Neo-Evangelizing the Catholic Family with a Foreign Gospel - Part 1

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In recent years, perhaps more than ever before, the subject of the "moral crisis" facing our culture has commanded much attention. It is unlikely that any arena of this battle arouses more concern than that of the family. With eyes urgently directed toward the future, researchers, doctors, educators, clergy, writers, and others who influence society are fighting for the ear of mothers and fathers and the souls of their children. It is an important battle with significant consequences, one in which many rely on the expertise of those who profess knowledge in their field. As the repositories of such trust, it is incumbent upon these stewards to deliver well-founded information, and if they are Christian, that their teachings correspond with the message of the Gospel. Especially vulnerable to misinformation are young, first-time parents and those without a strong support system.

In the last decade, a new voice has arisen in the field of Christian parenting, whose ideas on such topics as discipline, feeding, and parent-child interaction are alarming. Gary Ezzo's approach to child rearing problems, although superficially expedient, may ultimately be harmful to the child, spiritually, emotionally and physically, and harmful to the family. Of equal concern, however, is the discrepancy between his self-bestowed authority (exemplified by such titles as Growing Kids God's Way) and the considerable lack of scientific and theological support for his arguments. As a result, serious errors are being marketed as God's Truth and perpetuated with evangelistic zeal.

Gary Ezzo has established an international following that is growing rapidly among many "conservative" Christians. Remarkably, his message is also finding a welcome among a growing number of Roman Catholics. His ideas have been hotly contested within the Christian community, and they are indeed incompatible with a true understanding of the Catholic Tradition. Of course, there is no single parenting program which is officially endorsed by the Catholic Church; however, there are some which are closer than others to the Church's general character, let alone its doctrine. As will be discussed, the Ezzo program is one which deviates significantly from the Church's character and conflicts with important doctrinal elements as well.

This essay is not intended as an attack against Mr. Ezzo, but as a critical review of the potential dangers of his parenting ideas, so that those choosing to follow his methodology may make an informed decision in doing so. The following are books which have been written by the Ezzos (Gary and/or Anne Marie), often with the help of co-authors:

Preparation for Parenting
Preparation for the Toddler Years
On Becoming Babywise I and II
Growing Kids God's Way
Reflections of Moral Innocence
Birth by Design

Before discussing the specific dogmas of Mr. Ezzo's teaching and his opposition by scientific and religious communities, I will describe some of the unfortunate effects of his literature. One of the results of his extreme ideology is that it is causing polarization within the Christian community. This has led to the division of churches according to an article in World Magazine, a leading Christian publication. Many Christian churches find his work problematic. For instance, "The 'vast majority' of family ministers attending a national conference last year said they wouldn't teach Preparation for Parenting or any Ezzo materials in their churches." (44)

Among Catholic groups, Mr. Ezzo's literature is finding adherents within several lay movements, a growing number of parishes, and among some educators at the level of the Catholic University. Its introduction often sparks controversy and conflict. For example, his work could, until recently, be found in the bookstores of the Legionaries of Christ's lay movement, Regnum Christi. Here it had caused some dissent until its errors were brought to light, since which time there has been an active effort in the movement to distance itself from Ezzo's parenting philosophies. Unfortunately, some Catholic Charismatic communities are still in the midst of struggling with division over this problem. Reportedly, several adherents of his parenting programs are operating at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Only recently has Catholic journalism weighed in on the debate with the publication of an excellent article in Our Sunday Visitor. (1b)

Mr. Ezzo's ministry issues from an organization called Growing Families International (GFI), which had its beginnings in Grace Community Church of Sun Valley, California. Recently, even this church withdrew its support of his ministry. In the statement of the elders, dated October 16, 1997, the following comments are presented:

"[We] are no longer affiliated in any way with that ministry [GFI]...We, as elders, cannot endorse GFI until these matters [differences with Ezzo] are resolved."

They cite as problems with GFI, "confusion between biblical standards and matters of personal preference" and "undue stress on stifling the mother's desire to comfort her children...We would caution young mothers not to adopt any system of parenting that is so rigid that it requires them to quell the God-given maternal impulse (cf. Isaiah. 66: 10-13)." The elders conclude,

"...the truths of the Gospel and the necessity of divine grace are by no means the essential heart of GFI's instruction to parents." (20)

Within the medical community, Mr. Ezzo has caused no less of a stir. According to one journal:

"Critics within the Christian church have raised concerns about the Ezzo's programs since the early 1990's, but now more health professionals are taking note...doctors have expressed concerns about Preparation for Parenting or Babywise to the American Academy of Pediatrics....and an Orange County (Calif.) child abuse task force recently recommended that parents not use any of the programs developed by the Ezzos for child-rearing. The task force concluded that the Ezzo parenting approach could harm a child's psychological and emotional development." (44)

The Child Abuse Prevention Council of Orange County California investigated GFI as a result of inquiries from health care professionals who treated children raised by Ezzo's methods. The council assembled a committee with a broad range of expertise and which included representatives of the Christian community. One of the conclusions the council arrived at: "This program is not about growing kids God's way - it's about growing kids the Ezzos' way as they interpret it for God." (10)

Dr. James Dobson, one of the national leaders of Christian parenting counseling, and his organization, Focus on the Family, recently released a letter containing numerous criticisms of the Ezzo method. The letter summarizes, "...we do not recommend the Ezzos' material to Focus on the Family's constituents." (17)

Dr. William Sears, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, father of eight, and Christian author of more than 20 parenting books, spoke out against GFI on ABC World News Tonight, July 1996. Referring to Ezzo's program as "Tough Love for Newborns," he goes on to say:

"This is probably the most dangerous program of teaching about babies and children that I have seen in my 25 years of being a pediatrician."

