Russian Couple Abandon Scientific Career to Raise a Large Family the Orthodox Way in the Countryside

Biologists Alexander and Maria Popov, parents of nine children, left their scientific careers and went to the countryside to create the most favorable conditions for the Christian upbringing of their children. The couple were interviewed by video link together, but from different places: Alexander from the village, and Maria from the maternity hospital where she had given birth to her ninth child the day before.

Alexander Sergeyevich Popov, 39 years old. Farmer. Online biology teacher for children in family education. Biologist, graduated from the Faculty of Biology of Moscow State University, where he also met his wife. In the 4th year they had their first child. Then followed post-graduate studies and work at the Faculty for 10 years.

Maria Sergeevna Popova, 38 years old, a neurophysiologist, graduated from the Biology Department of the Moscow State University, was admitted to the post-graduate course, and for 10 years worked as a researcher of the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of Russian Academy of Sciences. Studying and working ended after the fifth child. Married for 18 years.

Александр Сергеевич и Мария Сергеевна


Sergei, 16.
Alexey, aged 14
Tikhon, 12 years old
Stepan, 10 y.o.
Katerina, 8 y.o.
Pavel, 5 y.o.
Irina, 4 years old
Roman, 2 years old
Cassian, 2 days

- Tell us, please, why did you decide to leave your scientific career?

Alexander Sergeyevich: We were very lucky - we were able to work with real scientists. But looking at my colleagues, I understood that I wasn't at the right place: the results of my scientific activity were more than modest. Perhaps I should have tried my hand at something else. Besides, it became very difficult to work, because of the increased bureaucratization of scientific work - I was tired of filling out paperwork. Masha and I finally decided to move to the countryside.

Maria Sergeevna: We worked in different places, we had different specialties. I was very fond of science, neurophysiology is still to my liking, but I had to make a choice between family and work. Until the fifth child I combined them, but I felt that the family suffers. Although it seemed to me that it suffers just a little bit - but we are doing an interesting, important work for mankind: we were engaged in research of degeneration mechanisms in the brain for possible early diagnosis and prevention of the development of various human diseases. However, on reflection, I came to the conclusion that the work will go on without my participation, but it is difficult for the family without me. There was no obvious disadvantage, but... My scientific management also suffered from the fact that I was always on maternity leave.

A.S.: Masha was in my three-year post-graduate course, because of the constant birth of children, for ten years. The patience of her supervisors was put to the test.

- And when you both left your jobs, were you not afraid of being left without a piece of bread?

AS: No matter what you do, you will not get as little as you did at university. You can earn anything, and it will still be easier to live than a scientific rate. Now, as far as I know, the situation is better, but in Moscow universities, and Moscow State University - a federal university.

From the beginning we had the idea that we would start developing our own farm, and it would become one of our main sources of income. We had two tasks: to master agriculture and to transfer children to home schooling. These tasks were difficult on their own, but together they were impossible to accomplish. Only a young foolish person would try to combine them. We had acquaintances who needed help developing programs and manuals for family education. Our academic knowledge turned out to be in demand, and it helped us financially, since our household was not as successful as we had hoped at first.

M.S.: It so happened that the new way of life forced us to look for new sources of income. Fortunately, we did not have to invent anything complicated. Where God directed us, we found all kinds of work.

Поповы. Выписка из роддома, октябрь 2021 г.

- How did you choose where to move?

A.S.: We went to Yaroslavl region, to a village near Uglich. Our relatives lived there in a neighboring village and we loved visiting them. We also wanted to buy a dacha in those places. When we bought a house, we did not think we would live there permanently.

M.S.: It's great there - there's a dense forest, a big beautiful river Volga, year-round access to the village. And it's not very far from Moscow, where all my relatives are.

