An In-depth Case History
My husband and I were introduced to the Growing Kids God's Way (GKGW) programs through a pastor friend after we discovered we were expecting our first child, and our son was one month old when we began using Preparation for Parenting. This was the first book we had ever read about baby care that seemed to come from a decidedly Christian perspective, with scripture all over the place, and it pointed out that basically all the typical feeding, baby care, and parenting information being taught today is humanistic, secular, and not appropriate for Christian parents.
Since so much of what is being taught as truth today is humanistic in its origins, we found this to be a reasonable argument, and from there, we just accepted what the Ezzos taught as Biblically-based fact.
In addition, we were brand-new parents who knew just enough to know that we didn't know what we were doing, so we respected the experience and opinion of the pastor over the uncertainties we had about some aspects of the program. We assumed that since he and his wife had recommended it so highly, it must be right, and we must be wrong.
Our son seemed to do pretty well for his first few months on Prep, though I sometimes had to work to hold him off to the 3-hour mark, and sometimes even 2 ½ was hard to make. He usually didn't fuss too much for naps, and I learned to put a pillow over my head to block out his middle-of-the-night "already-fed, changed, and burped" cries, but he would often fuss for at least 15-30 minutes when I put him to bed for the night.
He began sleeping through the night 10-12 hours consistently at around 3 months, though he was one of the babies with a "habit" of still waking once at night at 12 weeks, so as recommended by the Ezzos, I decided it was time for him to be done with night feedings. For a few nights, I ignored his middle-of-the-night crying, and he cried the full 45 minutes they mention in the book. I was so irritated that he wouldn't just give up and cooperate!
He gained weight well for the first 4 months, but he seemed to be getting less satisfied with nursing alone, so we started solids the day after he turned 4 months.
At 5 months, we got a surprise. He had lost 2 oz. It never occurred to me to question the routine, so I just assumed that I had gotten too busy or hadn't drunk enough fluids or maybe I was just one of those people who can't make enough milk after awhile. I wanted so badly to nurse him to 1 year, but we knew he needed more milk, so by 6 months, we just stopped nursing and used formula. He didn't seem to notice the change or miss nursing, and I didn't feel the slightest physical discomfort, which made me wonder how long I'd had no milk at all. He gained weight fine the rest of the year.
When he was a few months old, I accidentally found an article online criticizing the Ezzos' curriculum as not being Biblically or medically sound and supposedly causing health problems for babies. I was concerned, but I dismissed it, thinking that obviously, this author hadn't read the books or tried to use them. After all, the program worked! What parent is so dumb that they don't notice their baby isn't getting enough to eat and don't fix it immediately if they do notice it? The book says to be flexible. How could the Ezzos help it if parents didn't do their program correctly? My baby slept like he was supposed to and always seemed so happy-surely that was proof that the Ezzos were right.
I did wonder about the article, though. Why did this author, who claimed to be a Christian psychologist, think it was appropriate to discredit another Christian leader who was helping parents raise godly kids? If she was wrong, what rotten motive must be behind it? If she was right…well, frankly, these book/tape series' are expensive, and I'd rather not buy them only to find out through reading them that they seem harmful and I won't use them.
In the end, I just figured there were some crackpots out there who were jealous of his success in helping parents or who only thought they were following Biblical principles while having really been trained in secular humanism. I mentioned my concerns to my husband but told him that I couldn't argue with the fact that the program worked. In the end, we did order Preparation for the Toddler Years and Growing Kids God's Way, as well as several other of the Ezzos' resources.
As we observed other families interacting with their children and listened to them bemoan their lack of sleep, we felt so fortunate to have the Ezzos preventing those problems for us. We thought we were observing "attachment parenting" in action, with all the terrible results the Ezzos speak of, and this convinced us that we really had the answer. We felt sorry for parents who didn't know about the program, and we felt a little contempt for those who had chosen not to use it--if their kids were brats, it was their own fault! We realized that Christian parents can raise their kids in different ways, but we felt just a little bit more "Christian" than some of them, since we were using GKGW.
