Growing Kids God's Way?
A Critique of Growing Families International
By Dr. Barbara Francis
I have attempted to present a number of concerns regarding the Growing Families International parenting model. From reading the early literature and interviewing colleagues of the Ezzos, it is apparent that the original intent of their model was a sincere attempt to help parents develop and rear godly children. For that, there is appreciation and respect. However, the GFI model has taken on a life of its own that has proven to be dogmatically legalistic, divisive within churches, and—I, along with numerous others believe— rife with the potential for harm to babies and children. How this has emerged from the original intent is unknown; perhaps it is due to mankind's sinful nature—a nature that doesn't disappear by becoming a parent.
It has been interesting throughout this examination of the GFI material to note the following: Babies are taught from the day of birth not to be demanding, and yet the parents are encouraged to be extremely demanding of their child's behavior. Children are not allowed immediate gratification (even as newborns), yet parents are given the right to have immediate gratification of every request ("first time, every time"). Babies are implicitly the bearers of the sin nature, while parents seem to embody the attributes of God's image bearers. Time after time, babies and children are expected to behave in ways that are inconsistent with their God-designed level of development in order to satisfy the (often-arbitrary) comfort of the parents.
What, if anything, does this all mean? Perhaps nothing. But perhaps the temptation to legalistically adhere to such a parenting model is related to an inability to tolerate one's own selfishness, sinfulness, and finiteness. Basically, it's saying, "I will project out those ‘bad' aspects of myself I find intolerable to face or admit." Theologically, it relates to the underlying core of original sin: humankind struggling with his (or her) desire to be God. Socio-politically, it's played out through prejudice and injustice. Morally, it structures a system of obedience and "rightness" based on fear of punishment, abandonment, or disappointing others. It is regression to the Law and a rejection of grace. It is, emotionally and psychologically, a primitive level of narcissistic development we are designed to pass through in early childhood, but certainly not to act out in positions of authority and power as parents. >
I'm certainly not saying that proponents of GFI are uniformly struggling with their own sinfulness; what I am saying is that this type of legalistic model in any discipline, whether it be parenting, political, or social, sets up a model that plays to the insecurities of individuals.
Further support of this concept comes from the overall tenor of the GFI material; hence, the "thank you for having courage" statements I have heard multiple times regarding my willingness to critically examine it. People are afraid to challenge, I believe, because of the shame and guilt flavor within the GFI material. If one loves God, if one wants to please God, one will, of course, use GFI. In fact, the implicit message throughout is that one is lazy, selfish, ungodly, or emotionally damaged if there is challenge to the GFI model—and similar charges have been made explicitly by GFI toward critics. It is a powerful message that stirs vestiges of the childhood need to please authority. The power seems to not be from scripture, however, but from the ability to induce shame and guilt in readers who both desperately long to raise their children in a way acceptable to God, and may be themselves vulnerable to the desire to please—compounded with fear of the resultant consequences if they don't. We all too frequently relinquish to man the desire to please authority that belongs solely to God. A brief review of history tells us the danger of such willingness, whether it be a political ideology or within the Church.
The GFI model contains a myriad of specific and detailed instructions for raising children. Within those instructions are gross distortions, blatant misrepresentations, and dogmatic assertions that are at best unsubstantiated, and at worst duplicitous. Perhaps these claims are made out of naiveté; perhaps from a desire to offer the definitive model for godly parenting. Regardless of the reason, regardless of the intent, what was originally presented as "God's Way" often results in anything but. Age-appropriate, God-given needs are labeled as sinful. Mothers indwelt by the Holy Spirit are taught to ignore God's moving within them as "emotional." The knowledge of Christian medical and child development experts is being replaced by unsubstantiated opinion. Children are indirectly learning that God is first and foremost a God of rules, punishment, and control rather than the Author of unmerited love, freedom, mercy and grace.
It is a well-known concept that our image of our Heavenly Father originates in our internalized relationships with our earthly parents. As He provides the supreme model through His parenting of us, we are to emulate a model of Him to our children. Creating His reflection then, is what it truly means to grow kids God's way.