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Is the Babywise Method Right For You?
What You Should Know About Babywise
and Growing Kids God’s Way

     From birth Johnny Bush “nursed like a champ” and slid right into the Parent Directed Feeding plan recommended by Gary Ezzo in his book “Preparation for Parenting,” the first book in the series of parenting books commonly known as “Growing Kids God’s Way.” (“On Becoming Babywise” is the secular version of “Preparation for Parenting”). “At a well-baby appointment at 3 1/2 months he weighed a hefty 16 lbs.– the 95th percentile on the baby charts,” says his mother, Alexandra Bush, a previous Preparation for Parenting instructor. But by the next appointment his weight had dropped to 14 lbs. 2 oz. “causing red flags to come up at the pediatrician’s office.” The following weeks were grueling, as specialists tried to determine the reason for Johnny’s weight loss. Alexandra quit nursing “cold turkey” and Johnny was placed on a calorie dense formula.
     “Johnny was weighed every other day that first week, and then once a week for several months,” says Alexandra. “Follow up appointments with my pediatrician and phone consultations with the specialists led us to forego further testing.” For Johnny’s parents, the diagnosis was shocking: “Failure To Thrive” (FTT) due to insufficient calorie intake. “I had starved my baby,” says Alexandra.
     Alexandra and John Bush, currently serving as missionaries to the Ukraine through the evangelical Christian denomination, Presbyterian Church in America, eventually discovered that their experience with Gary Ezzo’s Parent Directed Feeding plan was not unique.

Who Is Gary Ezzo?
     54-year-old Angelo Gary Ezzo is a minister from the independent, evangelical branch of Christianity. He has no credentials in child development, healthcare, breastfeeding, or baby care, nor does he have an undergraduate degree. In 1983 Ezzo received a Master’s of Arts in Ministry degree through a special degree plan at Talbot Theological Seminary, which offered Bible courses to ministers without college degrees.
     Ezzo is the author of a controversial religious and a secular series of books and materials titled “On Becoming Babywise,” and “Growing Kids God’s Way.” Both are the beginning of a series of books that cover child development through the teen years. Ezzo and his wife Anne Marie run a for-profit company, Growing Families International (GFI) which the Ezzo’s refer to as a “ministry” in their materials.

The Underlying Parenting Philosophy
     Ezzo’s parenting advice, in both the secular Babywise series and the Growing Kids God’s Way series, is based in his religious belief that human beings are morally depraved from birth – that they are born with a “sin nature.” But, while many evangelical professionals believe in the concept of original sin, they don’t embrace Ezzo’s interpretation as he applies it to children. In fact, evangelical Christians are some of Ezzo’s most staunch and vocal critics. (For information about Ezzo’s critics within the evangelical Christian community go to www.ezzo.info)
     In “Growing Kid’s God’s Way,” Ezzo writes: “A child’s nature is intrinsically self-oriented, self-legislative, self-serving, and void of moral qualities...” (p. 267) He believes that “Children will become progressively more sinful unless brought under control by the early training of their parents.”
     Ezzo’s version of “early training,” especially Parent Directed Feeding (PDF), however, is what has raised the voices of concern from theologians to child development professionals.