On another occasion, he warns, "the Ezzo program is damaging. It divides churches. It hurts babies." (36)

Finally, the problem has grown to such proportions that the general news media has begun to scrutinize the Ezzo parenting program, as evidenced by the recent critical column on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. (6a)

A better understanding of the controversy surrounding Mr. Ezzo's literature may be gained by examining several facets of his philosophy (i.e. feeding, sleeping, bonding, and discipline) in greater detail, from scientific and religious perspectives. This essay, though comprehensive, is not exhaustive; other Catholic works on this subject have been undertaken, such as one by John Kippley, co-founder of the Couple to Couple League. In it he discusses several areas in which the Ezzos stray from Catholic theology, especially in their blatantly un-Catholic viewpoint on contraception.


First of all, the overall tone of Mr. Ezzo's philosophy is rigid, dogmatic and judgmental, and it plays on the fears of his audience. He oversimplifies and caricatures the parenting styles which deviate from his guidelines. For example, the following remark, directed at parents who hold their children close to them in backpacks, "snugglies", or slings, illustrates his displeasure for responsive or attachment parenting: " ...slinging your baby at your side all day long is an artificial way to parent. You are not a marsupial, and your baby should not be treated like a kangaroo joey!" (15) People who subscribe to parenting methods at odds with his are labeled, "secular mystics." (55) Those parents who do not adhere to as tight a schedule as Ezzo recommends are said to "consider some types of confusion to be an art form." (15) Elsewhere, he taunts, "the one statement attachment mothers do not hear is: 'My what a good natured baby you have!'" (14) Dr. Bucknam, one of Ezzo's co-authors, commented to a reporter that infants who are not schedule-fed become "brats".

Running through Mr. Ezzo's literature is a divisive, "us against them" strain, strongly discriminating between those who follow GFI principles and those who do not. Also, emphasis is placed on measuring up to "the standard". (13) Such elements within a parenting system may pose serious problems among its adherents: apparently successful utilization of the methodology may engender an attitude of superiority or competitiveness in parenting, while failure in this regard may cause parents to succumb to feelings of inadequacy or insecurity. These dispositions are injurious to a sense of unity and cooperation which should characterize a Christian community. Kathy Nesper, president of a California-based Christian family ministry group, Apple Tree Family Ministries, helped to collect first-hand reports from mothers following Ezzo's methods whose babies failed to thrive (several of whom were hospitalized). She states,

"Many people have been made to feel they aren't committed Christians because they disagree with the Ezzos' ideas or have chosen to parent in a different way....For many Christians, this is very offensive and very hurtful." (44)

Eventually, polarization within a community may lead to the extremes of rejection of one faction and isolation of the other. The statement of the elders of Grace Community Church acknowledges this tendency in GFI:

"GFI parents tend to insulate their children from other children - even Christian children - who are not part of the GFI 'community' (i.e., those not indoctrinated in GFI principles). GFI parents have been known to sever all relationships with non-GFI families. To some degree, GFI teaching is directly responsible for encouraging this attitude....GFI material does not caution against, but rather defends, that type of isolationism." (20)

Examples of divisive language abound in Ezzo's literature, extolling the child rearing methods of GFI and denouncing opposing practices. In Babywise, for example, mothers who do not follow the Ezzo method are described as being "in bondage" to the child, ignorant of the child's needs, and lacking common sense; these mothers are warned to be at greater risk for fatigue, anxiety, emotional lability, post-partum depression, metabolic disturbances, a suffering marriage and the propensity for child abuse. Their children are described as more likely to be insecure, psychologically and emotionally fragile, crying and demanding. Suggested adverse outcomes for the child include a higher rate of eating disorders (including obesity), sleep related problems, learning disabilities, and even infant death.

These are very powerful, sweeping statements which more closely resemble threats and accusations than scientific information or helpful advice (Furthermore, one could reasonably argue that Ezzo's admonitions may be better directed at his own methodology). In the field of child development, authors with abundantly more experience, training and credentials than Mr. Ezzo are much more careful in their wording, presenting accurate and balanced information which is supported more by fact and less by ideology. Dr. Sears comments:

"I don't know of any experts who have anything good to say about this program [GFI]. There are people who devote their lives to studying babies. They [The Ezzos] have never really studied babies. (21a) (Author's note: Gary Ezzo is not a physician or a psychologist; he has a master's degree in ministry and is a father of two daughters.)

Ideology may, however, be more important than fact to Mr. Ezzo, as it has been noticed that,

"[he] has yet to address the substance of the issues raised by his critics. Instead, he goes after the critics and the medium...And [he] has yet to address the two main complaints: Why does he make such wild medical claims, without being able to back them up? And why does he make generalities -- does he really believe that their methods are universal and guaranteed to succeed?" (37)

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At the heart of Mr. Ezzo's infant feeding program (which he coins: "parent directed feeding" or PDF) is a strict routine. There are generally no exceptions to feeding outside a schedule, even if a baby should be hungry due to previously declining a meal or losing a meal by vomiting. It is a very manipulative method; in fact, he formerly used the terminology, "parent controlled feeding." Although he claims this is "critical to optimal development" (15), he does not share the support of most professionals, who denounce such inflexible scheduling in favor of feeding on demand (i.e. self-regulated feeding in which the baby is fed when he signals that he is hungry), which Mr. Ezzo feels is "unbiblical, humanistic, and even sinful." (20) Although Ezzo's method appears to be more convenient for the mother, in that it frees up her time, the freedom that she gains may be at the expense of her infant. Moreover, the demands of his schedule on the mother may, paradoxically, be quite confining. Attempting to support his ideas with scientific and religious weight, he offers some unusual concepts:

