Our family was involved with Gary Ezzo’s teachings from the winter of 1991 when I was pregnant with our first child until almost two years ago. When we were first exposed to his teachings, I was only two years out of university where I had completed a broad social sciences degree.
If you had asked me about infant feeding routines I would have said they were NOT the way to go - that is, before I listened to the Preparation for Parenting tapes with my husband and another couple we were friendly with.
A unique mix of things appealed: the material was from a Christian perspective, we had our friends telling us the horrors of demand feeding their first child and the outworkings they said they were now seeing in this child’s life, and of course we thought just maybe this author did have a surefire way to get our baby to sleep through the night by 6-8 weeks.
Could it hurt to listen to these tapes with an open mind, see what we thought, and then decide to take it or leave it?
With the impending loss of personal control over our lives that was sure to come with the baby's arrival, and being a couple who really wanted to serve God and have every part of our lives reflect His Kingdom and not that of the world and our own culture, we were ripe to take on Ezzo’s ideas hook, line and sinker, heeding Ezzo's warnings about those parents who are only "Christian up to a point." We went on to influence many of our closest friends to do the same. We were unique in our church and in our city, because at that time there were hardly any other people we knew that were “doing Prep”.
We met with a delightful couple a few times and roared through the tapes. It all seemed to make sense, and sounded Biblical. I made sure to tell my doctor that I would feed my baby on a “flexible routine” and I worried that he would somehow pressure me to demand feed my baby, which of course would be terrible because it would mean that the 'metabolic chaos' which Gary Ezzo talks about would really set in! From studying Ezzo's material we knew that we needed to BE the parents and show our baby who was in control, in a loving way, and this loving way was the flexible routine, and that outsiders like doctors might not understand these principles.
Well, soon after birth our beautiful child was rushed to the Special Care baby Unit for about a day– and as a young mom with no clue of what to do, I was immediately stressing out about the routine. Thankfully they seemed to routine-feed babies there! Phew! "They will get it all started for me," I thought.
Then came that feeling only first time parents remember – being at home, all alone, with the baby and not knowing what on earth to do! "Oh boy he is crying and crying and I cannot pick him up because he has to wait for the time to feed!" I remember thinking.
I remember some friends coming over and remarking, "do you think it will really hurt if you just pick him up?!"
I found visitors an intrusion and a complete stress because I could not tell anyone what I was doing. I knew they would not understand! "It’s a flexible routine!" I kept telling myself defensively.
I knew one other mother who was doing this to her baby but I didn’t feel I could bother her much. However, I had the book which I thumbed through and read and reread til I could parrot a lot of it off by memory.
I was incredibly stressed out about doing this right, thinking that if I did not feed my baby exactly within the book's guidelines that I would wreck everything. Not only was I responsible for staving off metabolic chaos, I was also worried about setting the pattern for a home where children would be "welcome members of the family but not the center of the family universe", which Gary Ezzo had said was so critical to establish in these early months. I felt that I could not pick up my 1 week old baby when he was crying before the time frame given by Gary Ezzo had elapsed. Looking back I truly and really feel I was experimenting on my child, a human being, with new ideas off a tape series from a guy on the other side of the world! I cannot believe that I set aside three years of learning about child development and psychology and education, etc., for these crazy ideas with no medical support and not even a medical person writing them!
However, when our baby slept through the night within the time frame Ezzo predicted, it proved to us the wisdom of all of Ezzo's ideas. "Praise the Lord," we thought. "Wow! He has the new secret that all parents need to know – and because it is Christian maybe many many people will come to Christ through this!"
We thought this was the greatest thing since sliced bread, because children will fit into the family instead of controlling it and calling all the shots. We watched other parents who weren't using this method and noticed that just as Ezzo predicted, they indeed seemed truly stressed out, whereas we were so relaxed, getting our 8 hours of sleep, then 12 hours by 12 weeks, etc.
When our baby was 6 months old we decided to leave him to cry it out to get rid of the pacifier, but such was the state of mind I was in, that I left him to cry without his pacifier for his two daytime naps but gave the pacifier to him at night! He cried for 45 minutes each time, hard. By the fourth day he got it – at night I have it, in the day I don’t –just proves the intelligent stock he comes from I suppose! All joking aside, I see my expectation that this plan would work, however inconsistent it might be, as indicative of my state of mind at the time…thinking that as the mum I could simply decide such a thing, and then expect the baby to fall into line.
When he was 5 months old we sat in on a GKGW course with some friends. Looking back, I see how we prepared ourselves to look for conflict with him because this (GKGW) was where the godly training comes in, where we would lovingly, through pain and repetition of instruction and isolation teach our children God’s love. A winding path of logic -- it made sense at the time but no longer makes any sense to us!