I'm going into all of this because in the course of our research on the Ezzo controversy, we found that these kinds of superior attitudes are very common among Christians who follow the program. What we didn't grasp at the time was that the struggles we were seeing in these kids and their families were actually the result of normal behavior for that age child, as well as some permissive parenting from time to time-we later learned that "attachment" and "permissive" are not interchangeable terms! In retrospect, we understand that we were ridiculously arrogant to look down our noses at these parents who were dealing with issues we'd never even thought of yet-our kids were just too young for us to have any idea what these families were working through!
It's important that you know and understand that we were totally committed to the teachings of the Ezzos. We have most of their books, including their Leadership Training Curriculum, as we were interested in becoming teachers of the church classes. We tried to "evangelize" everyone who complimented our kids or mentioned their struggles with their own. We were always on the lookout for "likeminded" friends, and we would have liked to have found a church where the classes were offered. We didn't particularly enjoy being around other Christian parents whose methods and philosophies of parenting differed from our own, and we spent a lot of time considering how to shelter our kids from "less godly/likeminded" Christian kids as they got older.
We read GFI's book about the Community School concept and thought it would be wonderfully safe if we could enroll our kids in a school where we knew all the students were coming from a similar background of moral training. We began thinking of ways to prepare our son, who was almost 2, for the moral interview required for entrance to the Community Schools, and we planned to look for GFI-affiliated schools in our state. This was just before my husband graduated from college, and we figured that if he had a choice of job opportunities, we would pick one closest to an established Community School. If there weren't any near us, we considered establishing one with the group of likeminded families we kept hoping to find or moving outside the area in order to find one. (We knew the Ezzos' school was in L.A.)
I looked into the requirements for becoming a board certified lactation consultant so I would have reputable credentials with which to teach Prep classes…of course, I planned to teach PDF, not cue-feeding, and I would have an IBCLC credential behind my name to back me up! GFI had information at one point about a certification program to be a childbirth educator, teaching their Birth By Design program. With my overwhelming interest in all things to do with pregnancy, birth, and babies, I was very interested in being able to do this! What an opportunity! Be an IBCLC (these are the fully-licensed lactation consultants who work for hospitals, etc.), teach childbirth classes, get those parents to come to Prep classes, and from the very beginning of their children's lives, these parents would be learning the wonderful principles of GKGW! And I would get to help! I requested information on the BBD certification program three times, as well as sending back a response card for them to send me an application. However, none was ever sent to me, and my impression is that the course is no longer available, if it ever actually was.
The point to all this is that we were no halfway, "take some/leave some" Ezzo parents. We understood their message that the closer we stuck to their program, the better our results would be, and we were in it for the long haul, planning to raise our kids with their programs right through the teenage years. We read the books a number of times, referenced them often, lived them, recommended them, planned to teach them, bought them as baby shower gifts, defended them to people who wondered if the plan was too strict (especially with babies-"Oh, no…it's very flexible!"), constantly looked for other "Ezzo" parents, tried to avoid becoming too close with "non-Ezzo" parents…we were even looking forward to the many children we plan to have finally proving that "Ezzo" parents aren't lucky; they just do their homework! Looking back, this all seems very frightening and sick. Inside our Ezzo experience, however, it just seemed like the natural thing to do. Please understand that coming from this background, our turning away from the Ezzos was a very, very hard thing to do, and lots of prayer and heart-felt discussion were involved.
Back to our son. We got the toddler series, and since he was already eating solids, we immediately began working on highchair manners. Oh, the swats and crib-isolations he got for not keeping his hands down! It was such a battle, and we often wondered if he had any idea what was going on.
Just before he turned 7 months, he started crawling, so he was getting swats/isolation for touching things. It was so frustrating as he stubbornly went for the same things, over and over, unwilling to yield to our authority! Looking back, we know that he was just a curious baby who was designed to explore what was around him and totally confused about why we were smacking him.
We really had some concerns about the swatting, and often (especially in public) we would use the "squeeze" instead-which was sometimes really more of a "crush"-if he wasn't catching on. When he would yell or spit food, of course, we flicked his cheek. We really didn't feel very comfortable with all of this, as we felt it was a little too physical and he didn't understand. But, the Ezzos said it wouldn't hurt him, and he needed to learn self-control, so we did it.