"Yes, babies know when they are hungry, but they are not capable of regulating their hunger patterns." (15)

"lack of regularity sends a negative signal to the baby's body, creating metabolic confusion that negatively affects his or her hunger, digestive, and sleep/wake cycles." (Author's note: Ezzo also refers to this phenomenon as "metabolic chaos"; such terminology is not found in the medical literature.) (15)

Mr. Ezzo does not do his audience the service of providing adequate sources supporting the authoritative statement of such radical and unproved theories. One may find sufficient references on these subjects by looking elsewhere.
For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics publishes a parenting guide, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to age 5, in which it prescribes the following:

"What's the best feeding schedule for a breast fed baby? It's the one he designs himself. Your baby lets you know when he's hungry. Whenever possible, use [your baby's signals] rather than the clock to decide when to nurse him." (1)

Similar guidelines are proposed by the World Health Organization. The section on bottle feeding similarly states, "it's initially best to feed your newborn on demand, or whenever he cries because he's hungry." (1) In either case, a flexible attitude in the face of the unique nature of each child is encouraged:

"The most important thing to remember, whether you breast-feed or bottle-feed, is that your baby's feeding needs are unique. No book can tell you precisely how much or how often he needs to be fed. You will discover these things for yourself as you and your baby get to know each other." (1)

To some, the sound of "demand feeding" makes them bristle, enkindling connotations of infants "getting their way". This, of course, is a grave misperception since the baby is simply trying to "get" food. If one rephrases this act, perhaps it would have more broad appeal as parenting author, James Hymes, points out:

"We actually have two names - "self-demand," and the name most people feel much more comfortable with, "self-regulatory" schedules. "Demand" is evidently a nasty word. We don't like the idea of babies pushing us around. The notion that a little shrimp is free to demand something and we hop to it offends - even when all he is "demanding" is food because he is hungry, and we have the food and he doesn't." (25)

The Child Abuse Council reports:

"The basic needs of food, shelter and warmth must be provided to a baby so that he/she may develop to the next stage. The method of withholding food until a scheduled time so that the baby will accommodate a routine set by an outside entity is extremely disturbing." (10)

Selma Fraiberg, professor of child psychoanalysis at the University of California, San Francisco, and respected child care author, writes:

"The infant's hunger is imperative, the drive for satisfaction is urgent, biologically reinforced to insure survival...withholding of satisfaction would produce reactions of extreme helplessness and distress in an infant and produce conflict between him and his mother...he is completely dependent and has no means for controlling his own urges." (19)

Besides the potential adverse psychological ramifications of PDF, its rigid routine may be associated with serious physical consequences. Nancy Williams, a California-based lactation consultant, states that she is aware of at least 100 cases of low weight gain in infants fed according to the Ezzo method. (44)
Although Mr. Ezzo does not dismiss the potential advantages of nursing, he harbors certain unreasonable reservations about it, which places him in a position of rather halfhearted support. Due either to ignorance of effective breastfeeding techniques, or their intentional subordination to his overarching ideology, he may undermine the success of the nursing mother, however unintentionally. A rigid schedule decreases the amount and longevity of the milk supply, often prematurely interrupting the breastfeeding relationship. This fact is appreciated by a large majority of pediatricians according to Dr. Lawrence Gartner, professor of pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago, as well as by virtually all lactation consultants. Dr. Ruth Lawrence, author of the definitive medical textbook on breastfeeding and mother of nine, advises: "Most successful nursing mothers adapt to their own infant's cues instead of following arbitrary rules." (32) Reading Ezzo's opinions on the subject also conveys a sense that breastfeeding and bottle feeding are considered to be equivalent; in fact, many of the benefits of the former would appear to be overshadowed by those of the latter.

Many sources cite the numerous benefits of breastfeeding compared with bottle feeding. La Leche League International, a non-sectarian breastfeeding education and support organization founded by Catholics and originally dedicated to Mary, is at the forefront of demonstrating the benefits of breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirmed its strong support of breastfeeding in its Policy Statement of December, 1997, which asserts:

"From its inception, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been a staunch advocate of breastfeeding as the optimal form of nutrition for infants...Extensive research, especially in recent years, documents diverse and compelling advantages to infants, mothers, families, and society from breastfeeding and the use of human milk for infant feeding. These include health, nutritional, immunologic, developmental, psychological, social, economic, and environmental benefits." (1a)

It makes a point to emphasize that feeding on the baby's earliest hunger cues is preferred as "crying is a late indicator of hunger" (1a), and that although nursing should continue for at least a year, extended breastfeeding is supported. Ezzo's method is found wanting in both of these recommendations. Pope John Paul II, a strong proponent of breastfeeding and natural mothering principles, writes:

"The overwhelming body of research is in favor of natural feeding rather than its substitutes....this natural way of feeding can create a bond of love and security between mother and child, and enable the child to assert its presence as a person through interaction with the mother." (47)

Father William D. Virtue, S.T.D., whose thesis on embodied self giving will be further discussed below, also accentuates that, in addition to its nutritive advantages, breastfeeding confers definite spiritual and emotional benefits:

"Maternal nursing is a human act, and like all virtuous acts, it cultivates a habit, in this case it fosters [the mother's] dedication to her child's needs, and hence helps her to be a committed mother whose charity and fidelity will inspire a response of trust and attachment in the infant, and lead to the formation of a maternal-infant bond as the prototypical human relation....Hence maternal nursing is important not only because of the superior qualities of the human mother's milk, but also because of emotional and spiritual benefits of nursing through which the newborn and mother begin to form an unbreakable bond." (63)