A.S.: And so, in 2015, I and my five children finally moved to our house near Uglich. Of course, we were getting ready to move, because long before that we felt the urge to change our life to the countryside. Fortunately, we had friends who had long ago settled in the Tver region in a remote village. We used to come and visit them and were always begging them to do some agricultural activities. Let's buy a bull. Let's try to butcher it and see how it goes. Let's sell the meat. Or pick cranberries and sell them at the university. It was all costly and unprofitable, beyond our means and money, but it gave us some experience. When we moved, we at least had an idea of what not to do to conserve resources. We decided to breed pheasants and sell them to hunting farms. Pheasants are released into the grounds in order to increase the number of game for hunters. A little later they started to raise broilers for meat. For our belt, the general direction of activity is as follows: you have to grow anything and sell it to Moscow. There is a huge demand in Moscow, and if you care even a little bit about the quality of your produce, it makes a huge difference compared to store-bought produce, so they buy it up willingly.

- What problems did you have to solve during the move?

M.S.: In 2015, the three older children were already schoolchildren. Medical care, which is often lacking in the provinces, was not very important to us - we have doctors we know in Moscow who we can always turn to. But it was not clear what was wrong with school. In general, we had a very good school in Moscow, one of the best, I think. And suddenly we found out that we could not go there, we could legally transfer the children to family education. This was the last argument in favor of moving.

AS: When we left, we didn't have internet in our village yet; we bought special equipment with amplification and set up internet. We knew that if we needed to go to school remotely, we could always take advantage of the new E-School of Russia project, which digitized all the subjects covered by the curriculum.

M.S.: All our children once a year are evaluated in the Moscow school to which we are connected. This is done remotely, the children do not go there, and the way they study during the year we determine ourselves, that is, the schedule, the distribution of the teaching load and everything else. We have a family education program, we combine it with the school program, and we like it a lot.

- Do the children learn well?

A.S.: Now our eldest son has passed his USE and entered college at MIPT; now in the 9th grade he has already taken his exams in person, not remotely. It turned out that, having not bad certificate, it is not difficult to enter the college. We were very nervous about getting into college, but it was no big deal. Although with the eldest it was the hardest, he had been in school the longest, and he had no desire to learn.

M.S.: He didn't want to study at home. We wanted the children to study independently, to pursue their interests in different school subjects. But Sergei got used to having all the issues decided by teachers, and after six months of homeschooling he started saying, "I can't make myself do anything. You're adults, you're supposed to make me do it! Adults specifically for this! Make me do my homework!" And we answered that we didn't want to make anyone do anything. At school he got straight A's and B's, but thanks to the efforts of his teachers he just drifted along, and it became a characteristic of his personality. Somehow he would have to live with that now. The other kids managed to reformat, but they spent less time in the system and were able to adjust, although they too had a hard time. Nevertheless, my eldest son got in and now studies with pleasure. He says it's hard, they make you study. Finally. We wanted the kids to learn to take responsibility, including the learning process; with our oldest, we didn't fully succeed.

Apart from our eldest, no one else wants to go to school, everyone has come to love learning at home.

- You are still so young, and you already have nine children. Is it a conscious choice?

A.S.: We decided even before we married that we would have many children.

M.S.: I thought that was the most important thing I should ask my future husband.

A.S.: I always wanted to have many children. There were three of us in the family, and Masha had three, too. We grew up in a difficult time, in the 1990s. There were very few Orthodox people in our community, and I constantly felt the pressure of the environment, and I wanted a large family as a micro-society in which the children could feel comfortable. My mom and dad were also biologists, both of whom did not believe in God, but my mom came to faith when I was five. One day we went camping with my parents, and I started complaining that I was having a hard time. Mom said: "There is a God; you can ask Him and He will help you." I didn't even have any doubts that that was the case.

