by Steven R. Rein and Kateri Allison Rein
This HTML document is essentially a letter to an elder at St. Giles Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia about our experience in the Preparation for Parenting class we took.
To close out this WWW introduction to the letter, we say to all those reading, don't trust our interpretation of Growing Families International's materials and don't trust GFI but pray for discernment while looking through the evidence and weighing the issues.
Although we know that St. Giles is not currently considering using the Preparation for Parenting materials as part of the curriculum for any class, the fact that Focus on the Family (Dr. James Dobson's organization) says "we do not recommend this material to our constituents":
- "In the first place, it seems to us that their philosophy of childrearing is far too rigid."
- "the Ezzos' misuse of biblical texts is, in our view, a second cause for serious concern"
- "the authors' proposals regarding controlled feeding schedules for infants are highly controversial"
the fact that Grace Community Church (where the Preparation for Parenting materials were originally developed) doesn't allow these materials to be taught anymore, and has even gone so far as to issue a public rebuke of Ezzo (along the lines of I Timothy 5:19-20), the recent World Magazine article and the resulting fallout as well as other documents available via the World Wide Web, including "Growing Criticism" by Randy Frame and "The Brave New Baby" by Thomas S. Giles from Christianity Today magazine, "Wise Advice for Babies?" by Eric Patterson, from Boulder Weekly and "In God's Hands" by Kelly Griffith from the Bradenton Herald (see Section 6) have convinced us that perhaps St. Giles should not use any materials prepared by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo or their organization, Growing Families International. A summary of "Big" churches and organizations who do not stand with Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo can be found in a Christian Parenting e-mail discussion group posting.
We have been hesitant to write this letter because we have also been concerned about offending those at St. Giles who may, like the Ezzos (and ourselves, we might add) feel that contemporary society is woefully lacking in loving discipline. When looking around at parents and children in our society (and even, sad to say, our churches), it is clear that many parents these days are not following Ephesians 6:4 "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (RSV). It seems like many parents are self-centered, often neglecting the love and discipline their children need. However, because God calls us to "Test everything. Hold on to the good." (I Thes 5:21) we feel called to bring our concerns before the Church. Needless to say, this has not been an easy letter to write.
We have only taken one of the Ezzos' courses, in particular, Preparation for Parenting (PFP). We were excited to take a course written for Christians as we were new parents and seeking to be all that God wants us to be as parents. But when we attended the class it appeared that the Bible was being used to justify the Ezzos' idea of parenting. We have not taken the Ezzos' other courses ("Growing Kids God's Way", "Preparation for the Toddler Years", "Reaching the Heart of Your Teen", "Reflections of Moral Innocence" and "On Becoming Babywise I or II ") and so, cannot speak to the quality of the materials in them. Even so, although we may agree with the Ezzos about many of the problems of contemporary American parenting styles and many of the solutions, we recommend against the use of any of their materials because in addition to misinterpreting Scripture to justify their own beliefs, they are offering advice that is medically unsound and their presentation of their parenting method promotes intolerance and divisiveness.
Below we attempt to outline some of our concerns with the Preparation for Parenting (PFP) course that we took in early 1995 at Immanuel Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.
Our concerns with the PFP curriculum tend to lie in four basic areas:
- Concern 1 - Intolerance For example "this method is God's way"
- Concern 2 - Misinterpretation and Misrepresentation
- Concern 3 - Biological and Historical Inaccuracy On such issues as lactation and sleep
- Concern 4 - Cultural Blindness On such issues as family beds, the use of playpens and slings
A summary of our concerns could be briefly stated as The impression one gets from the Ezzos' PFP course is that the Ezzos claim to know how Jesus wants you to parent your infant and that if you do not follow their method, your child won't develop physically or spiritually in the way that God wants. While we agree that God wants us to look to Scripture to help us parent wisely, we disagree with the Ezzos on what they consider the key elements of their method. Infant schedules and playpens are just fine. Saying they are what God wants all parents to do is not. If what the Ezzos teach is the truth, we should be able to find a less controversial source for teaching materials (for example, Josh McDowell, Tim Kimmel and Rev. Tedd Tripp have all produced highly praised teaching resources that cover some of the same issues as the GFI's materials).
We apologize for the length of this letter. There is much to say about the Ezzos and their methods. Please share this letter with the Christian Education Committee, the pastoral staff and anyone you think may be interested.
We will also provide some references for those wishing to do some further research on the World Wide Web.
Is it God's Way?
Some may say that the Ezzos' program allows flexibility and doesn't promote intolerance. This is not the case. Statements like
"Working from a biblical mindset and practicing demand-feeding can never be harmonized since the two are incompatible philosophies.''
tells the reader that they cannot nurse their child using the "demand-feeding" method while still trying to follow scripture (see "The Brave New Baby" from Christianity Today ).