Infant Feeding and Moral Training
     “Because the desire for continual and immediate gratification begins at birth, the need for cultivating self-control in your child also begins at that point,” writes Ezzo in Growing Kids God’s Way (p. 25). Ezzo suggests that demand feeding, (responding to an infants “cues” that he or she is hungry, the method recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics) trains children to expect immediate gratification. In contrast, Ezzo created Parent Directed Feeding (PDF), a routine in which Mom, not baby, decides when baby will “eat, sleep and play.”
     One young mother was anxious to get her newborn on Preparation For Parenting’s “eat/play/sleep routine” as soon as she got home from the hospital. Her baby, however, would often remain in the quiet alert state for 2-3 hours after nursing. She regrets that rather than using this as bonding time with her newborn, she felt she had to take control:
     “Mom, not baby, determines the nap, so after an hour of being awake, down she went, tired or not. Oh, how she cried! She would go on and on, while my husband and I played the radio and did dishes and wondered what it would take to make her stop being so stubborn. Within a few weeks, we had helped our daughter line up her wake times to be pretty much in keeping with the routine in the book, and I had mostly learned to tune out her fussing. If she cried at sleep time, it was irritating, but I could ignore it, knowing she had to learn who was in control and how to delay gratification.”
     Leaving babies to cry if they are “clean and fed” and scheduled to sleep, is one of the most controversial aspects of Ezzo’s teachings. It is also the one that has led to the kind of problems experienced by the Bush family: low weight gain, malnutrition and FTT. The following experience was posted on the www.ezzo.info Web site in March of 2003 by a mother who taught Preparation for Parenting for ten years:
     “Our second child was born and became our first ‘prep baby’ (that term which I was so proud of makes me shudder now). She gained weight well until six weeks, and at her well-baby check, the pediatrician suggested I add another feeding as her weight gain had slowed dramatically. I remember thinking, ‘No way!!’ because she was already sleeping through the night (actually, I ignored her cries), and it would go directly against the principles I was using to ‘mold a godly, patient, self-controlled child.’ She cried a lot!
     “I remember being so wrung out some days because it was going directly against my mother’s heart to listen to her cries, so I gradually squashed my maternal instinct, and ignored the noise. It makes me weep to recall this. I eventually weaned her at 7 months: she was tiny, but not failure to thrive.”

“A Dangerous Program”
     Laurie Moody was a “Contact Mom” for GFI from January 1999 to August of 2000. As a “Contact Mom” Laurie assisted mothers having difficulty with Ezzo’s Parent Directed Feeding plan and/or breastfeeding.
     “My intentions were very good,” says Laurie, “but my experience and training in breastfeeding were very limited and the Ezzo’s knew this.”
     During the time she was a Contact Mom, Laurie received the training and subsequent certification to become a Certified Lactation Consultant. At that time she was the only Contact Mom who was certified as a lactation consultant. Her training, and the troubling calls she received as a Contact Mom, made her realize that Ezzo’s Parent Directed Feeding method was causing serious problems. On a Web site posting Laurie writes, “I did see babies who appeared listless and in a depressed state, who were smaller than average or scrawny. I met scores of moms who struggled with milk supply. I met babies who went one or two months without gaining any weight at all or who lost weight. I met moms who grieved when they realized that they had been systematically, albeit unintentionally, depriving their babies of food.”
     Her training led her to realize that leaving a baby to cry for 20-45 minutes while on the PDF program was like “having them exercise when they were already on a diet.”
     Concerned, she contacted the Ezzo’s. “When I would take the problems to Anne Marie—I never spoke to Gary—she would say, ‘Oh, I feel so bad. What can we do?’ But there were never any significant changes made in the program.”
     Laurie continued to act as a Contact Mom for a short time, even after realizing the dangers of the program, because she believed she could help the mothers who called. She finally quit in August of 2000, hoping to make a greater difference from the outside. “It is clear,” says Laurie, “that the Ezzo’s value the schedule over the success of breastfeeding.”
     Five months after quitting as a Contact Mom, Ann Marie and Gary Ezzo called Laurie and her husband. “We had a two-hour long conference call,” said Laurie. “Gary wanted to settle some of the misconceptions he thought we had about his character. [For information about Ezzo’s character concerns go to www.ezzo.info.] He would not discuss the problems I saw with the babies. When I brought them up, he would simply change the subject.
     “I don’t think people realize the depth of his (Ezzo’s) willingness to continue to deceive people through his books,” says Laurie. “There was never any point in time when he was willing to admit he was wrong, even when people from within were telling him there were problems,” says Laurie. “If he really wanted to help people, why wouldn’t he talk to me about the problems I had encountered with the mothers I was dealing with?”

“Monitoring Enemies”
     Frank York, who served as Ezzo’s editorial director at Growing Families International from April 1, 1996 to May 11,1998 had a similar experience in trying to alert Ezzo to the dangers of PDF. “One of my assignments was to ‘monitor Gary’s enemies on the Internet.’ My first thought was ‘Why would a man who is teaching parents to raise ‘Godly’ children have enemies?’”
     York says he began monitoring breastfeeding sites like Lacnet. “I started seeing stories about these infants who were low weight gain, malnutrition, and Failure To Thrive. I gave these stories to Gary, because I didn’t think he was aware of them. Gary brushed aside my reports by saying these cases were either ‘fabricated’ or ‘exaggerated’.”

