I want to share our story in the hope that it may perhaps help to warn others who are heading down the Growing Kids God's Way path.
We still ask ourselves, how could we have been deceived for so long?
In 1992, dear friends of ours, who had found Preparation For Parenting [PFP] the previous year, recommended Growing Kids God's Way [GKGW] to my husband and me. Our eldest son was 2 ½ years old. We had come from a cue feeding/attachment parenting background, but we were very young, immature Christians, and our marriage was less than happy.
Perhaps we took the philosophy and practical guidelines of GKGW too literally? If so, we were certainly not the only ones. Most of our peer group following GKGW materials parented their kids the same way as we did, mirroring our example. Close friends outside that circle were afraid to share their concerns about our harsh methods of parenting. We ignored the advice of our parents, who, on a number of occasions, cautioned that we had unrealistic expectations of our children. We thought we were enlightened, and knew God's Way to parent, taking pride in the observation that our children were "godlier" than most other children we knew. How arrogant we were.
One dynamic that's important to understand about GKGW and the other related curricula is that it becomes a "culture". By that I mean that you do the course, week by week, and everything is supposed to build on the previous lessons, and open questioning or debate is discouraged. Instead you are told to wait and see if your topic is covered in a following week. Your GKGW group eventually becomes a "like-minded community" (the GFI term for it), with its own vocabulary and rationale for everything, and because you care deeply about the "moral health" of your kids (and keeping them "within the funnel"), you tend to mix more and more with the like-minded parents, and steer clear of other influences.
Initially, we met with a group of parents and listened to the audiotapes of GKGW edition 3 together. God used the materials to heal a lot of stuff within our marriage, but it began ten years of controlling, abusive parenting, which we deeply regret. Make no mistake, my husband and I dearly love our children, and were both convinced that the way we were doing things was the biblical way to parent. GKGW instructed us to make the husband/wife relationship the priority relationship, the primary relationship in a system of dependant relationships (I must have committed that to memory, the GFI explanations still flow out so easily!).
The practical side of that, among other things, is that we would make the children wait for a long while before allowing them to interrupt us (for whatever reason) to instill "godly character qualities" of self-control and patience, respect and deference. But by our very actions, we were modeling the exact opposite to them!
The other principle from GKGW that we took to heart is that negative consequences (namely chastizement--GFI's term for spanking--for young children) must follow disobedience, i.e. acts and attitudes of rebellion. Obedience was defined as "right away, all the way, and with a happy heart (attitude)". So every time our little ones did not obey our every instruction in this way, we felt obliged to inflict pain (a spanking) to steer them towards righteousness and godly behavior. Our family life revolved around routines, schedules, and obeying mommy and daddy the first time or else. We often parented out of fear that our children weren't "reaching the standard". It certainly took the joy and spontaneity out of being a parent, and being a child.
Our second child was born and became our first "prep baby" (that term which I was so proud of makes me shudder now). She gained weight well until six weeks, and at her well-baby check, the pediatrician suggested I add another feeding as her weight gain had slowed dramatically. I remember thinking, "No way!!" because she was already sleeping through the night (actually, I ignored her cries), and it would go directly against the principles I was using to "mold a godly, patient, self-controlled child". She cried a lot... a lot!
I remember being so wrung out some days because it was going directly against my mother's heart to listen to her cries, so I gradually squashed my maternal instinct, and ignored the noise. It makes me weep to recall this. I eventually weaned her at 7 months: she was tiny, but not failure to thrive.
She had such a difficult toddlerhood, full of "chastizement" (spanking) and very tight, stifling boundaries. She is very strong-willed, and we had an unbelievable amount of conflict and tension, that I would deal with so differently if I had the time over again. GKGW teaches that weak-willed parents produce a strong-willed child, so we were resolute in our efforts to win every battle at all costs. We expected many things from her that were developmentally inappropriate. At 18 months old, I remember physically restraining her on my knee during church, trying to make her be still and quiet like all the other "godly Ezzo-children", and causing us both so much frustration. She would have been far better off in the church nursery. She hardly ever had a full meal at the table with us for at least half a year during her toddler years, because she would squeal or fuss at some small thing, and we would spank her or put her in isolation.
I became a contact mom when she was 4 ½ months old. How foolish!! I had no medical qualifications, though I was so confident to advise others. I vividly remember counseling moms regarding routines, feedings, sleeping and crying it out. I know now that their babies were hungry (and needing comfort at the breast) too.
