I would first like to dispel some of the myths about people who speak out against Growing Kids God's Way.
Myth: People who don't like GKGW have never read or used GKGW.
I was a contact mom for 2 years, and not only followed the materials myself but counseled hundreds of other moms in their use. In fact, there are still ideas contained in GKGW (ideas which can also be found elsewhere) that I use today.
Myth: People who don't like GKGW are Ezzo-bashers.
I have nothing bad to say about the Ezzos. I have never met them personally, although I have had a few email interactions with Anne Marie. She seemed personable and kind.
Myth: Perhaps new Christians might struggle with legalism in implementing GKGW, but certainly not an established Christian.
I was not a new Christian when I came across GKGW. I had been through extensive training in the doctrine of Grace, and belonged to solid, Bible-believing churches. My husband was a pastor. When I read the warnings of some theologians, I thought they would never be issues for me.
There are some good things I've learned from GKGW. That was where I was first introduced to the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This book is excellent. I also love the idea of filling our child's "moral warehouse" so that they learn to think about why to do or not to do something. The concepts of childishness versus foolishness have been helpful to me, although without accompanying age-appropriate expectations (which are impossible to come by when 18 month olds are lumped together with 8 year olds), these concepts can just as easily be misunderstood and damage family relationships. I agree with the use of phrases like "yes, mom" although I find no need to be dogmatic about them (saying ok instead of yes is not a hill I need to die on). I like the interrupt rule, and five-minute warnings.
Having said that, let me relate some of the common struggles of parents and misconceptions the materials communicate or encourage:
Misconceptions: We need to fix our children. Or, being parent-centered is better than being child-centered.
This thinking starts in Prep for Parenting (now retitled, "Let the Children Come...Along the Infant Way".) One thought that seems to be communicated is that every behavior has some kind of a "fix," and that if parents just do things "correctly" they can fix the problem and be done with it. Children become projects, something to fix instead of someone to love. In addition to myself, I've talked with many parents who thought this way without realizing it.
But frustrating as it may be, we can't fix every behavior! There are some things that we have to be willing to live through and work through with our kids, and it just takes time.
When I stopped doing GKGW, there was an entire year when all I did was focus on loving my children, working on our relationship. Not that I never disciplined, but that I really needed to think through what it means to love my children. Being a mom is about so much more than disciplining them into being what we want them to be. It's too easy to discipline for our convenience instead of in love, thinking of their benefit. The materials warn against being child-centered, but unwittingly many parents become parent-centered instead. Neither puts God in His proper position in our lives.
I spent a whole year praying through 1 Corinthians 13:4-7a (love is patient, love is kind etc...). I spent a month praying about patience--was I showing patience with my kids? Then a month on kindness--do I use kind words and a kind tone with them? etc... This so changed me.
Misconception: You can rely on what you read (rather than on God).
PFP and GKGW do not prepare parents to draw continuously on Christ, they prepare parents for formulaic living. It's not so much that the right message isn't in there, it's a matter of emphasis and what parents come away with remembering. Too often they merely remember that if they do things right, their kids will sleep through early and won't be bratty in public.
When I decided to become a contact mom, I emailed with former GFI employees Eric & Julie Abel. They warned that many parents find themselves relying "on the extent of the formula to parent, and raising children is relegated to a series of actions rather then a spiritual journey where reliance upon God is critical."
How surprised I was, upon re-reading this email 3 years later, to see that he outlined the very struggles I was having. I thought that if I could learn all the rules, guidelines, and Biblical principles, I would know what to do--that there's always answers and it's just a matter of me learning the right answers. And subtly, inside, I believed that when I learned all the principles, I could set Christ aside, I wouldn't need to draw on Him because I could draw on my own strength. How awful!
I don't blame that all on GFI, I had to take responsibility for this as my struggle. I just see how the materials reinforced this way of thinking in me, and in many people I worked with as a contact mom. It was necessary for me to return to the Bible and God as my first source, and measure all other things against them. We all want our children to turn out right, but the answers cannot be found just in a book. We need to search for answers on our knees instead of at our fingertips.