I also listened to the old Preparation for Toddlerhood tapes which the Ezzos endorsed, and from these I got ideas on teaching proper mealtime behaviour -- flicking his cheek to keep his face to the front, slapping his hands to teach him to keep them down, and other very abusive tactics. I think he was around 7 months at this time (which is very distressing to recall.)
Constant conflict sums up our experience as we began to try very earnestly to train our son to First Time Obedience, another Ezzo ideal.
Although I did not recognize this until years later, in hindsight I see that he soon became very sad and frustrated. It was not just the spanking but also the way we, his parents, became very frustrated people--thinking if we let up on "the standards" we would ruin him. Some things I see in his life now I believe are post trauma issues. And we are still left with conflict! I want my money back!
A lot has been written about babies and PFP but I would like to tell you more about what happened while implementing Ezzo’s ideas for older children.
My son seemed more and more angry and depressed (though no clinical diagnosis) as he got older. We decided to not send him to the state-provided preschool facilities because of the lack of like-minded teachers to reinforce our careful training and hard work! Then, in order to continue to limit his contact with the non-like-minded world and to work on the moral training and "interdependent family" ideals Ezzo teaches, we decided we would homeschool. To complicate matters, we moved to another city and our son did not have many friends his own age. He played outside a lot and with his Legos and his sister, but now he recounts how desperately lonely he felt at that time, and just “out of it". The social needs of our son, an extrovert, had no legitimate place within this system.
Then we moved to another country and culture altogether. Our stress as a family increased, our son was still lonely and missed having a peer group, and yet we felt we had to keep up the Ezzo standards or ruin our child. The stress of maintaining the regime added to the stress we all faced in moving to a new culture. He started banging his head when he became really angry, sometimes saying pain felt good, sometimes saying that he wanted to die. At the same time we were still desperately working on First Time Obedience---“first time, all the time, with a happy attitude”. (We never got there even though I was so on top of everything! I now see it as a ridiculous concept.)
Fortunately things were soon to change for the better.
For the first time we were separated from our group of close friends who all were pro-Ezzo. We developed other close friends who seemed to be practicing "attachment parenting".
At first I thought these families were ruled by their kids, but over time I noticed what trusting relationships they had and how great their kids were, without all the stress we were having, and had been through.
I also had two older friends love me enough to be truthful to me – one commented that my son seemed to be an angry boy, and that someone should find out what he was angry about! Then another person took me aside and spoke to me about the homeschooling since she had noticed that we all seemed to be not coping so well.
At the same time I met a child psychologist and we became fast friends, and as we chatted about psychology etc I realized that it was not all wrong but much of it is part of God’s general revelation, there in creation for us all to find out if we care to look, part of how we are made. My major had included psychology, but I had tossed a lot of it when I had taken on ideas from conservative Christian teachers who Gary Ezzo recommended or was associated with.
Those events were the catalyst to get me thinking. I looked up on the internet for “Ezzo and concerns” and found the Ezzo Debate Board and several documents. As I read and read over a period of some weeks I had a full and devastating realization that Gary Ezzo did not know what he was talking about and that we had inflicted abuse on our children in the name of God that was all wrong.
We took our spanking instrument and cut it up in front of the children and explained (they were now 9 and 7) that we had been wrong and deceived and that we would find another way and not spank them ever again! I have not seen a grin so broad on my son’s face – what must have been bound up for him in the sight of that evil thing I cannot know.
I started feeding the kids at all times of the day. I had been in a habit of making them wait, of seeing food in a negative light, and now even if it was way past bedtime and my kids said they were still hungry I would fix something for them.
I ditched all Ezzo lingo, such as "come to Mommy", "please come the first time," "please wait for me in the bedroom," "that is inappropriate," "first time obedience," all of it! I started lying down with our kids for ages at night, and started an open bed policy, letting them know they are welcome in our bed any time of the night. Our son still comes in with us each night from about 2 til the morning and I know it has been a really restorative thing for us all.
We had many sleep issues with him. Even if you sleep train a small baby, when he has grown into a kid with a lot on his mind, chances are he will start waking up! I hope in the next few years to restore the damage of all the times I did not meet his needs in the middle of the night.
So, two years on we are doing a lot better. Our son is very resilient and spunky, though I do see damage done--and I still feel very devastated at times. What has been so comforting has been noticing the presence of God, and the answers to prayers thru a dark time of regret, of Bible aversion, and of anger and grief and sorting it all through. Do you know that God still likes me and is still answering prayers?! That's a lesson for my children to learn!!
My son, in talking this through with us asked innocently, "Mummy, were you spanked a lot as a child?" It cut me to the heart, because the truth is, no, I had a very normal childhood. You would have thought I would know better.
We were deceived.
Submitted August 12, 2003
By Name Withheld