M.S.: My dad and mom were interested in the Orthodox faith, but were not very churchgoing, although for a while my brothers and I even went to Sunday school. When I met Sasha freshman year, I asked him how he envisioned his family. We discussed what it would be like. But I questioned whether God would approve of us starting a family. I thought it was too responsible to decide for myself who to marry. We went to Sasha's spiritual father, and he said we should get married. And the question of having many children, I thought, was out of my hands. It's not that I don't have an opinion, but it can change! If the day is hard, it seems that everything is a nightmare, and why do we live so hard? But the next day you can be cheerful and think: we live the best life ever! That is, you don't want to make vital decisions based on such feelings. It seemed to me that the way my family should look and develop could not be my decision alone - it was so complex and sacred. God would decide it, my husband would decide it, and I would comply.

- Many parents are afraid that they will not be able to provide for their large family, and that their children will walk in rags...

A.S.: Our children wear nothing but rags all the time.

M.S.: They really love rags.

A.S.: We are surrounded by good people and they always give us clothes when they see them.

M.S.: They like to put on their clothes and go to the farm, to take care of the chickens, the dogs, the cows, the geese. Rags are a very necessary thing in our household!

A.S.: Active village life destroys clothes instantly. The half-life of clothes is about two weeks.

M.S.: But seriously, now there is no deficit in our country; you can dress yourself and your children beautifully, fashionably and cheaply.

A.S.: The issue of money is, of course, a serious one. We can't pretend that it does not matter - it is important. But here I can say two things. First, every time you think: there are already three children. Can we have one more? We can. We already have four - what, we can't feed one more? And after the sixth or seventh, the difference is not so noticeable.

M.S.: Even after the fifth is not noticeable. And then our relatives help us in any way they can!

A.S.: The second point is that Masha and I have come to the conclusion that raising children in wealth can be very harmful for them. In the 1990s there were many examples of families living in relative poverty. By the end of the 1990s, some found good jobs, some started businesses, things were getting better, and we saw that the younger children who were born and raised in well-to-do conditions were not as human as the children who had grown up in poverty. At the beginning of our family life, Masha and I were discussing not where to get money, but how to make sure that our children would not realize that we were not bad with money.

M.S.: The kids are well dressed, they eat well, they have a lot of toys - this is not a problem now. And we kept thinking: what kind of difficulties will our kids have, so that they will develop good personal qualities while overcoming them? What kind of difficulties would they have if they had everything? Christian upbringing, how to implement it?

A.S.: Children cannot be fooled. We were taught as children that we should be careful with bread. But how can I explain this to a modern child, if bread costs 30 rubles, and I have 30 thousand in my wallet? And the store shelves are full of this bread? The child feels that it is somehow silly when it is explained that bread should be preserved. At first we tried to artificially limit our income, but then there were a lot of children, less money, and things got better all by themselves.

One more thing we realized: such a big family cannot have one source of income, it is a big risk. We need several independent businesses from which we can get money. And if one business is stalled (e.g., selling organic farm food is somehow not going well), the second and third businesses will back things up.

Дом Поповых зимой

- And the move served educational purposes, too?

M.S.: We tried to get the kids to work all the time. Chopping wood, hauling water, growing vegetables in the vegetable garden - so that they had physical activities that were good for the family, not just physical development. As the children grew up, these tasks were no longer enough. If you live at the cottage for three months and then come to town, you can lie on the couch again and say, "Oh, I'm so busy, I'm doing my homework! Come on, get everything ready for me here, and then clean up after me". It turned out to be a constant struggle with our own way of life. Instead of our lifestyle working for our educational purposes, it was directly harming us. Moving helped make our living conditions more difficult, although we have everything done in our house as in a city apartment (except for the stove, of course). But there are a lot of chores to do, and the kids see that their labor is necessary. If you don't go out and feed the pheasants, they will die, and we won't have anything to buy bread with, of which there is so much in the store. Now we only regret one thing: that we didn't move earlier. That we didn't realize right from the start how important it is to have a well-thought-out lifestyle.