Toddler Feeding and Moral Training
     Feeding issues surface immediately in Babywise Book Two. “The moral self-control that keeps a child in a high chair without fighting Mom is the same self-control that will later keep him at a desk with a book in his hands,” writes Robert Bucknam in the forward. “The battle for right high chair manners is moral, not academic.”
     And “battle” they do. A young mother of 13-month-old twins sought on-line help from a “Contact Mom” when one of her twins turned his head away from food he didn’t like and the other liked to “pat” the high chair tray with his hand.
     “The way I see it,” responded the Contact Mom, “they both need to be isolated (removed from their high chairs and placed in their cribs as punishment) for unacceptable behavior. Do not allow your son to turn his head away if you offer food he doesn’t like. If he turns his head, firmly say NO and turn it back. If he still refuses to open his mouth, you can either discipline him [swat] or isolate him from dinner [make him miss a meal]. When he comes back, he will open his mouth. As for the hand tapping, well, that will quickly turn into playing in food. If you have instructed him that this is a NO, you must isolate for that issue.”
     Ezzo’s Babywise Book 2 and his Preparation For the Toddler Years are filled with examples of benign, morally neutral, even developmentally appropriate behaviors, such as patting the high chair tray and turning the head from food, labeled “moral offenses” and punishable by swats, crib isolation, and the withholding of food. The mother who was a GFI teacher for 10 years looks back on this type of parenting another way:
     “God used the materials to heal a lot of stuff in our marriage, but it began ten years of controlling, abusive parenting, which we deeply regret.”

“First Time Obedience”
     A cornerstone of Ezzo’s teaching is “First Time Obedience,” meaning that children should obey “immediately, completely, without challenge and without complaint.” Additionally, children are required to display a “cheerful spirit” in obedience or face “chastisement” [defined in Growing Kids Gods Way as spanking]. The following definition of “first time obedience” is posted on the GFI Web site:
     “What is first time obedience? This means that when you call your child, he/she will respond ‘Yes, Mommy, I am coming’ with a cheerful spirit nine out of ten times (bolding theirs) that he or she is called. If you want your child to do something, such as pick up her toys, call her name. Then wait until she responds. If she responds, ‘Yes, Mommy, I am coming’ with a cheerful spirit, THEN give her the rest of her instructions. Amy should then respond again with a ‘Yes, Mommy’ to signify her intent to comply with your instructions. If she does not respond to her name being called in the manner mentioned above, then she would need a correction at that point. When her attitude demonstrates her willingness to comply, then give her further instruction of picking up her toys.”
     “First time obedience (FTO) is an artificial standard that blinds parents to really seeing their children,” says Alexandra Bush. “Hunger, exhaustion, circumstances, all of these can interfere with a child’s first time obedience. As a parent,” she adds, “I’ve grown to see that it is more important to understand my children and help them learn how to deal with rough days, rather than demanding this ‘standard’ of actions and attitudes from them.”

Us vs. Them Mentality
     “[Ezzo’s] teachings really foster an ‘Us vs. Them’ attitude and pits parents against children,” says Alexandra.
     Alexandra and John, the parents of five boys, remained loyal to Ezzo’s teachings even after their son Johnny was diagnosed Failure To Thrive on Ezzo’s Parent Directed Feeding method. Eventually, however, the Bushes began to back away from the authoritarian methods. “He teaches a parent must ‘direct’ a child’s day to keep a child from being manipulative, and that a parent must control a child to teach a child self-control. It sets up unneeded power struggles between parent and child.”
     Alexandra says she has “gradually de-Ezzoed” through the years. “I have more of a focus on nurturing my children now,” she says, “rather than trying to control them and their environment. I now have more of an attitude of ‘I’m on your side. Let’s work through this hard time together.’”
     Alexandra says she no longer views such things as toddler tantrums as being defiant or manipulative as Ezzo teaches, but as an indication that her toddler is having a hard time. “I look for the cause—hunger, exhaustion, being lonely—and try to work with him to gain control,” says Alexandra. “Rather than imposing on my children what I think they need or ought to be, I now desire to help my children develop who they are, who God created them to be.”