The very name of the Ezzos' main program "Growing Kids God's Way" suggests they are promoting something that shouldn't be questioned. To quote Pastor Doug Haag in Religious Parenting Programs: Their Relationship to Child Abuse Prevention , "naming their material `Growing Kids God's Way' is a bit presumptuous. After all, who's going to argue with God?". In our opinion, the Ezzos are promoting their own beliefs on parenting that have no theological basis and then they are claiming it is Bible based. (Please see "Whose Way, After All?" by Barbara Curtis, Religious Parenting Programs: Their Relationship to Child Abuse Prevention and "Unto the Least of These" by Rebecca Lewis .)
Misunderstanding and Division
The natural result of the impression they give in their material ("Our way is right, other ways are wrong") is that those who follow the Ezzos' programs may feel superior to those in the church who are not raising their children in "God's Way". (It is interesting to note that the Ezzos also tell parents not to initiate conversations about the curriculum outside the class.) On the other side, in conversations we've had with people at church who like the Ezzos' methods we've gotten the feeling that our style of parenting didn't measure up to their version of "Godly Parenting". Shouldn't we parent in the way God calls us? If the answer is yes, we shouldn't feel criticized for it. Any elitism based in the Ezzos' PFP curriculum keeps parents from supporting each other on issues that matter like teaching our children about Jesus. (Please see "The Dr. Oracle Syndrome" by Rebecca Prewett for a brief discussion on such criticism and the divisiveness it produces.)
The issue of whether the Ezzos' methods are of God is unfortunately complicated with another issue. When GFI is criticized as promoting anything less than "God's Way" they seem to respond in a defensive manner, attacking the character and credentials of their critics rather than the substance of the criticizms. For some details of some of their over-reactions, please see "Some Concerns About the Ezzo Method" and "In Response" by Rebecca Prewett, a reply to the Ezzos' criticism of these concerns.
While we understand that the Ezzos may feel singled out and unfairly criticized, we don't appreciate the spirit expressed in their responses to honest concerns.
Misinterpretation and Misrepresentation
The Ezzos themselves write:
What you believe about feeding a baby will usually be representative of your overall parenting philosophy. When it comes to a method of feeding, the Bible is silent. It does not speak of demand-feeding, clock-feeding or the PCF plan. No one can evaluate a method as being spiritually right or wrong. The motive of the heart, the origin of the theory, the starting premises, the basis of judgment, and the corresponding results corrupt or sanctify the method. Although God is silent on the topic of infant feeding, there are basic Scriptural principles that cannot be ignored. Order, sound judgment, love, patience, care, strong marriages, and that which promotes soberminded assessment are but a few biblical imperatives to consider.
We agree with this statement. However, we believe the origin of the theory, the starting premises and the bases of judgment behind the Ezzos PFP method are not of God. The Scriptures do not say "PFP is bad" or "PFP is good", so to gain insight into whether a particular parenting method is acceptable to God or not, we need to:
- Study Scripture to determine whether the method contradicts the Scriptures
- Then, determine whether the method contradicts the implications of Scripture
- Then, pray for specific revelation
- Then, see whether the method contradicts what we know based on Science, Medicine and the like.
We can see where some might want to rearrange items 2, 3, and 4, but these are the only things that really will help us in the evaluation of a method for child-rearing.
In our opinion, PFP does not fall short on point 1, but it fails 2, 3 and 4. The overall thesis of PFP seems to be
- Wait at least two hours between the the end of one feeding and the beginning of the next.
- Then your child's hunger patterns will stabilize.
- Then your child will sleep through the night.
- The above are necessary to parent an infant in the way God would want you to.
(Please see any copy of Preparation for Parenting . )
Do these statements contradict Scripture? Are these quotes from the Bible? In both cases the answer is "no". Clearly the second two statements logically depend on first and biology, not just Scripture should be used to support that link. The fourth statement would appear to be reasonable if the first can be justified.
So, how does Scripture support the notion that infants shouldn't be fed on demand, but should be fed at regular intervals. The best explanation that we've found in the Ezzos' materials is that "God is a God of order". It still seems like quite a jump from that to the conclusion that we shouldn't feed or seek to comfort a crying child just because it's only been one hour since their last feeding.
Perhaps there is some Scriptural justification for a parenting goal of stable hunger patterns in the infant or for sleeping through the night. Again "God is a God of order" comes up. The other way that Scripture may suggest a feeding schedule is necessary is that without it, your child will not be under your parental control. However, this is not the case, see "Unto the Least of These" by Rebecca Lewis. While the parent being placed above a child is part of God's hierarchy for the family, it is not clear at all that this implies one needs to feed a child on a schedule.