When our son was 8 or 9 months old, we accidentally let him become very attached to a stuffed puppy dog during a trip to his grandparents, and we really worried about that being a sleep prop. However, it made bedtime so appealing to him (and easy for us!) that we let him have it for bedtime but only then.
As for sign language, we tried to start at 7 months, as the book says, but he really didn't seem to be understanding language at the level they describe for that age (hug the doggy, etc), so we didn't push it much until he was about 10 months. He finally signed "please" for graham crackers when he was 13 months. He went to one nap a day earlier than we planned and earlier than the book recommended, but he did well with it and was still getting the same amount of sleep as before, only rearranged.
We worried about these little deviations from the plan, hoping they wouldn't affect the overall success of what we were doing. We knew we needed to be flexible, but the book also says to stick closely to what they teach, and it was often hard to know when to do which.
Our son was 18 months old when his little sister entered the picture. Her progress with the Prep plan went pretty smoothly at first, but her entrance into our family marked the beginning of the end of our Ezzo involvement. We started the routine in the hospital, mostly with waking her up to eat every 3 hours, but even those first days, she would have one or two stretches of 2-3 hours each when she would just be quietly, cheerfully alert.
Most of the day, she just wanted to eat and go back to sleep, with long wake times in the afternoon and evening. She resettled easily after her night feedings, so it wasn't ever a problem of her wanting to sleep all day and be awake all night. She just had her own pattern of wakefulness, which she had actually demonstrated consistently several months before she was born.
During those long wake times, she would want to eat every 1 ½ to 2 hours, and grudgingly, I would feed her early since we didn't want to disturb others in the hospital-consider context, after all! I couldn't wait to get her home, though, so I could train her onto the regular, predictable eat/play/sleep routine that the Ezzos said she needed to have.
Those 3-hour wake times just weren't acceptable, especially when she wouldn't stay awake other times that she was supposed to! Mom, not baby, determines the nap, so after an hour of being awake, down she went, tired or not. Oh, how she cried! She would go on and on, while my husband and I played the radio and did dishes and wondered what it would take to make her stop being so stubborn. After about 30 minutes, I would wonder if she was hungry again (after all, do feed them when they're hungry-but then keep stretching to reach 3 hours).
We would sometimes remind ourselves that since she'd never been hungry before, she didn't know it wasn't a national emergency. I would feed her, she'd fall asleep nursing, and I'd put her down, wondering what effects all this un-routine parenting would have on her developing metabolism, self-control, and view of her place in the family.
We also worried a little, because couch time was almost impossible to fit in when both kids were awake and not needing some part of their routine attended to, like feeding. We were concerned that they would not feel secure in our relationship as husband and wife unless we sat together on the couch and tried to tune them out for 15 minutes. After reading Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages, we concluded that as long as they were observing us communicating love in some way, we didn't necessarily have to be talking on the couch. We felt relieved to have alternatives that would fit better for our family, but we were still concerned that our results might not be as good with so much deviation from the plan.
Within a few weeks, we had helped our daughter line up her wake times to be pretty much in keeping with the routine in the book, and I had mostly learned to tune out her fussing. If she cried at sleep time, it was irritating, but I could ignore it, knowing she had to learn who was in control and how to delay gratification.
She began to sleep 7-8 ½ hours at night consistently just before she was 7 weeks old. We bragged about it to everyone who joked about how tired we must be with a new baby, and when they would ask in disbelief and amazement how we did it, we told them that we couldn't take the credit-it was all thanks to the Ezzos-and we would give them the website where they could order the program for themselves.
Six days later, she began waking early in the middle of her naps, and we followed the Ezzos' recommendation to let her fuss and put herself back to sleep for the other half of her sleep cycle. She was sleeping 10-11 hours at night.
She gained weight acceptably well for the first few months, though much less than her brother had. Between 3 and 5 months, though, she gained not quite ½ lb, was still having trouble with her naps, had begun to wake again at night periodically, and just looked so skinny.
I drank lots and lots of fluids and took fenugreek to help my milk supply. That seemed to help a little, but I still knew my milk wasn't as abundant as it needed to be. We had planned to start her on solids at 6 months, but began at 5 months since my milk no longer seemed adequate. She wasn't very interested in it, though, and she had more difficulty coordinating her lips and tongue to eat it than Nathaniel had experienced.
