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Spare the rod?
A critque of 'Ezzo Parenting'
 
By Teresa Peneguy Paprock
 

What if there was a manual for child rearing that would help you teach your newborn to sleep through the night after only a few weeks, and grow into a perfectly behaved child? And what if this manual was endorsed by God?

 

Some people believe such a manual exists. It’s called Babywise, and it’s one of the publications available through Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo’s Growing Families International, based in Chatsworth, Calif.

 

Their child-rearing advice is said to have been used by 1.5 million parents since the Ezzos began teaching it in 1984. Their materials can be purchased in secular and religious bookstores, and their workshops are presented in churches worldwide.

 

Some parents who use the Ezzos’ core curriculum, “Growing Kids God’s Way,” report happy, well-behaved children and peaceful households. They find it a favorable alternative to permissive parenting.

 

The best part is that they use biblical ethics in forming a moral foundation for children, says Zita Henry of the Victory Christian Center, a nondenominational church in Madison. She and her husband, the Rev. Dart Henry, plan to promote the 18-week GFI course at their church and, later, to the community.

 

But not everyone considers the Ezzos’ method appropriate child-rearing. Some authorities contend many of these teachings are not only bad theology, but psychologically and physically dangerous.

 

* *

 

Kirsten Miller, a child and family therapist and social worker with the Center for Christian Counseling, says she has a lot of concerns about the Ezzo curriculum. Even the title is a concern to her,  as she notes that the Bible does not give explicit instructions about how to raise a child.

 

Miller is not alone, Nationwide, Christian child-rearing experts including Dr. William Sears and Dr. James Dobson have criticized the Ezzo method.

 

Ezzo techniques include:

-          Scheduled feedings from birth.

-          Discouragement of rocking a baby to sleep or responding quickly to a baby’s cries.

-          Physical chastisement (spanking with a rod or slapping the hands) from infancy, for misbehavior such as dropping food or squirming during a diaper change.

 

 

Christianity Today has printed more than one article criticizing the program, and the Christian Research Institute (a Christian authority on cults) contends it exhibits cultlike qualities. The Ezzos’ former church, Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., has publicly ended its affiliation with the couple.

 

Ezzo books are published n religious and secular (without Bible references) versions, and have been revised many times in recent years to that old and new versions of the books provide different advice. But implicit in the materials is the view that this child-rearing method is biblical, and that anyone who disagrees is unbiblical.

 

*

 

Ezzo, who has theological training but is not an ordained minster, and his wife, a pediatric nurse, base their method heavily on the Christian doctrine of original sin. Babies begin to show their sin nature early, he teaches, by demanding multiple feedings and crying for attention.

 

The scheduling and discipline are seen as a way to combat sinfulness and put the child on the right track so he or she can grow to follow God’s will. The suffering of a crying infant is compared to Jesus suffering on the cross and, because God did not intervene, neither should parents.

 

Ezzo advocates also see plenty of nonspiritual benefits to following the advice. By allowing an infant to cry it out instead of feeding on demand, they say they teach babies to sleep through the night within a couple of months. This results in a better night’s sleep for everyone in the family.

 

Ezzo proponents also point out there is nothing new in the Ezzo materials. The Henrys, of Victory Christian Center, say they raised their children (now 13 and 11) using methods similar to the Ezzos’ years before they ever heard of the program.

 

“They’re great kids,” says Zita Henry of her children. She adds that even though she and her husband will offer the Ezzo course, they don’t follow all of Ezzo’s advice to the letter.

 

“I don’t agree with the scheduled feedings,” she says, as an example.

 

Since Ezzo claims his parenting advice follows God’s voice, there is strong discouragement about listening to advice from others, including one’s own family Parents are also expected to live up to some unusually high standards.

The Ezzos “are very focused on scheduling, creating an atmosphere so that the baby is not the center of the family,” counselor Miller says. “But the schedule becomes the God – any movement away from that schedule creates anxiety.”

 

Miller is also concerned about the belief that comforting a crying baby will cause it to be spoiled. “When babies cry, there is a reason,” she says. “They are communicating a need of some sort.”

Health professionals around the country have requested the American Academy of Pediatrics to investigate the program. Miller shares the concern that the scheduled feedings can lead to under-nourishment. She also worries about the Ezzo’s emphasis on infliction of pain to cause changes in behavior.

 

“There is such a strong message of authority that their parents make so many of the decisions,” she says. “The children can end up developing a lesser or poorer set of internal moral values.”

 

But proponents of Ezzo parenting see the method as a godsend. The program’s web site contains dozens of enthusiastic testimonials. And parents see their duties as part of something much bigger: spiritual renewal. In the words of Gary Ezzo, the program wishes to “establish a biblical mind set for parenting that can be passed on from generation to generation.”

 

For the Henrys – who say they plan to bring the word of God and method of salvation through Jesus Christ so there is less crime, less poverty and less destitution – Ezzo is just part of the picture.

 

Of the criticisms, Zita Henry says, “There is criticism of anybody hat’s got a name, anywhere.”

 

For more information about Ezzo, go to the program’s web site: http://gfi.org/. and an anti-Ezzo web site: www.mailing-list.net/redrhino/Ezzo/Files.html.

Teresa Peneguy Paprock

This article originally appeared in The Capital Times. Teresa Peneguy Paprock / words & stuff freelancing retains the copyright to this article and it may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without express permission. For reprint rights, contact Teresa Peneguy Paprock at words@chorus.net or P.O. Box 5207, Madison, WI, 53705.

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