Are there any other Bible based reasons for feeding a child on a schedule? We've asked this question of a few GFI leaders (the leaders of our class at Immanuel Baptist, Pastor Jim Bennet at Immanuel Baptist who happens to be GFI's Regional Administrator, two GFI leaders via e-mail, a GFI editor at GFI's headquarters, and Robert Garcia, Executive VP at GFI) and have received no response (other than the non-responses "What the Ezzos' say seems clear to us, perhaps you need to pray for clarity", "it has worked for hundreds of families, which confirms that this method is Biblical" and "you should really ask someone else"). If there is a Biblical basis for a schedule, GFI leaders should be able to explain it in a patient and loving fashion to those who do not have understanding. The fact that none has yet suggests there is no such basis.
Please see Pastor Doug Haag's part of the document Religious Parenting Programs: Their Relationship to Child Abuse Prevention for a more thorough theological review of a variety of PFP statements (summary: there is no biblical basis for many of their claims).
The Misrepresentation of Other Methods
In the PFP course, much of the time was devoted to spelling out the evils of secular humanism and how that philosophy has given rise to what the Ezzos' call "Attachment Parenting". (Our course ran 6 weeks and 3 of the weeks appeared to be devoted to this issue alone.) In this three week summary, the Ezzos were saying basically that anyone who does not follow their method is following a method that is based on the philosophies of the "Secular Mystics". In the readings and the videotapes several of these philosophies were briefly described and linked to extreme parenting beliefs, both historical and contemporary. The most permissive of these parenting styles was labeled as "neoprimitivistic" Attachment Parenting. It is important to note that when the Ezzos write of "Attachment Parenting" they define it in a different and more extreme way than those who coined the term. (La Leche League and Dr. William Sears are the best known proponents of "Attachment Parenting". Dr. Sears is a pediatrician, father of 8 children - including one adopted and one with Downs Syndrome - and the author of a variety of Christian and secular parenting books. The Ezzos call him a "permissive parenting expert", a label which certainly does not seem appropriate for the author of a book on how to discipline children effectively. They also do not appear to respect La Leche League which is considered to be an international authority on the subject of breast feeding. )
Biological and Historical Inaccuracy
Now let's look at the notion that babies should wait 2 hours from the ending of one feeding to the beginning of the next. (By the way, in the 4th Edition, it was 2.5 hours and in earlier editions it was even more ... this seems to be a tacit admission that many infants were not receiving enough food when following earlier Ezzo advice.) Most recent research about the amount and style of feeding infants suggests that one should feed them when they are hungry, whether this is 30 minutes or 3 hours after the last feeding. One reason is because the half life of prolactin in the blood stream is only 30 minutes the mother of a baby on a schedule will only be producing milk a small fraction of the time. This could easily cause some mothers to fail at breastfeeding. (Please see Examining the Evidence for Cue Feeding, So I Nursed Him Every 45 Minutes and the La Leche League Web site for details and some other medical comments.)
The Ezzos do cite a few research papers, but the vast majority of these are 10-15 years old. This is curious when there are over 100 articles published each year on styles of infant feeding. While the Ezzos suggest that the statistics are on their side, the only research they cite seems to be saying "inconclusive". Certainly if there was any conclusive research suggesting a schedule was best, it would be published.
The PFP text also says that in Israel at the time of Christ infants were generally laid in cradles - just like Mary laid Jesus in a manger - while mothers worked. From this, the Ezzos conclude that they used a feeding schedule. Please see the comments by Dr. Katherine Dettwyler in her article "Infant Feeding in Ancient Israel: A Commentary on the Ezzos'' for a brief discussion of this. The other text the Ezzos use to back up this claim is entitled "The Jewish People in the First Century". To quote a personal e-mail communication from Lisa Marasco
" Did you hear- an astute reader in Washington obtained one of the major references, `Jews of the First Century' (sic), and showed how they took some info and misapplied it in neglect of statements on the next page? She sent me copies of the chapter, and also noted that this book was *very* hard to find, and apparently not a `major' work to be relying on either way! Also, there are those who have written exactly the opposite about how Jews mothered, and based their statements on equal or better references. Plenty of room for disagreement here! But I always like to say: who says that just because the Jews did something in a certain way, that it was right, `the best way', and worthy of emulation? Shall we eat locust cakes? What about the children who were recorded as going astray -- if they were following the same childrearing methods, what happened? Is that cause enough to *reject* Jewish parenting? "
We haven't yet been able to find this book and so can only comment that we should rely on Scripture and clear facts rather than obscure sources.
The PFP materials are essentially a manual of how to parent an infant as one would have done in the (stereotypical) 1950's white America. There are many subtleties here, but three things stand out to us. In the PFP materials the Ezzos claim that
- "Playpens are necessary to help parents optimize their child's development." (See Preparation for Parenting, 4th Edition, "The Benefits of Play Pens" essentially says the same thing but is part of the "Preparation for the Toddler Years" course materials.)