I looked online for things I could do to improve my milk supply, determined to nurse Rachel for at least a year and not use formula this time. I had read a lot about the many health risks of formula, and I really didn't want to have to go that route. I knew there were prescription drugs available that could boost milk supply, and despite how much I hate medicine, I was willing to check it out.
That day on the internet changed our lives forever.
First, I looked for the information on the drugs, but I still wasn't super thrilled about the prospect. I looked a little bit for other ideas on increasing milk supply, and I found a few things that sounded like they might work for us, but most of the suggestions would have really interfered with the routine, so I decided to pass on those for the time being.
Then, I decided to try to find some of the Ezzos' Community Schools, and my search for "Ezzo schools" and "GFI schools" and "Growing Kids God's Way schools" just kept bringing up more and more links to information that was very critical of Gary's character, the theological off-base-ness of his curriculum, unsubstantiated medical claims in Prep and Babywise, and stories of babies who had supposedly been malnourished and dehydrated on the plan.
My curiosity overcame me, and I began to read the articles. At first, I was very confused and very, very skeptical. Who was telling the truth? And, after all, the programs worked if you did them right…didn't they?
I decided to do another search for things like "Ezzo support", "Ezzo defense", "Babywise doctors", and so on. There had to be someone out there-doctor, Christian leader, lactation consultant, anyone in authority on this issue who was on their side. I was very surprised to find not a single one-just more and more concerns.
Then I came across the several articles filled with documented cases of failure-to-thrive babies (several of whom were hospitalized for dehydration and malnutrition, in some cases requiring months of tube feedings), low weight gain babies, psychologically disturbed babies and children, and mother after mother who weaned far earlier than they intended because their milk dried up…in almost every case, this occurred between 4 and 6 months of age. The light bulb began to turn on.
I had been very confused about why I was losing my milk supply for the second time, as my "new mom" nicknames in the family have always included things like "Dairy Queen". In the first 2 months with our daughter, I filled almost ¼ of our upright freezer with frozen milk. It just didn't make any sense how I could be unable to make enough milk for my babies when lots of women who couldn't produce an extra freezer stash were making plenty of milk to meet their babies' daily needs!
I slowly began to realize that the issue wasn't being too busy, it wasn't fluids, it wasn't stress, IT WASN'T ME…it was a cookie-cutter routine that claimed to be flexible while making it clear that it was best to stick closely to their prescribed number of feedings, and if you can't make enough milk with that many feedings, you should use man-made formula instead.
I was scared for the health of my children, and I felt incredibly stupid. After all, how could a parent be so dumb as to not notice their baby wasn't getting enough to eat? I immediately began nursing her when she woke up AND before I put her down to sleep, as well as any other time I thought she might be remotely hungry. I also supplemented a little from our stockpile in the freezer until my supply began to improve.
I firmly believe that formula has its useful place but that under normal circumstances, God's food for babies is better than man's food for babies, and I was determined not to use formula if I didn't absolutely have to. That month, she gained 2 lbs, 4 oz, and I kept researching, still very conflicted about who to believe and what to do about it. My milk supply did improve, but I was never able to fully keep up with her needs again.
I also realized that everything I thought I knew about "Attachment Parenting" came from the Ezzos' teachings about how humanistic and secular it is, and it occurred to me that I should probably read some other perspectives on it.
I found The Complete Book of Christian Parenting and Childcare by Dr. William and Martha Sears, which totally changed how I looked at attachment parenting. To be honest, learning more about what attachment parenting really taught created a lot of mixed feelings.
On the one hand, it was eye-opening to learn that it was not what we had thought it was, and a lot of what they taught made sense. On the other hand, parenting like that seemed like it would require much more work-and might be much more inconvenient!-than the program we were doing. While the evidence was mounting that there were big problems with the Ezzos' materials, we still kept hoping to find a way to continue using at least part of it in good conscience. I kept investigating.
We also began to realize that our relationship with our kids was becoming increasingly adversarial as we assumed they were constantly trying to manipulate us, and as a result, we kept trying ever harder to control them.
