Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ezzo Parenting Controversy 101

Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo got their start in the mid-80's teaching a parenting class through the church where Gary Ezzo was on staff, Grace Community Church (GCC) in Sun Valley CA. The personable parents of two daughters, they were well received. They formed Growing Families International with the help and support of several other couples and developed 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 well-respected around the world for the popular "Grace to You" radio program and for Dr. MacArthur's books and Bible commentaries, and this association lent credibility to the Ezzos and provided an unusually powerful platform from which to launch their ministry and curricula. The church withdrew its support for the Ezzos and their materials in the mid-90's. The co-founding couples also withdrew their support.  This trail of broken relationships eventually, around 2002, came to include the Ezzos' own daughters.

In 1993, the Ezzos began marketing secular parenting books whose content mirrored their church material. On Becoming Babywise, often nicknamed simply Babywise, is the best-known of that line. It provides expectant parents with what it describes as an "infant management plan" for babies from birth to six months of age to get the baby sleeping through the night by around 8 weeks, to prevent the new family member from encroaching on the closeness the couple enjoyed in their pre-baby days, and to begin to instill a sense of discipline in the baby.

"Growing Kids God's Way" is the centerpiece of their church-based material. It's intended for use in an 18-week class and includes a lengthy study manual, DVDs to view in a class and a teacher's guide.

Overall, the Ezzos' material reflects their concern that parental authority needs to be revived. They advocate strong parental control and believe that the husband/wife relationship should be "the priority relationship" of the family. While children should be regarded as "welcome members" of the family, parents are warned not to place them at the center of the family, nor to expect to form a friendship with their children until they are grown.

Babywise presents a parent-directed schedule or "routine" for nursing, napping and wake-times to give parents control over their baby's day. The Ezzos believe this promotes character formation in the infant 1 by giving the baby experience in delayed gratification and submission to parental direction. 2 By contrast, they have portrayed demand feeding of infants as a dangerous, child-centered practice which indulges undisciplined desires for instant gratification. 3, 4, 5

In addition to its role in establishing parental authority, the Ezzos present the the schedule as the mechanism that causes the baby to sleep through the night by seven to nine weeks of age--thus providing incentive for tired new parents who might otherwise abandon the program and parent by common sense and instinct.

Unfortunately, the Babywise 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.

Babywise, Book Two

On Becoming Babywise Book Two addresses parents of babies aged 5 to 15 months. The book outlines an approach where parents take full charge of the baby's activities.  Meals and naptimes continue on schedule, and additionally the baby's waketime activities "must be organized, rather than being free-for-all experiences" 9  Parents are to schedule daily "playpen times" in a location where the baby can't see his parents in order to teach the baby to play independently. When the playpen is outgrown, parents are instructed to confine the toddler alone in a room with a few toys for 30 to 60 minute segments once or twice a day.  Parents are warned not to allow the toddler to roam and engage in activities of his own choosing. 9, 10

At mealtimes, parents are instructed not to allow such "highchair violations" as touching food, dropping food, arching their backs, and blowing raspberries.  If these occur, parents are encouraged to swat, squeeze the hand or isolate the baby in his crib.

Ezzo recommends that parents practice daily "couch time" in order to demonstrate to their baby that their marriage is the priority relationship in the family. The baby should be present to witness "couch time" but must not interrupt it.  Ezzo believes when the baby regularly observes his parents' relationship during couch time, he will experience feelings of security which will alleviate many common childhood issues, including night waking.

Good points and bad

The materials could hardly be controversial if there was nothing of value whatsoever in them. Indeed, there are many good points in the Ezzos' teaching, and the Ezzos have an enthusiastic following. It should be pointed out that the good points in the Ezzos' material are held in common with virtually any comprehensive, responsible book or class on parenting. The Ezzos are definitely not alone in recognizing the importance of a strong, supportive marriage to the stability of the whole family, encouraging parents to exercise authority and teaching children to be considerate of others.

However, critics say the Ezzos' material overlooks or garbles important basic facts of child development, confuses matters of cultural etiquette with matters of absolute morality, and so strongly promotes their favored applications of biblical principles that their applications begin to be confused with biblical principles.  As I go back to their books to check page numbers, I'm struck by the tone of austerity and the sense of suspicion of natural parental warmth and compassion.

Ministry Controversy

In addition to controversy over the content of their books, there is also controversy over the Ezzos' lack of accountability, bad behavior and history of broken church, professional and family relationships, which seem curiously incompatible with the message of their books. [For a thorough treatment of this subject, complete with documentation, please see the Timeline.]

Ezzo has responded poorly to criticism, balking at even essentially friendly criticism of his books. In the mid-90's, the church that helped him launch his materials recommended making changes to his infant care manual, but Ezzo balked and retaliated by spreading rumors about the church. GCC eventually publicly disassociated themselves from him.

The Ezzo sought refuge at a church pastored by a friend who was involved in their organization, but within a three years even this church had excommunicated them.

Their accounting firm dropped them.

Their adult children cut off contact with them around 2002.

The publisher of Ezzo's secular books, Multnomah, returned publishing rights to him following an investigation of alleged medical misinformation and character problems. 

Leaving their estranged children and grandchildren in California, the Ezzos moved across country to South Carolina. Their secular and church-based lines of books are now self-published.

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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"
Babywise,
2001, p. 34

4. "THE DANGERS OF DEMAND FEEDING.

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