out fires.

How does he get the cats to do what he wants? He doesn’t.

But what he does do can help shape expectations for our dreams for our families.

1. Patiently pay attention to how God is forming your family

I don’t necessarily teach a cat anything. I watch them for a while to see what they can do.

I (allow them) to show off their individual personalities and talents. Just like people, every pet has a special quirky little thing they like to do. This is what makes them who they are.

He knows he can’t mold another living creature into the image he wants. Their creator has an image in mind and is already molding them. His job is to discover that molding and cooperate with it.

Doing this with your family honors God’s dream for them. God had something in mind when he made them. Your job is to cooperate. To do that, you have to pay attention.

2. Turn loose your personal expectations

Popovich doesn’t go out looking for cats for a role. He doesn’t say, “This one will be the fireman. This one will ride the dog like a cowboy.” His expectation is to see the cats fulfill what they seem created to do.

This is challenging but also freeing. You’re free from the stress of owning your agenda for how your family turns out.

But you still have an agenda: God’s agenda for them as individuals and as a family.

You’re forced to be selfless.

You’re forced to pay attention so you can cooperate with their ‘specialty.’

You’re forced to be purposeful.

Let’s say you’re on Say Yes to the Dress with your daughter. You want her to be happy. Yes, you have a personal favorite dress. Yes, you’re convinced you know what looks best on her. But selflessly you pay attention and help her discover the dress that she adores and that fulfills her dreams.

You steer and influence, but in the end what gives you the most joy is her joy. You’ve already influenced her for twenty-plus years. So you let your influence mature in her personal decisions.

3. Help them be who they are becoming – some are stars, some sit in chairs

Popovich pays attention to who his cats are and what they like to do. Then he helps them be that and do that. Training is five minutes per day. He doesn’t sweat it. He knows it all adds up.

Some climb ladders. Some do handstands. Some don’t fit anything for the show he has in mind. They sit in chairs on stage. “They’re my chorus line.” He doesn’t fight it.

We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepeared beforehand, that we should walk in them – Ephesians 2.10

You can’t stop God from shaping your family to what he has in mind. We all have unique drives, motivations, and personalities. Some cry all night, some sleep. Some eat their veggies, some don’t. Some sing, some love numbers, some are stoic, some study dolphins, some love an orderly bedroom. Some sit in chairs.

You can try to get the dolphin student to keep an orderly room, and you can try to get the orderly one to study dolphins. But when you major on what they’re already majoring on, everyone will have more fun and be more successful.

4. Family membership is more important than any dreams

All of Popovich’s cats come from shelters. Unwanted house pets. Strays. He rescues them and makes them his family. They’re family members first, performers second. They stay in the family if they are stars or if they sit in chairs. They stay in the family when they retire.

You can sense when you’re not meeting the expectations of someone important to you. We all have a people-pleaser gene. It’s a powerful thing when someone senses that the highest expectation you have is for them to feel security and worth just from being in your family.

Acceptance in heaven comes from the work of someone besides me. I’m supposed to perform, but not for acceptance. The family puts skin on this picture of the role of performance: First comes acceptance, then performance.

What unique shapes and directions do you see in your family?

About the Author


Gary Morland helps you feel better about your most challenging family relationships, and helps you actually improve those relationships - all by adopting simple attitudes, perspectives, expectations, and actions (the same ones that changed him and his family).


  1. thenester

    I love this post so much. who else can tie in Ephesians with a Cat Herder and have it make perfect sense? This is exactly what you are so good at.

    Also the “some sit in chairs” part really got me. Love that.

    • A high compliment from the one who did “Decorating Truths from Dog the Bounty Hunter.” Thanks for being my daughter

  2. I don’t have children but I can relate this to my marriage. I’ve been married for almost nine years, a young friend of mine has almost been married a year and he came to me for advice. “How do I be a good leader in my marriage?” he asked “What if I lead and she won’t follow? Where do I draw the line between being understanding and putting my foot down?”

    I told him “Don’t get what Paul said confused. Husbands aren’t leaders like bosses or shepherds or any of that controlling crap. The scripture says Love your wife like Christ loved the church. That’s it. That’s all we are commanded to do. Love. Get that right and the rest doesn’t matter.”