- Babies should not ride in slings while parents are doing their normal daily routine
- Babies should not sleep in the same bed as their parents
Of course a playpen is a good thing in many situations and the Ezzos spell out several benefits. However, if one does not use a playpen or perhaps can not afford to buy a playpen, there are still opportunities for the little one to develop those same benefits:
- mental focusing skills
- sustained attention span
- the ability to entertain himself
It is far from clear that daily use of the playpen is necessary. (Somehow we doubt that God would create babies such that they needed playpens to develop properly.)
About the use of slings to carry an infant the Ezzos write (in Preparation for Parenting, 4th edition) their comments in italics and our responses in type):
In some third-world nations, mothers carry their babies in an infant sling as they move through their day. For these mothers it is simply a matter of convenience, because where they go, the baby must go. In our society, such a practice is not necessary. There is a time and a place for backpacks, snugglies, and slings, such as when Mom, Dad, and baby are out shopping, hiking, or taking a walk. But slinging your baby at your side all day long is an artificial way to parent...
Although we can only guess what "artificial way to parent" means, it sounds insulting.
... You are not a marsupial, and should not treat your baby like a kangaroo joey!
That was certainly insulting to those mothers who choose to use a sling. There should be a good Biblical or medical reason to suggest that mothers are parenting "artifically", or to put down the vast majority of mothers in the third-world.
We are concerned about babies held all day or worse, carried in a sling all day long. Sling a baby all day may have an adverse effect on the infant's neurologic development.
This is an assertion with no foundation. At least none they mention. There is no evidence given that slings are an "artificial way to parent" or have any harmful effects at all. This should not be an issue for a Christian parenting text.
About sleeping with an infant, the Ezzos write "Sleeping with your baby has one benefit: it's convenient." They also say it is common in third-world countries "for pragmatic reasons: there is only one bed." However, here in America, they write that the reason children sleep in the same bed as their parents is because of secular humanistic philosophies. (see Preparation for Parenting, 4th edition). Dr. Sears (pediatrician and author of several books on Christian parenting) disagrees. He suggests using a "family bed" because of the convenience, not because of a some humanistic philosophy. The Ezzos suggest against the "family bed" because a parent could roll over on top of the infant. They also say that the practice is "universally condemned by pediatricians" We have confirmed with a respected MD and Professor of Medicine in our church that this statement is false. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has also verified that there is not "universal condemnation" of co-sleeping among pediatricians. It also seems to go against current research on the topic where it is noted that babies who sleep with their parents have lower rates of SIDS. (Please also see "Is there Moral Truth in this Footnote?" by Steven Rein.)
Even so, why make something as minor as the location of a child's sleep such an issue? This only serves to distract from the real issues of Christian parenting, such as how to encourage our children to love and serve Jesus.
In all three areas, the implication is that the way Americans do it is better than in the third world where they have no other choice. (Please see "Are Ezzos Culturally Insensitive?" on page 35 in the August 16, 1993 issue of Christianity Today.) This sort of ethnocentrism has no place in the Body of Christ. Not only does it insult Christians from other cultures, it imposes a certain "Christian", but not Scriptural, look on those who follow PFP.
It has been a few weeks since we have written this letter. We have received many thanks as well as the cold shoulder from some. We felt we should write a follow up most specifically to those who have taken the PFP course and found that it has worked well for their families. We believe that as God has made us all different, it is ok for there to be differences in the styles of how we parent. Of course there are Biblical principles that we are all to follow, but these do not include how often an infant eats, where or how much an infant sleeps, etc. We are saddened by the stories of how families have felt ostricized even in their own churches because they have chosen to parent their infants in a way other than the Ezzos' method.
We are also saddened by the judgmental questions (not honest inquiries or sharing of infant stories) asked by some about when our child slept through the night and how we chose to feed her. We do not consider these markers as to whether she will grow to love and serve Jesus. We feel that getting caught up in such specifics detracts from really supporting one another as parents.
We have felt that our letter has the potential to be misunderstood. We are not promoting one method over another in infant care, rather, we tried to ask some serious questions about the PFP program after doing some research into the methodology. This does not mean that we disagree with the whole of the program or that we pass judgement on those who have chosen it to parent their children. There is too much against us in our society for Christians to get caught up in whether our children are fed too often or not enough. We need to be a support system to one another. We understand that the Ezzos have some good advice in raising children according to those we respect in our church who have taken the Growing Kid's God's Way course; however they have made some ungodly claims in their PFP course as we have shared and we feel it is necessary that there be an awareness made of this. More importantly, God reveals His will to us as individuals and while we must support one another in Biblical parenting, we must remember that God has made us different and it is ok to have different styles of parenting.
(this link goes to an archived version of the reference page on Steve's original site.)