The most surprising element of PDF is that, even despite lack of evidence, it is audaciously presented under the auspices of God's plan. Mr. Ezzo goes so far as to suggest that Mary used such draconian methods to nourish Jesus! But he offers no proof of this. After his own admission, "when it comes to a method of feeding, the Bible is silent," (13) he goes on to write over 200 pages of recommendations. Is it to be assumed that God has entrusted Mr. Ezzo to complete His unfinished work? Actually, no. On this point Mr. Ezzo is simply wrong: PDF is just as surely not divinely inspired as it is not biblically legitimized. He also believes that nursing is a comfort more for the mother than for the infant. While there are no references to PDF in the Bible, there are numerous scriptural references to breastfeeding regarding it as a source of comfort from mother to child and from God to His people (e.g. Isaiah 49: 15; 66: 10-13; Psalm 131; Hosea 11: 4, etc.). Even in passages which are prophetic in nature, the chosen imagery is irrefutably significant as the nursing couple is acknowledged as an archetype of comforting in human relationships.
What makes his stance on feeding all the more intolerable is the condescension he expresses in condemning other feeding methods, which are actually more responsive, more healthy, and probably more scriptural. Ezzo writes:

"[feeding on demand] the first step in breaking up the family." (27)

"...demand feeding desanctifies the message of Christian motherhood." (14)

"Working from a biblical mindset and practicing demand-feeding can never be harmonized since the two are incompatible philosophies." (14)

"Mothers who demand feed say they love their children because they tend to their every need. That is not biblical love; it's idolatry." (14)

Contrast these harsh judgments with a profoundly Catholic perspective in which meeting the infant's need for physical, emotional and spiritual food is a beautiful opportunity offered to the mother, who regards her spontaneous gift of self as an act of holiness. This gift has no adverse effects; on the contrary, it sanctifies the mother and prepares the child for a relationship with God.

"Mothering through breastfeeding fosters the moral capacity of the infant by correlating desire and satisfaction with a loving attachment, and this opens us to other persons and ultimately to God who fulfills the desires of the human heart." (63)

Kathy Powers, a registered nurse, lactation consultant, and director of Manatee Memorial Hospital's "MOMMS Place," uses these simple but powerful words to describe the same truth: "You are not only feeding the baby's stomach, you are feeding his soul." (21a)

In Catholic history, there are numerous luminaries who witnessed to the significance of nursing. For example, St. Catherine of Sienna had become more closely united with her mother than had her twenty three siblings; she was also the only one whom her mother had personally breastfed. The mother of St. Louis of France and St. Elizabeth Anne Seton herself had this in common: they opposed the prevailing culture of their day (which held that women of means should hire wet nurses to nourish their children) by insisting on breastfeeding their children themselves.


Infant sleeping practices are another controversial issue in the Ezzo method. He advocates that babies should be left alone to put themselves to sleep as early as within the first days of life, even if it means ignoring their cries of fear or loneliness. His theories are based on the assumption that answering such cries in the manner of attachment parenting produces an insecure person, excessively dependent upon others, and an insatiably demanding child with tendencies toward self-centeredness. Again, an effort to support himself with science produces a factually fragile buttress:

"[sleeping through the night] may occur any time between the tenth day and the eighth week, with the average baby sleeping through the night by the sixth week." (15)

"...babies know when they are tired, but they are not capable of establishing stable sleep/wake cycles on their own. Parental guidance is necessary." (15) (Author's note: Ezzo believes that scheduling actually causes a child's nervous system to mature more quickly, which is scientifically insupportable. [10] )

"Normally it takes three nights of some crying before the habit [nighttime waking] is broken. He will never remember those three nights, nor will they have any negative effects on him." (15)

One of the leading sleep researchers in the country, Dr. Richard Ferber, Director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders, Children's Hospital, Boston, believes that a baby may be induced to sleep through the night; but his technique is far more sensitive to the baby's needs, indicating a deeper knowledge of infantile sleep patterns.

According to Ferber, the first appearance of the ability to sleep through the night is measured on the order of months as opposed to days or weeks. For some infants this is not a problem; but for those who are more resistant to scheduled sleep, Dr. Ferber recommends a gradual and gradated approach to help the child to learn how to sleep on his own. He does not recommend starting such a program until 5 or 6 months of age (not in the first days of life as Ezzo suggests), and only after the parents have been careful to exclude treatable causes of insomnia. Ferber's system assumes a heightened sensitivity on the part of the parents toward the needs of the infant. The process itself requires the parents' interaction with and responsiveness to the child, and it may extend over several weeks.

"This gradual approach is better for the child and easier for you [the parent] to do than a 'cold turkey' routine...Such an abrupt change may be quite confusing to your child. He has learned to expect your prompt appearance when he cries. What is he to think if you don't come in? Where are you? What has happened? Are you ever coming back?" (16)

Mr. Ezzo's conviction that the baby's unanswered cries will have no adverse effects is stated as a fact but is actually no more than pure speculation.

However, there is evidence to support the fact that maternal deprivation does have profound effects on the child. Certainly, regarding sleep, Ferber writes,

"...crying does not help in developing appropriate sleep associations...[the baby] should not have to feel abandoned or deserted."