I'd add that GKGW makes reaching the child's heart the parent's responsibility, when instead it is truly the Holy Spirit's. We are partners, aids, but God does the work.
Misconception: What others think should govern my parenting.
GKGW teaches parents to be constantly consumed with what others are thinking about their children by focusing on "the preciousness of others." The over-arching principle communicated is that we discipline to meet the standards of others, which instead of developing love for others develops pride and reactionary parenting. Constantly evaluating what others think is unhealthy for parents and children.
Additionally, Mr. Ezzo wrongfully takes on an authoritarian role in this regard. He asks parents to question not whether we or the grandparents enjoy our children, but if the Ezzos came to dinner, would our children be a joy and act appropriately? The basic truth of course, is that our children should behave well no matter who is there. But by putting himself in that position, he takes on an authoritarian role, as if he is a judge, the final standard on how our kids are doing.
Misconception: Boys can't be boys
The teachings on self-control in the materials, while often useful, are really a mixed bag. They set up unrealistic expectations. To establish what is "possible," Mr. Ezzo gives an example of a young child who sits calmly and quietly with hands folded while getting stitches. Truly this will be an exception to the rule, and not the norm.
Then in one video clip, a boy about 6-8 years old is pictured as squirming in his seat in a doctor's waiting room. The mother has a magazine to read, while the child has nothing-yet is expected to have the "self-control" to not squirm about. Why doesn't the mom give him something to read, or better yet talk with him, or read to him herself?
Mr. Ezzo communicates that we must teach self-control to our kids, and that lack of it is why so many kids struggle in school. Immediately the parent sees the need and responds to fear. While I think training in self-control has great value, these materials do nothing to demonstrate what is realistic to expect out of young children, especially boys.
In Dr. James Dobson's book, Bringing up Boys, research reveals that it can be especially difficult for boys to sit all day in a school desk at a young age. I remember him quoting one man who recalled his days in first grade thinking, "If only I could stand, if I could just stand up, I'd be ok…" GKGW does not present any understanding of male-appropriate guidelines or age-appropriate behaviors.
Misconception: Exclusivity and isolationism are preferred.
The GKGW series does not present itself as another one of many good resources, it presents itself as all you'll need. After all, it's "God's Way."
Like many parents, I relied too heavily on the materials, and then began to realize I was excluding God. I actually had the thought, when faced with situations, "I don't need to pray over this, I already know the answer." That is so faulty! I immersed myself to the point that I read very few other parenting materials-what was the need, GKGW had it all! I even remember a few occasions having the thought, "why would I need to measure GKGW against the Bible, the Bible's in there!" And instead of checking the context of each passage to see if scripture was handled correctly (often not the case, sadly), I took the book's word for it. As I write this, I can't even believe I thought that!! It's really dangerous to be that narrow-minded concerning what one man thinks and how one man views parenting, God, and the Bible.
One mom told me, "That's one of the reasons that I liked the Ezzo's teachings, they are all neatly packaged and I didn't have to do the work of sorting out all the different philosophies out there. Now I'm realizing that I wasn't really being a thinking parent by taking that approach."
Many moms I talked with thought they could only seek out guidance from someone doing GKGW, which really limits their opportunities. Also, a frequent question I received as a contact mom was over the concern of letting children play with Christian but non-GKGW-raised children. Again, fear was the motivator-what bad habits would their children pick up from these other children?
In summary, when I finally was willing to look into things, I was overwhelmed by the number of churches, theologians, organizations, and individuals who brought forward the very concerns and conclusions I had finally come to. I say that not say it will happen to you, but just as a caution to remember to rely on God and evaluate everything through him, and by all means "Test everything, hold onto what is good." (1 Thes. 5:21)
If you have used GKGW and are feeling discouraged over mistakes you've made, let me encourage you, it's not too late. God can and will work in your life and in your children's lives. You can rebuild your relationship with your children if it's been damaged. Pray, search the scriptures, put the parenting books aside for awhile, and seek the Lord. Most of all, seek how you can show grace to your children. One mom wrote to me, "Think about how often your own motivation to submit to the Lord or others comes from a pure heart. How often do your motivations and expectations for your children come from a pure heart?"