Clicky Ezzo Parenting Controversy 101

Ezzo Parenting Controversy 101

While the Ezzos have many enthusiastic supporters who say adhering to the couple's teachings has been a lifesaver, many parents and health care professionals claim they've seen problems with the method.

Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo got their start in the mid-80's teaching a parenting class through their church, Grace Community Church (GCC) in Sun Valley CA, where Gary Ezzo was on staff. The personable parents of two daughters, they were well received and went on to form Growing Families International and develop a full line of parenting curricula for church-based classes, including Preparation for Parenting and Growing Kids God's Way. Their church and its high-profile pastor, Dr. John MacArthur, were (and are) well-respected around the world for their radio programs and for Dr. MacArthur's books and Bible commentaries, and this association gave the Ezzos credibility and an unusually powerful platform from which to launch these curricula.

In the mid-1990s, the Ezzos also began marketing a line of secular parenting books which mirrored their church material. You may have heard of On Becoming Babywise, often nicknamed simply Babywise, which is the best-known of that line.

The Ezzos' material reflects their concern that parental authority needs to be revived. They advocate strong parental control and insist that the husband/wife relationship should be "the priority relationship" of the family. They maintain that a child-centered family life reflects dangerously misplaced priorities. Children should be regarded as "welcome members" of the family, they say, not the center of the family.

The Ezzos apply this philosophy in several concrete ways. For example, a parent-directed schedule (also referred to as a "basic routine") for nursing, napping and wake-times maintains parental control over the baby's day. It provides a mechanism for character formation 1 by giving the baby experiences in accepting delayed gratification and submission to parental direction. 2 The Ezzos contrast this with demand feeding, which they have taught is a dangerous, child-centered practice which unwisely indulges the infant's desire for instant gratification. 3, 4, 5  

The Ezzos' secular material (Babywise) soft-pedals the moral arguments for scheduling made in their religious material and presents the schedule as a mechanism that causes the baby to sleep through the night by seven to nine weeks of age. Unfortunately, the feeding schedule has not been demonstrated to be safe, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a warning against parent-determined feeding schedules. 6 , 7 Ezzo nevertheless claims that his ideas are compatible with the AAP's recommendations by citing points of agreement while ignoring conflicts between the two.

Naptimes are also scheduled, and feedings follow naps, they don't precede them. Crying is a normal and expected part of the baby's day, and parents are encouraged to harden their hearts so that the baby's crying won't tempt them to intervene inappropriately. 8 At the same time parents are admonished to be considerate of others and not let the baby cry too much when other people might be bothered by it.

On Becoming Babywise Book Two, for babies aged 5 to 15 months, teaches that "waketime activities must be organized, rather than being free-for-all experiences which fall between meals and naps." 9 Daily "playpen times," which take place out of sight of mother for 15 to 30 minutes once or twice a day, teach the baby to play independently. When the playpen is outgrown, the toddler is assigned to "room time" to play alone for 30 minutes to an hour, once or twice a day. Other daily activities include interacting with a family member and "free playtime" at a "play center." Allowing the toddler to wander freely and find his or her own activities is discouraged. 9, 10

Proper high-chair behavior is important to Ezzo. Parents should train their babies not to commit "highchair violations" such as dropping food, touching messy hands to the hair, arching the back, and blowing raspberries. Parents may swat, squeeze the hand or isolate the baby in his crib if highchair violations occur.

Ezzo recommends that parents practice daily "couch time": 15 minutes of time after work when the parents visit together on the couch while the baby or toddlers are present, but are instructed not to interrupt. This reinforces the concept that the marriage is the priority relationship in the family, and increases the baby or child's sense of security. Ezzo believes that many common childhood issues can be resolved when parents are regular with their "couch times."

There are certainly good points to Ezzo's teaching--it could hardly be controversial if there were not good things to point to within the various books and classes. Many of the good ideas are quite standard, and can be found in virtually any comprehensive book or class on parenting. For instance, there is no disagreement about the importance of a strong, supportive marriage to the stability of the whole family and the importance of teaching children to have good manners and to be considerate of others.

However, critics say the Ezzos' material overlooks or misunderstands facts of basic child development, confuses matters of cultural etiquette with matters of absolute morality, and so strongly promotes their philosophy of biblical parenting through their favored applications that the applications begin to be confused with biblical principles.

In addition to controversy over the content of the Ezzos' books, there is also controversy over Gary Ezzo's lack of accountability and his own bad behavior and a history that includes a trail of broken relationships. He apparently tends to balk even at friendly criticism of his books. The church that helped him launch his materials stopped using the materials and eventually publicly disavowed all connection with him. His next church, pastored by a friend and GFI ministry associate, excommunicated him after he left. His accounting firm dropped him. His adult children have cut off contact with him.  His publisher for his secular books, Multnomah, returned his publishing rights to him following an investigation of alleged medical misinformation and character problems. Both his secular and church-based lines of books are now self-published.


1. "Much more is happening during feeding time than just filling up a little tummy. How you choose to feed your baby will have a profound effect on your child's hunger patterns, sleep patterns and basic disposition."
Babywise, 2001, pp. 29-30

2. "Because the desire for continual and immediate gratification begins at birth, the need for cultivating self-control in your child also begins then."
Preparation for Parenting, 3rd edition, p. 16.

3. "The methods used to manufacture a secure attached child too often produces [sic] the symptoms...[which include] low tolerance for delayed gratification"
2001, p. 34


Before we can expand on the benefits of the parent-controlled feeding plan, we first need to put to rest the second misconception stated at the top of this chapter: that a non-scheduled baby is happier, healthier and generally more secure when the parents react to his or her cries rather than a plan. Specifically we are referring to the practice of demand feeding.

"We desire to make our position very clear: demand feeding is not the medicine for the problem; it is the problem!"
Preparation for Parenting, 3rd edition, p. 58

5."Demand feeding is emotionally pragmatic but not practical. Pragmatism, loosely defined, puts whatever works above what is right and best: a baby cries, so feed it and stop the crying--a quick-fix. It is unfortunate, but many demand-feeding parents were thmselves raised on a quick-fix and now it is the only way they know how to parent. There is no true assessment of need, nor any thought given to long-term effects.

"This fix-it-now approach ignores basic metabolic conditioning for mother and child, negative reinforcement training, long-term behavioral problems, what it does to the family as a whole and the biblical affirmation of man's nature." Preparation for Parenting, pp 58-59, 3rd ed.

6. American Academy of Pediatrics Media Alert on Scheduled Feedings, 1998;

7. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Breastfeeding, 2005

8. Babywise, 2001, pp. 150-151

9. On Becoming Babywise, Book Two, p. 80

10. On Becoming Babywise, Book Two, p. 70-71


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