Opposed to the abruptness of methods such as Ezzo's, Ferber maintains that a "cold turkey" approach may be counterproductive as it is "more likely to keep the crying near maximum." (16)

As in other areas of his work, Mr. Ezzo introduces ungrounded fears into this aspect of parenting as demonstrated in the following quotes:

"Couldn't many of the learning disabilities associated with a nonstructured approach to parenting be rooted in something as basic as the absence of continuous nights of sleep in the first year of life...?" (15)

"Attempts to minimize or block all crying can easily create stress rather than decrease it, especially in light of the fact that emotional tears carry away from the body chemically-activated stress hormones." (15)

"..if you want a fussy baby, never let him cry, and hold, rock, and feed him as soon as he starts to fuss. We guarantee you will achieve your goal." (15)

"it's cruel not to help your child gain the skill of sleeping through the night." (15)

The association of learning disabilities with either interrupted sleep in infancy or nonstructured parenting is not only speculative, it is an extreme generalization involving innumerable variables. It also involves a false understanding of infantile sleep physiology and attachment parenting.

His description of stress-reducing hormonal chemistry in infant tears is an imposing sounding but poorly studied physiologic phenomenon for which no details are given and which does not enjoy support from the general scientific community. Why does he not discuss instead that the distress of crying reduces the infant's quiet, alert time during which his best learning is accomplished? What the foregoing statements have in common is an attempt to intimidate parents into complying with his method.

Dr. Sears is opposed to letting a baby cry himself to sleep on the basis that the infant should not be punished with abandonment for simply obeying his instinctual physiology. After all, his sleep patterns are different than those of an adult and appropriate for his stage of development. As the baby matures, so do his sleep patterns. In Nighttime Parenting, he writes:

"In the first few months, most babies sleep fourteen to eighteen hours per day without any respect for the difference between day and night. A baby's sleep pattern resembles his feeding pattern: small frequent feedings and short frequent naps....By four months of age...babies are awake for longer stretches and their sleep periods are longer and fewer. As babies get older, they approach sleep maturity. The total hours of sleep gradually decrease, the amount of active sleep decreases, quiet sleep increases, and sleep cycles lengthen." (59)

He goes on to stress the particular benefit of the baby's unique sleep behavior:

"Besides this survival [instinct, demonstrated by frequent feeding needs], the predominance of light [rapid eye movement or REM] sleep in tiny infants has developmental benefits.....light sleep is important for the development of the baby's brain." (59)

James McKenna, Ph.D., formerly professor and senior researcher in the department of neurology at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine and currently in the department of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, has done studies which refute the claims of Mr. Ezzo. According to his research, nighttime contact between mother and infant is a mutually beneficial biological relationship which has been successful throughout time, the world over. Only in the last 100 to 200 years, primarily in Western industrialized societies, have these deeply ingrained biological cues been ignored:

"breastfeeding and parent-infant co-sleeping constituted an integrated system throughout human history in which both the mother's and infant's sleep physiology were entwined in adaptive ways. These child care practices were probably designed by natural selection to maximize the chances of infant survival and parental reproductive success, and even today they remain inseparable and inevitable for the vast majority of the world's societies." (38)

McKenna has also presented research which indicates that infants who interact with parents during the night under otherwise safe conditions may be at lower risk for SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). It is noteworthy that these protective effects are augmented by nocturnal breastfeeding. (38) In the author's own experience as a pediatric intern, sleeping premature infants at risk for apnea (cessation of breathing) benefit from periodic motion or touching, simulators of maternal stimulation.

In the stories of the Catholic saints, we read delightful vignettes on the subject of sleep in which bonding, not distancing, is the perceived goal. At bedtime with her children, St. Jeanne-Francoise de Chantal:

"always included a prayer for their father's soul, a prayer to their guardian angels, and closed with 'Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.' Their mother then blessed them with holy water and stayed with them until they went to sleep." (33)

St. Therese of Lisieux went to sleep in her father's arms:

"All this time I would be perched on father's knee, and when it was over he used to sing most beautifully some lullaby while he rocked me to sleep, pressing me gently to his heart." (56)

During our research for this paper, we spoke with a sister at the Infant Home in Washington, D.C. run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. This home is the only one of its kind in the nation under this order, and the sister we spoke with is in charge of the care of the children. Her testimony is included with her permission and our gratitude. We were told that the sisters do not let the babies cry themselves to sleep. Similarly, they respond when a baby awakens crying in the middle of the night. They try to find out why he is crying, and sometimes the infant is carried for hours. They firmly believe that what babies need is love and affection.

Great Catholic thinkers have always recognized that sanctity is gained by love and sacrifice, especially when demonstrated toward the weakest members of society. Accordingly, motherhood has often been described as an ideal vehicle toward such sanctity, a perfect vocation to holiness. But where is the opportunity for sanctification if the sacrifice is removed? The late Hungarian cardinal, Jozsef Mindszenty, whose cause for canonization is underway, writes: "The happiness of the child depends utterly upon the self-sacrifice and love of the mother." (6)

"Who has to sacrifice sleep, who has to watch the child? The mother has to endure it, she has to be brave. And if the little rogue will not go to sleep, she sings it a lullaby for the thousandth time, softly, gently, uncomplainingly. She is like the "valiant woman" of Holy Scripture who rises in the night. In the silence of the night she prays, and then sings a last little lullaby to the infant." (6)

On a 1989 retreat in Italy, Father Luigi Giussani, founder of the Catholic movement, Communion and Liberation, drew the comparison between the mother sacrificing sleep to comfort her baby and those who rise in the night to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

"We have just sung 'As daylight breaks over the morning...Creation awakens from darkness as happened when Earth was created. And we who keep watch through the night...' Literally this is true for the cloistered nuns of Vitorchiano who have written this hymn and who arise in the middle of the night to sing it. But it is also for true for mothers who have to get up for their babies." (21)

A similar thought is expressed in the parenting book, Building Christian Families, by Mitch and Kathy Finley:

"No monk rising from his bed of straw in the darkness of night to pray has more opportunities to die to selfishness than parents who rise in the night to care for a hungry or fussy baby or a child who is sick. This is dying to self for love of one's neighbor." (18)

Compare the mothers described above to the ideal proposed by Ezzo. If a child learns from his parents, from which mothering style will he learn how to love?