  3. Mindy

    My three oldest children already seem to have a direction they want to go. My oldest daughter wants to be a hair stylist and to be honest she is really good at it. My little daughter loves animals and relates to them well. She wants to be something to do with animals. I can also see my son’s gifts beginning to emerge as well. Thank you for this. I needed to hear it:)


  4. Holly

    I began to see the differences in my kids when they were very small. The way they deal with correction, instruction and so many other things. Knowing they come from the same family, same environment, same upbringing and yet are so different, only emphasizes your point that they are unique in their “shape” their spirit and need to be accepted and dealt with individually, not as a “herd.” (I think I have one of those orderly ones, and one dolphin…)

    • No formulas allowed in this business, right Holly? :)

      • Aly

        I was born to a household that already had two kids. My oldest brother was an only child for a while. Each kid is born into a different family, if you think about it. Everything changes every time a new member is added, but we still bring all our own uniqueness to the situation.

  5. Pam Cason

    It still amazes me how different we can be yet be a part of the same family. Each of my boys are as unique as they come, and those differences are sometimes hard to swallow when one or all of them don’t line up with my way of thinkin’. But isn’t that exactly what I want? For them to think? And be exactly who God created them to be? And not some picture of what I’m thinking that really doesn’t fit them at all? Your post today is some timely and wise advice for this mama starting up our homeschool today from a long summer break. I pray HE helps me this day to major in what they’re already majoring in and to love them and teach them just the way they are – dolphin or orderly : )

  6. M

    Ahhh, G is back;) glad to hear your wisdom again in my life…Galatians 1:10 & Ephesians 1!!! I <3 Ephesians chapter 1…ACCEPTED IN THE BELOVED!!! Anyways G, I am a homeschooling Mom who has a baker (daughter who is 19) & a candle stick maker…no, no jk!!! But a football star in the making (son who is 10) with a little pizza shop, our Heavenly Father has blessed…so much so, that we survived a fire in the mall we are in, just this past mth, AND we were able to serve our 1st responders a delicious meal with grateful hearts and thanks!!! I see our Father really working out, what He predestined loooong ago…blessings & <3 M

  7. Tiare

    Gary, I just found your site via your daughters’, and it’s apparent that your family has the gift of insight and communication (and great typography, I must add) in spades.

    I like the idea of seeing my family in terms of shapes and directions. Maybe it’s the graphic designer in me that can relate to visual cues. In any case, your post inspires me to be more deliberate about helping to shape my family in the direction we want to go. So thank you.

  8. Melyssa

    I received this from the perspective of the second eldest of five children. My older sister is the self-proclaimed black sheep of the family, so obviously, that unanimously appoints me to eldest in the responsibility rankings. I helped raise three much younger siblings. To this day, I continue to be the controlling force behind every family decision. What Christmas tree to pick out. Where to eat dinner. What is on the menu for Thanksgiving. What we should get so-and-so for their birthday. Where we stay and what attractions we visit on vacation. I am the unofficial fearless leader of seven (eight counting my husband) human beings when it comes to matters of the family. I guess you could say that is fitting, seeing as I am quite the control freak. I have that bossy-knack. I have the take charge personality. This comes with a burden – a pandora’s box of mistakes, misgivings, and overall tiresomeness. It is easy to just try to force everyone else to fit what I want..seeing as that is how it will end up anyway right? wrong. As my family grows, and each member matures, I am being – okay, I’ll just say it – forced to recognize that each person is their own person..and that this whole time I was being tricked into thinking they were all mine. It isn’t about the fact that I will always be the one they look at when deciding where to eat after church. But this is more about where they are in their walk with the Lord, where they go to college, who they want to be when they get older, etc… They are the Lord’s. He has this agenda and plan that makes my own agendas resemble planaria. But alas, He is worthy to be trusted. He is sovereign. Someone once told me that I have to turn my family over to the Lord. But even still, they aren’t mine to turn over. I just need to take a deep breath of faith and live in His grace. That feels much better anyway.

    • “Tricked into thinking they were all mine” – well put. Now the hard part of getting out of the habit of always being in control; and they have to get out of the habit of of expecting you to control. Trusting Jesus is actually a very practical thing isn’t it? Thanks for sharing and being an encouragement Melyssa.

  9. Kathy

    Gary…. I found this post a few weeks ago, following a blog trail from one of your daughters.. : ) It made such an impact on me, & I came back today to re-read it.
    (& I had to follow some long blog trail to find it again : )
    I am a mom to 3 married / grown boys & this meant so much to me in looking at my daughter-in-laws…. There is the performer or 2 & 1 who just sits in a chair… : )
    & then I read from you, that there is worth, in just being in the family. And ” the family puts skin on this picture” I love that.
    Thank you for making it so clear to me…..


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