The Ezzos' program kept us in a constant state of conflict with our children, even when they were behaving well, because we could never just relax with them. Even the most insignificant parts of their day had to be under our control, which meant we were always "policing" them, either in action or in our attitudes. A distance was growing between us and our children that we didn't want to have.
I realized that my relationship with my daughter, especially, was very weak. I loved her to pieces, but from the day she was born, I had seen her as trying to usurp my God-given parental authority as she seemed to rebel against the routine. When she cried, I almost always felt that she was just complaining or trying to get something she didn't need-like extra attention. The more she did that, the more I felt angry about it and ignored her, causing her to become fussier in an attempt to get what she needed. In the process of making sure she didn't think she was the "center of the family universe", I had really kept her from feeling welcome in our family. I began to realize that my attitude toward her was not healthy, and I have really had to make an effort to become more responsive to her, which has resulted in a dramatic improvement in her disposition. However, our relationship did not improve overnight-it took about 7 months for me to really begin to feel close to her. I would give anything to have her first year back.
Incidentally, our son really helped us to see some of the problems in this plan, particularly as he began to speak. When our daughter was born and would cry (usually at nap or bedtime), he would be quite distressed, saying, "Baby! Baby!" We would tell him that she was just going to sleep, and she would be fine; don't worry about it. After a while, he got used to it, and her crying didn't seem to bother him anymore. Eventually, he became irritated by her crying, imitating our own response to her seeming unwillingness to cooperate, saying, "Baby, bad-baditudes!" when she would fuss.
We began to see that we were inadvertently teaching him that when someone cries, especially if they are smaller and weaker than yourself, you ignore their distress unless it's convenient for you. If the person persists, you get angry with them.
Of course, we didn't mean to teach him this, and we didn't realize we were undermining his compassion for his sister, but we began to see that a 2-yr-old doesn't view the world with all the logic we have, and they imitate everything! Sometimes, his exact duplication of our tone of voice in correcting one or the other of them really reminds us how careful we need to be of our own attitudes. We realized that if he saw us swatting his sister for touching our things, it would mean disaster: he would absolutely begin to hit her for touching his things, and we'd really have a mess.
Partly as a result of that, we very rarely swatted our daughter, but have usually removed either her or the object in question instead-and remarkably, she's doing just as well with understanding "no, don't touch" as her brother did with so many red marks on his fingers. We've rarely used the playpen (except as her bed), and her attention span is just as long as his was. We didn't worry much about getting her to keep her hands down in the highchair, but we held any non-fingerfoods where she couldn't reach them. The after-dinner messes we've cleaned up from her have been even smaller than the ones our son had. We started even later with sign language, and she has picked it up even more quickly than he did.
Basically, we've disregarded the entire pre-toddler program with her, using gentler methods of instructing and correcting her in what we expect, and her behavior has been almost identical to (or better than!) her brother's at that age.The main difference has been that we haven't felt guilty wondering if she understood why she was being hit or isolated.
Our son also helped us realize that the Ezzos' approach to spanking was causing us to use it too much, too often, for minor issues that we found could be resolved in non-physical ways. He had begun to look very frightened whenever he thought he might be in trouble-even if he wasn't-and the "please don't hit me" look in his eyes completely broke our hearts. We realized that we were often spanking him for things he genuinely didn't understand or couldn't control, and we resolved to find other ways to teach him what we expected.
We have begun to understand that often, kids are just a real challenge to figure out and deal with, no matter what your strategy is. We discovered that children weren't necessarily intended to be convenient! It has been encouraging to us to be reminded that Adam and Eve had the perfect Parent with the perfect plan, but they still disobeyed. We've gained a greater appreciation for the grace, patience, and responsiveness that the Lord uses in parenting us, especially as we realize that we must be at least as frustrating to Him as our kids sometimes are to us.
We're beginning to come to grips with the humbling thought that our kids' first image of God is our reflection of Him, and we've had to assess whether we're doing an accurate job of portraying His unfailing love, longsuffering patience, and constant accessibility to us as He leads and molds us into His image.