The subject of sleep interaction is closely related to that of bonding in general and readily leads into the next topic of discussion: theories of optimal parental-child relations and their influence on the child's security and behavior. This is at once the most fundamental and interesting subject in this thesis and that which delves most deeply into the ethereal reaches of psychology, philosophy, and theology.

The style of parenting Mr. Ezzo recommends is authoritarian, featuring parental control over children according to strict principles of behaviorism while maintaining an appropriate emotional distance to ensure the psychological independence of the child. The child's individuality is subjugated to conformity, to the extent of offending the unique nature of each human person. Meanwhile, Ezzo denounces attachment-style parenting, based on trust, nurturing and responsiveness, on the basis that it engenders insecurity.

His philosophy shows little respect for the natural or instinctual in the human being, including "mother's intuition"; according to Ezzo, such instinctual qualities do not even exist in humans and are appropriate only to animals (Webster's first definition of instinct: "a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity"). Although not as severely repressive as Dr. Alfred C. Cotton's 1907 Care of Children, a terribly misguided but influential Victorian/Edwardian-style guide to child rearing, Ezzo's work, in its devaluation of such human inclinations, shares some of the same themes.

Instead of a domestic church in which children are seen as fruit of the parents' conjugal love entitled to the sacrificial charity of the parents, the family is depicted by Mr. Ezzo with parents at the center, complete unto themselves, with depraved children at the periphery demonstrating a constant threat of predation upon a tenuous marital union.

Ezzo attempts to lend scriptural credibility to his bonding theories:

"In biblical times, a new mother did not lounge around in her bathrobe for weeks attempting to establish a bond with her child" (21a - from Preparation for Parenting course)

Although the Bible is sparse in specific description of parenting practices, we do, nevertheless, see glimpses of them - and they are not so strongly supportive of GFI principles. In fact, some of the anthropologic snapshots reveal a lifestyle quite compatible with attachment parenting. For example, in the apocryphal text , 2 Maccabees 7: 27, we receive an enlightening view of a mother's tenderness toward her child:

"My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you."

The above example of extended nursing does not stand alone: Hannah also nursed Samuel until he was brought to the temple as a young child (1 Samuel 1: 21-8). In Luke 11:7, we learn that family members slept in much closer contact than we are accustomed to in post-industrial Western society, suggesting an increased level of parent-child responsiveness in this area as well. In the parable on persistence in prayer, we find the awakened father saying:

"'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.'"

Incidentally, this and most of the other biblical passages quoted in this essay are taken from the Revised Standard Version Bible, which is notable in several respects: it is an ecumenical translation, receiving both Catholic and Protestant approval, and it is based closely on the most accurate representations of the original languages of the Scriptures. The above sentence from St. Luke's Gospel, for example, is translated as such by the Nestle-Aland Greek-English New Testament.

The broad subject of parent-child interaction will now be subdivided into several smaller segments (see "contents"), beginning with the topic of authority and theology.


The subject of authority is central to Ezzo's writing, and it determines the general setting in which the parent and child interact. Discipline is unequivocally unilateral and externally controlling; the style of authority is authoritarian. The following quotes are demonstrative:

"Authority is the God-given right to rule." (14)

"You're going to train them [children]" (14)

"Your task is to get control of the child so you can effectively train him." (13)

Such statements relegate the child to a passive role and the parents to potentially one of monolithic inerrancy. This position may have the untoward effect of inhibiting the child's ability to self discipline and may also inhibit the parents' growth in their understanding of the child's strengths and their own weaknesses. In an Opus Dei family publication, Authority and Obedience: Focus on Family Life, the roots of authority are explored:

"Authority can be better explained by looking at its etymology. It is derived from auctor (author), which in turn comes from augere (to augment, to let grow)...Parental authority is a positive influence which sustains and increases the autonomy and responsibility of each child." (43)

Saint Paul describes the proper relationships between husband and wife, parent and child in Ephesians 5: 21 - 6: 4, and notice that with each command there is a caution, with each right there is a responsibility; authority is tempered by deference and humility. The nobility of authority is lost when it is simplistically reduced to the "right to rule." At this level, what differentiates it from oppression? And while "training" is suitable for the submission of beasts, it is inappropriate for the elevation of a human being. One of the ironies of the Ezzo parenting philosophy is that, despite its emphasis on disassociating human beings from the instinctual behavior of animals, its discipline methods rely heavily on strict behavior modification which lends itself particularly well to animal training; meanwhile, it eschews more sensitive, interactive methods which may appeal to the higher faculties of the human mind.

Mr. Ezzo's views on authority and his theology of the child may arise from the same wellspring. He starts from the premise that, "children enter the world in a depraved state." (14) Therefore, "training" of children must begin immediately, and they must be trained to obey the first time. If they fail in this, they are in sin. If children are forgetting their instructions, it may be interpreted as a "willful failure to learn to remember." It is apparent that an honest mistake may be misinterpreted as outright rebellion, punishable by "chastisement" (corporal punishment/spanking). (13)

His position on such issues as sin and depravity are more in keeping with Calvinism than with Catholicism. This observation is not an allusion to Mr. Ezzo's religious affiliation (he was raised as a Baptist while his wife is a lapsed Catholic) but an illustration that his ideas share more common ground with one faith system than another.