A.S.: For us, the success of rural life is not in the first place. The family and children come first, and the farm is an appendix. In general, we are city people. I am a field zoologist by profession, an expeditionary person, I traveled a lot in my life and lived in harsh conditions. I thought I could do everything in the countryside - it turned out that I could do almost nothing. And this is a normal situation for a city dweller who moved to the countryside. It takes several years just to learn how to solve the simplest household tasks without any extra effort.

M.S.: Even though we tried to familiarize ourselves with village life by visiting our relocated friends, our reality was still different. And no matter how much we prepared theoretically - theory is good in theory, but living life is different. It was very hard for us. And at times it still is, and money is not enough, but it all depends on how honestly you formulated your goals. If we came to the countryside to live an easy and happy life, we would have experienced the collapse of our goal, and after a couple of years with curses, pulling burdocks out of scarves, would have returned home, considering those years lost. If our goal was to start a super-successful business, we too would fail and also come back to town with even more burdock and debt. And if our goal is to create an environment conducive to raising children, it's easier to find the right tools in the countryside to make it happen. Labor education is possible there, there is more freedom compared to the city, there are no problems with housing - you can build a house of any size you want.

На ферме

The fact that we are in a certain distance from society also gives us a certain freedom - we have almost no neighbors, who would disturb us and who would not like something. We have a beautiful temple in the neighboring village, the children gladly go there, sometimes we even walk 5 kilometers. In other words, with God's help, we are trying to solve our task. I think we have succeeded in this - it will become clear when the children grow up.

- You seem to be the kind of family that it says "may the two be one flesh". Is this unanimity a gift from God or the fruit of serious work?

A.S.: We had some difficulties in our relationship, but we overcame most of them before the wedding, mostly thanks to Masha. The key thing was that Masha loves to talk about everything. At first it was hard for me to bear while I was a groom, but I gradually got used to it. And it is very important to talk about everything, to discuss both pleasant and unpleasant things. For some reason people underestimate the conversation, consider it something empty. They say, you have to do things in silence. But there are some affairs which are impossible without dialogue.

M.S.: Mutual understanding between spouses is, of course, a gift from God (like all gifts from God), but it is also a great work. We are often told: Oh, lucky wife, lucky husband! But I completely disagree. Lucky is when something has worked itself out. And we have a long and difficult work in progress on a common, important cause. At some point there is inevitably a disconnect between family members. And we've had that moment. It's one of the reasons we made the decision to move. We felt we all had different lifestyles. Dad has his own job, Mom has her own job, all the kids have their own activities somewhere outside the house, and we all eat here in the evening. We spent too much time in our personal lives, separate from family life. The way of life was pulling us in different directions. It was okay for some people to live like this, to meet in the evenings and talk about how their day was going; but it wasn't enough for us. We wanted our family to be one. How do you raise kids if they have their own lives? Our way of life has to work for the tasks we think are important; not to hinder them, but to help them. I think many people underestimate the structure of their lives. The whole modern world works against the family, and we have to make something up to create our own line and stick to it. We don't want to isolate ourselves from the world! We're just dealing with our own problems.

В нашем храме Воскресения Христова

A.S.: Unfortunately, people set their children up with the idea that work and career come first. But this is done at the expense of the family, at the expense of relationships. If my wife feels that work is more important to me than family relationships, she won't trust me. We were brought up this way, and our peers are brought up this way with their children - there has to be a job, you need to fulfill yourself, and there's probably someone on the side that will walk with you through life. But this does not agree with our sense of the family as a small Church, here we need more unity, more community...

Now almost everything has changed, modern man has access to travel, expensive cars, good apartments, excellent medicine - that is, unprecedented material freedom. And people actively use it. But the idea of a family, for some reason, remains the same, from the sad days of the twentieth century. It seems that a family with many children is something unattainable for a modern young person. And we think it is not. It is possible to overcome these stereotypes. If you dream of having a large family - it really won't be easy, but you shouldn't wait for a more convenient and appropriate time, because today is the best time to be happy.

Interview by Anna Berseneva-Shankiewicz

Source: (Russian)

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