As His children, we know that God is in control, yet we feel comfortable bringing any need to Him at any time and knowing that He is present with us when we call upon Him. We know that we need discipline and limits, and because of the relationship we have with the Lord, we know we can trust Him as He directs and corrects us along the road of life. That is the kind of relationship we want to have with our children-a model of the loving direction the Lord gives to us-and we found that the approach we were using through the GKGW program was causing us to focus more on forcing our children into submission through our power as their parents than on gently guiding them with our love.
One of the biggest practical issues we considered was sleep, particularly as we thought of adding to our family again. We have often enjoyed the convenience of being able to put the kids down early and have the evening to ourselves, but in thinking more about our kids' relationships with sleep, we realized that our "convenience" wasn't always so convenient. Our kids do usually sleep well at home in their beds, but when they need to sleep anywhere else, they really struggle. There have been many instances when we've been in a situation where they needed to sleep, they couldn't have their beds, and crying was really not appropriate, such as at church or visiting friends.
Because we had trained our children that contact with people meant wake time and only their bed meant sleep, we had taken away valuable tools for helping our children cope at those times. Since they couldn't be rocked or nursed or snuggled to sleep, all they could do was cry and struggle with their fatigue until their beds were available.
We used to think that it was better to have them used to falling asleep alone and do our best with those unusual occasions, rather than letting them be dependent on cuddling to sleep all the time, but now we think differently. The times when we've needed to be able to help them sleep, we've really needed it, and as far as having to take the time at home to help a baby or toddler fall asleep, it seems that it usually doesn't take very long, and the break in activity is restful for the parent as well as the child.
We've also learned, to our sadness, that babies grow so fast, and the cuddling stage is over very soon. Because we've trained our kids to do without those things, now we can't even use them when we want to. We've missed that with our kids, but we won't take it for granted with the next one.
Another big problem that we personally found with teaching them to sleep by letting them cry was that we ignored some of their very important attempts to get our attention. On several occasions, when they were much younger, our kids got themselves stuck in or under something in their crib. Our son usually got arms or legs stuck between crib rails, while our daughter would get her head tangled in her blanket or under the bumper pad. Because we were used to letting them cry for at least a good 15-20 minutes before checking on them, they were probably stuck for a while.
The most heart-wrenching example of this happened once when our son was about 7 months old, and I was alone with him in the church nursery. I was sitting 3 feet away from him, out of his line of sight, ignoring his persistent nap crying, until I finally realized that he was howling because his leg was stuck between the rails. I was so desensitized to his communication that I could ignore him even when I was right there. I'm so glad God doesn't respond to my cries that way.
We also realized that the "go-to-bed-easily-and-sleep-all-night" promise did not have a lifetime guarantee. We had been under the impression that once we trained our kids to fall asleep alone and stay asleep all night with the Ezzos' plan, they would never have trouble with it again.
We've found that to not be the case. This has been another area where our son has helped us re-evaluate what we were doing and why. When he has trouble settling, or if he wakes in the night, he can usually tell us what's going on in a way that we understand. The reasons he gives are generally reasonable and easy to solve-go to the potty, straighten the blankets, kiss a "bump", give a hug, or just spend a few more minutes together quietly winding down.
Since he can tell us what he needs, it's hard to just ignore him when he cries. Because of what we've learned from him, it makes sense to us now that younger babies probably do have genuine needs when they cry, just like our son does-and in fact, are probably much less likely to be trying to manipulate us than he is!
Understanding this has helped us respond better to our daughter's occasional sleep-time cries, since we have chosen to approach it from the standpoint of "what is she trying to tell us?" If she has trouble settling, or wakes up at night, a reassuring hug almost always solves the problem quickly. We chose to change our attitude about our kids' sleep, and we found that it is usually very simple to find and fix what's bothering them-much faster and easier on everyone than leaving them to cry.
It has been a slow process for us to sort these things out for our family. We gradually accepted what we were learning and let go of the Ezzos a little at a time. At first, we were afraid to leave the safety and stability of having the whole plan right in front of us, but we've come to enjoy the freedom of thinking for ourselves. We've started trying to really keep the Bible as our primary parenting guide, rather than any one person's book, and we have really enjoyed our parenting more since we've started to find our own answers. We still have so much to learn about this, but raising our kids has become a lot more fun!