The following discussion is not a criticism of Calvinism, but rather a discussion of some of its aspects, in their strictest sense, which help to illustrate a particular point (the authors wish to affirm their commitment to true ecumenism, in which Christians of different denominations may unify on their common ground and work together to bring God's truth to the world). Also, Calvinism, being a subset of Protestantism, is not representative of all non-Catholic Christians. Finally, there is not a lot written in Calvinist or Catholic doctrine specifically addressing the spirituality of children, so much of this discussion is extrapolated from general doctrine.

There are subtle but important distinctions to be drawn in Ezzo's choice of words in his description of the moral nature of the child. First, the words "depravity" or "depraved" may cause an uneasy feeling in Catholics when they are applied to neonates and young children. That man is born into original sin is undisputed in Catholic theology. However, the sacrament of baptism effects the forgiveness of original as well as personal sin. Nevertheless, the consequence of original sin remains in the soul of the baptized. The word used by the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe this weakened predisposition of the wounded soul is "concupiscence", the inclination to sin. It has been likened to "the tinder for sin" (fomes peccati). (7) As baptism relates specifically to infants and small children, the only significant caveat to the above discussion is that personal sin is not yet operative until later in childhood. Without original or personal sin, their soul is affected only by concupiscence.

The definition of depravity involves such words as "bad", "debased", "perverted", "corrupted" and "marked by evil". (66) These words to some degree characterize the state of the unbaptized soul as a result of original sin; they also have stronger connotations, being equally or more applicable to the willful choosing of evil, or personal sin. Indeed, Calvinism does not share with Catholicism the belief that baptism confers actual grace which is capable of removing original or personal sin; rather, it is perceived merely as a ritual that serves as an outward sign of belonging to Christ. Thus, in this theological system, the infant's relation to sin (both original and personal) is similar to that of an adult, except in degree, both before and after baptism. An infant is depraved in the same way as an adult, though to a lesser degree. Calvin's own words on this subject are revealing:

"The children themselves are included in this condemnation, not only for the sin of another, but for their own. For although they have not yet produced the fruits of their iniquity, yet they have the seed of it hidden within them: and what is more, their nature is a seed of sin; whence they cannot but be displeasing and abominable to God. Whence it follows quite rightly and properly , that such evil is accounted as sin before God." (4a)

Ezzo's assertion that a disobedient young child is in sin is questionable from a Catholic perspective. An infant or very young child lacks the intellectual capacity to sin; at this early age his cries and protests are merely attempts to have his biological and psychological needs fulfilled. At a certain age, which varies from child to child, he is capable of willful misbehavior independent of pure need fulfillment; perhaps such misbehavior may be considered a personal sin. If this is the case, it would almost certainly be venial sin; according to the Catholic faith, a child is not culpable for mortal sin until the age of reason (around seven years of age). Calvinism also acknowledges that personal sin is not operative in infancy; however, once it does appear in childhood, there is no distinction between mortal and venial sin - all sin is mortal (more accurately, it is the Catholic equivalent of mortal sin; the qualifier "mortal" is not applied in Calvinism as there is no need to distinguish it from venial sin, which does not exist in this doctrine: "Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and against His righteous law, deserves wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come." [65] )

This brings us to another important point to consider: what type of disobedience constitutes a sin for Mr. Ezzo? Certainly, many examples he gives would not be considered mortal sins according to Catholic teaching, which requires that it be a "grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent." (7) These conditions are not essential to the Calvinist definition of sin, whereby any act of defiance (potentially even regarding trivial matters) may be considered a sin, provided that the command is "lawful" and "in the power of inferiors to perform." (65)

For instance, Mr. Ezzo is insistent upon proper table manners from infancy through childhood. However, if perfect table manners are not maintained despite reminders, it probably is not a mortal sin in the eyes of the Church. He also states, "when parents continually reinforce that disobedience, they are in sin." (13) Again, according to Church teaching, in the face of disciplinary matters of little moral gravity, this probably would not apply. Rather, the parents should ask themselves if their expectations for the child are appropriate or not, given his developmental age, and readjust them if necessary. Otherwise, a great deal of consternation arises where there need not be any.

A final important difference between the two religious systems is their general stance before God. Please note that the following comments regarding specific elements of Calvinist doctrine are obviously made from the perspective of a non-Calvinist outside observer, and may, therefore, be at variance with the Calvinist's viewpoint, which he bases on his interior belief system. In Calvinism, man is entirely passive in the face of God, his will impotent and entirely dependent upon God's omnipotent ("irresistible") grace. On the other hand, in Catholicism, man plays a more participatory role in his destiny; he may use his will to actively cooperate with or oppose God's grace: "Divine providence works also through the actions of creatures. To human beings God grants the ability to cooperate freely with his plans." (7) Notwithstanding, a Calvinist has a greater perceived assurance of his own salvation than does a Catholic. At first glance, a Catholic may find it ironic that a belief system in which man is more powerless in the face of God can, nonetheless, allow one to be more certain of his eternal destiny. A Calvinist who is "saved" would assert that he was, in fact, predestined to be among the elect, and his assertion is justified by his faith in Christ and by the way he manifests his faith in his life, such as his actions, over which he does exercise control and responsibility.

"Election manifests itself, indeed, by clear and positive signs in the lives of the elect, and more particularly by the calling, and the righteousness which expresses it in concrete reality... 'all the more surely should the good works he has given us serve thereto, which demonstrate that the Spirit of adoption has been given to us." (65a - with excerpt from Institutes of the Christian Religion)

In the Calvinist system, where the fruits of one's faith are among the definitive signs of his election, and predetermined election is "given from on high to only a few people," (4a) might there not be a certain pressure to display exemplary behavior? The Catholic, on the other hand, though he has a more cooperative relationship with God, does not receive (except in extraordinary circumstances) earthly consolation of his eternal destiny. In hope and confidence of salvation, he incorporates God's will for his life and leaves the rest in His hands. This mindset, freed of potential concerns about being predestined for salvation, may be less compelled to act so as to evidence election.