Child Centered Parenting
     In his books and on his Web site Ezzo frequently contrasts two styles of parenting: his and a permissive style he calls "child centered." Ezzo associates the term permissive or "child centered" with the term "attachment parenting," misleading readers into believing that attachment parents advocate an undisciplined style of parenting that caters to every demand of their child (Babywise p. 23). Evidence to the contrary, Ezzo infers that the child raised in the attachment parenting style will be unable to sustain meaningful relationships in life as he or she will be unable to care for other people (Babywise p.23-24).
     The term "attachment parenting," coined by Christian pediatrician Dr. William Sears, is a mindful style of parenting, emphasizing sensitivity to the emotional needs of the baby and child as he or she moves through stages of development. It is in keeping with the research that indicates that the baby's primary emotional task in the first year of life is to learn to trust, love and attach. The Attachment Parenting International Web site defines attachment parenting as "A philosophy based in the practice of nurturing parenting methods that create strong emotional bonds, also known as secure attachment, between the infant and parent(s). This style of parenting encourages responsiveness to the infant or child's emotional needs, and develops trust that their emotional needs will be met. As a result, this strong attachment helps the child develop secure, empathetic, peaceful and enduring relationships." It can be a shock to Ezzo followers when they encounter parents who practice attachment parenting and demand feeding:
     “I joined a mom’s group and met some attachment parents. I had such a negative image of these parents in my mind because of everything Ezzo had said about their parenting philosophy. I expected their children to be holy terrors. What I found astounded me. Their children were so loving and thoughtful without even having to be prompted! They listened to their mothers and did everything that was asked of them. It wasn’t a robotic obedience either. I could tell these kids genuinely wanted to please their mothers. Moreover, their mothers seemed to enjoy them so much! As I watched one of these mothers rock her infant to sleep tenderly in a sling, I deeply regretted not having a single moment like that during Katie’s infancy. I observed another mom singing to and cradling her son to sleep and I suddenly began to see what Ezzo described as ‘sleep props’ as something beautiful. I promised to follow my heart with my next child.”
     Alexandra Bush admits that Ezzo’s emphasis on a strong marriage is commendable, but adds, “He strays into dangerous waters when he states ‘marriage is the priority relationship.’ That very often leads to ‘parent centered’ parenting and an excuse for selfishness.”

Corporal Punishment as “Divine Intention”
     Ezzo advocates corporal punishment or “chastisement.” In Growing Kid’s God’s Way Ezzo writes, “Chastisement is the best word to represent God’s divine intention for parents to use physical pain in order to correct a child’s rebellious activities.” Later he writes, “Chastisement is not only the most humane way, but it is also divine. Chastisement is God’s method for parents to establish and maintain control of their children” (GKGW p. 320).
     According to Ezzo, when infants under 14 months “demonstrate rebellion” they should be isolated to their cribs instead of spanked. However, in Babywise, babies as young as 5 months can receive swats to the hand for such “rebellious” offenses as banging on their high chair tray, touching their food and dropping or throwing food on the floor. To justify this use of physical punishment with babies he simply redefines his term: “Neither a squeeze or swat to the hand, when accompanied by a verbal reprimand, is a punishment; both are deterrents, attention-drawing techniques...”
     Family “H” strictly followed the Ezzo’s pre-toddler training with their first baby, including the physical “deterrents.”
     The mother writes: “Oh, the swats and crib-isolations he got for not keeping his hands down! [Ezzo teaches that babies must keep their hands down when being fed. He considers this a “moral” issue rather than a developmental one.] It was such a battle, and we often wondered if he had any idea what was going on. Just before he turned 7 months, he started crawling, so he was getting swats/isolation for touching things. It was so frustrating as he stubbornly went for the same things, over and over, unwilling to yield to our authority! Looking back, we know that he was just a curious baby who was designed to explore what was around him and totally confused about why we were smacking him.”
     With their second baby the “H” family gave up Ezzo’s pre-toddler methods, including physical punishment:
     “The main difference has been that we haven’t felt guilty wondering if she understood why she was being hit or isolated. Our son helped us realize that the Ezzo’s approach to spanking was causing us to use it too much, too often, for minor issues that we found could be resolved in non-physical ways.”