We began teaching GKGW, and later Prep for Toddlers, and PFP when our daughter was seven months old (and our oldest child was only 4 ½ yrs old!!) Oh, how I wish we had listened to our internal alarm bells. We knew we were too young and inexperienced to be leading parenting classes, but the thought was that someone had to "stand in the breach" and provide this instruction on godly parenting.
Our next son was born when our daughter was 2 ½ years old. He was a model PFP baby who gained weight like a trooper, and seemed very settled by comparison, though when I look back in his journal he also cried a lot, especially during the "fussy time" (which I know now is actually hunger-related) in the evening. I weaned him at nine months.
By the time we had our fourth child, another son, I was beginning to doubt the practical side of PFP. I fed him much more, yet felt so guilty for deviating from the routine. However, as a result, I began to re-connect to my maternal instinct, and began parenting a lot more gently. This fourth child is very like his sister, and praise God I gave him a lot more room to grow, and develop at his own pace. I weaned him at seven months.
Four years later, God gave us our fifth baby, another son, who has begun a real healing for me. A couple of days after he arrived, my husband commented to me, "It seems crazy that we answer our other children's cries the instant they call, but we feel we must ignore the baby's cry until the next scheduled feeding time."
That was when the lights came on!!! I never looked back. I cue fed him from then, and it was the most beautiful year of my parenting career: listening and responding to his God-given ability to communicate his needs for food and comfort. So we did a full circle, and went back to attachment parenting - where we started with our first baby. He gained weight so admirably, and had all those exquisite "rolls"!!! He weighed about 2 pounds heavier than his chubbiest sibling at 4 - 6 months, and was exclusively breastfed. He did not sleep through the night until around 9 months (and even then would sometimes wake for food or comfort, which I happily gave!), which is completely normal for a non-Ezzo breastfed baby!!!
When he was about 3 months old, the friends who had initially introduced us to GKGW approached us. They had been doing a lot of thinking and research about PFP, GKGW, and the other programs, and the controversy surrounding GFI and the Ezzos. We spent many long nights talking through their concerns, and our own parenting journeys. I began to do some research and my husband and I decided we could no longer support the "ministry," the materials, or the man.
When I read Frank York's "Adventures in Ezzoland" article, it pushed me over the edge, and I resigned my position as contact mom--after 9 1/2years. I can't believe it took me so long. My heart aches for the many families we counseled in "godly parenting," and who still walk the same path we've now left.
The last 16 months since our last child's birth have been a turning point... in tears I have offered apologies to my two eldest children for the abuse I inflicted in the name of godly parenting. They have both been so forgiving, and our relationship is close and healthy. Our children are all well behaved, but we are now giving them SPACE to develop appropriately and at their own pace. God is doing a work of healing in our hearts and in our family, as He is restoring the years the locusts have destroyed. Through the experience of caring for this newest baby, the children have developed a wonderful sweet, nurturing way with him. It makes my heart sing!!!
Our parenting philosophy and style have changed drastically! The most important thing for us now is not first time obedience, but the RELATIONSHIPS within our family. A relationship with God, our loving father. Tender relationships with each other. Our marriage relationship is still important, but it is not the hierarchical priority. Kind words. Gentle touches and voice tone. Warmth and trust. Lots of smiles and encouragement and affirmation. Having a lot of fun, and letting God do His work in our children's lives. We still believe in training, but not in the way GKGW teaches. We choose a "nurturing" rather than a confrontational style these days.
Well, that's about it so far. I am thankful that life is one big journey. God, in His grace, has taken us out of the miry clay, and placed our feet upon a rock - Himself. I am taking time to build and restore friendships with my kids. Our eldest has just reached teenage years and is a delightful, intense thinker, who has a real passion for God. Our daughter has retained her wonderful, bubbly nature and her zest for life. Our other sons are unique in their own special ways, and certainly don't fit a "one size fits all" parenting approach.
Our prayer is that we would continue to grow with our children, rediscovering the God of the Bible in a new and wonderful way, and to parent with the Bible as our handbook - not a parenting program; to parent with prayerful hearts, according to our God-given personalities and our own cultural heritage.
The author is a mother of 5 children, an ex-contact mom and ex-teacher of Ezzo programs.