No Going Back
     For previous Preparation For Parenting instructor Alexandra Bush and previous Contact Mom, Laurie Moody, there is no going back. “His breastfeeding information is completely inaccurate and it is ‘normal’ for Ezzo moms who breastfeed to have milk supply problems around 4-6 months,” says Alexandra. “Medical misinformation permeates these books, whether it is his breastfeeding advice, sleeping advice or ‘cry it out’ advice. I have yet to find medical facts to support his Parent Directed Feeding ideas or his ‘eat/wake/sleep’ cycle. Furthermore, I’ve met and was one of many moms who early on said, ‘See, it worked for me!’ and then later had problems with infant growth, sleep, development or milk supply.”
     “Even in the newest version of the Babywise (2001) the messages are still there, scattered throughout the book, that minimum time frames must be met or babies will not sleep as they should or have the ability to delay gratification later,” says Laurie. “There is a subtle fear-mongering underneath the message of the book that if the routine in the book is not followed parents will not be ‘successful’ with the program.”
     Both women say that “what is good in Ezzo, isn’t unique; and what is unique isn’t good.”
     “This is a dangerous program. It is not safe. Small babies are allowed to be hungry for the convenience of an adult schedule,” says Laurie.
     “He places a lot of guilt on parents and his methods lead to legalism and guilt for parents and children,” says Alexandra. “His teachings completely neglect how parents can interact with their children in a way that reflects God’s grace and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Cindy Webb, B.S., worked professionally in the field of child development and parenting for ten years before becoming a free-lance writer and Asst. Editor of Tulsa Kids Magazine. She and her husband, a Presbyterian minister, have two children, Katie, 15 and Alex, 11.

For more information on the controversy surrounding Ezzo’s work go to: www.ezzo.info or www.Christianity Today.com (an interview with Gary Ezzo and an article by Kathleen Terner called “Unprepared for Parenting”)

For information on Ezzo’s publishing company Growing Families International go to: www.gfi.org/ or simply enter Growing Families International on your web browser.

Editor’s Note: An e-mail was sent to Gary Ezzo in an effort to interview him, but he
had not responded at the time this article went to print

     Growing Families International will be holding their National Leadership Conference in Tulsa July 10-12 at Fellowship Bible Church on 91st Street. (Note: The views held by Growing Families International do not necessarily reflect the views of Fellowship Bible Church.)

     Alexandra Bush recommends these support groups online for parents who are trying to break away from the teachings of Gary Ezzo:
1. A private e-mail list through Yahoo groups named “FREEfromEZZO”
2. A messageboard at: www.gentlemothering.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=23
3. parentsplace Ezzo debate board at: http://messageboards.ivillage.com/iv-ppezzo
     Alexandra also invites any parents who are struggling to “de-Ezzo” to contact her at meandmyboys@hotmail.com.


Alternative authors:
Penelope Leach, Ph.D: "Your Baby and Child From Birth To Age 5" and other books
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton: "Touchpoints" and others.
Dr. Foster Cline and Jim Fay: "Parenting With Love and Logic" and other books
Dr. Harvey Karp: The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer
The American Academy of Pediatrics: Caring For Your Baby & Child Birth to Age 5, Caring For Your School-Age Child 5-12

For those interested in a Christian perspective on parenting:
Dr. William Sears and Martha Sears, RN Dr. Kevin Leman and James Dobson, Focus On The Family ("The Complete Book of Baby and Child Care")

For Christian Parenting classes and small groups, Lifeway Books recommends:
"Parent Project Tools for Godly Parenting" by William and Martha Sears
"Parenting By Grace" by Dixie Ruth Crase & Arthur H. Criscoe
"Shaping the Next Generation" by David Atchison

      Ezzo is currently in process of changing the titles of his faith-based books. The series is now called, “Let the Children Come” with subtitles such as “Along the Infant Way,” “Along the Toddler Way,” “Along the Virtuous Way,” etc.

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Additional Baby Wise Articles:
1. Part One: BabyWise? BeWary! Who is Gary Ezzo and why do baby and child care professionals find his advice so disturbing?
2. Part Two: BabyWise? BeWary! What Ezzo Doesn’t Know About Child Development May Hurt Your Baby
3. Is Gary Ezzo's Babywise Method Right for You?





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