This discourse has wandered beyond the scope of this essay only to provide a backdrop for the subject of our concern: the different theological backgrounds of Calvinism and Catholicism may produce dramatically differing conceptions of the infant and child. In a Calvinist system, the child demonstrates a relatively greater propensity and culpability for evil to which the parents may feel obliged to respond more urgently. However, young children, by their very nature, do not easily comply with adult behavioral norms, and the process of development is slow. If behavior is to be changed in an expeditious manner, therefore, strict control by rapidly applied principles of behaviorism is most effective. The child may assume a passive posture in conformity with the prevailing attitude of man's passivity toward God, while he learns behavior befitting election.

Catholicism, on the other hand, does not conceptualize the infant or young child as being so evil, nor is his soul believed to be in imminent mortal danger. This understanding makes it more possible to be open to accept the child's natural developmental process and to nurture it with more sensitive, age appropriate parenting methods. The child's activity may find less opposition in an atmosphere where man's dialogue with God is more open and cooperative and where there is less pressure to seek assurances of salvation.


A healthy relationship between mother and infant, exemplified by intimacy, affection and responsiveness, is generally recognized as being extremely important in the preparation of the future emotional health of the child. John Paul II affirms, "the mother is decisive in laying the foundation for a new human personality." (50) This bonding also sets into motion a lasting dynamic in the mother-child relationship and even has an impact on the moral development of the mother. The Catholic Church is notable among religions in that it holds science, nature, and reason in high esteem, considering them to be God's special gift to man which, when used properly, are compatible with revealed truth. As such, it has been open to the best findings of sound psychology when they are not opposed to Church teaching.

The Church's dedication to the child's psychological needs extends even to his prenatal existence. For example, while Mr. Ezzo claims, "neither conscious nor unconscious memory function can take place in the low-oxygen environment of the uterus," (15) Father Virtue contends, "science is acknowledging that the embryo is an individual whose experience is real...," (63) and the Pope calls for research into prenatal psychological development "to investigate [the fetus's] emotions and register the signs of his psychic development." (42a) In the field of child psychology, the views of the Church and the scientific community are closely aligned on many points, uniting in support of the dignity of the child and the nurturing role of the family.

Although Mr. Ezzo appears to derive his arguments from a scientific perspective, which he combines with a scriptural basis, many of his scientific hypotheses are poorly grounded and much of his scriptural support is either vacuous or misrepresentative exegesis. Taken as a whole, Mr. Ezzo's thoughts on this matter tend to be incompatible with what sound psychology teaches us about the developing child and what the Catholic Church teaches about the family. Following are examples of Ezzo's opinions:

"The measure of a child's security is never found in the presence of his or her parent, but in how well the child copes away from parents," [and similarly] "too often, children can't function outside the parent's presence, since their security is based on proximity, not relationship." (15)

"The child has been so conditioned by immediate response [to crying] that he or she simply cannot cope with a delayed response. Now the child is emotionally fragile rather than emotionally stable." (15)

"If anything, continuous close mother/infant contact produces abnormal mother/child dependency." (14)

"Because the desire for continual and immediate gratification begins at birth, the need for cultivating self-control in your child also begins at that point." (13)

"These skills [focusing, attention span, creativity, self-entertainment, orderliness] could be seriously delayed if your child misses out on structured playpen time." (15) (Author's note: while the playpen may be convenient to the mother and may be conducive to the child's quiet play when he does not object to it, it is not generally accepted that it is essential for proper child development. When the child does not wish to be in the playpen, it may actually cause a sense of frustration and isolation.)

"There's no "good mother" hormone, and much more is required than just bringing a baby to breast." (15) (Author's note: While it is true that no hormone can guarantee good mothering, Ezzo neglects to mention that there are certainly hormones with powerful and uniquely maternal applications, such as oxytocin and prolactin, the latter of which imparts a sense of well being to the lactating mother [26, 32] and "awakens maternal tenderness for her infant" [63])

"While maternal-infant bonding is an interesting psychological idea, research has not substantiated the cause-and-effect relationship this theory speaks of, in human beings. And although nonrational animals show some instinctive tendency of this sort, speculating that rational man responds similarly is scientifically unacceptable. Anthropology - the study of mankind - is very different from zoology - the study of animals." (15)

According to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton (pediatrician, Harvard Medical School professor and one of the leading child-care authors) and Erik Erikson (a historically eminent psychologist with keen insight into child development), trust and attachment are the important foundations that are built in a baby's first years of life. The willful distancing and emotional withholding on the part of the parent toward the child, praised in the Ezzo method, puts the development of trust at great risk. John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, who wrote the seminal works on attachment parenting, demonstrate that parental intimacy and responsiveness do not foster insecurity; on the contrary, they build confidence. Rather, insecurity results from a detached parenting style.

An appreciation of the essence of Bowlby's "attachment theory" may be gained by contrasting it with "behaviorism". The heart of the dichotomy between the two theories is that behaviorism emphasizes conditioning the child's behavior by external training, while attachment theory stresses meeting the child's inner needs, thereby developing a secure person, one quality of whom happens to be sound behavior. In the first method, behavior is the goal; in the second, the focus is security of the child.

Erikson demonstrates an often repeated psychological finding: once the child feels secure at one stage of development, only then does he feel comfortable to move on to the next. If his needs are frustrated at one stage, he will be poorly prepared for the next. Progress through the various stages of development is largely irreversible. A deficiency at any stage will manifest as a "neurosis" (an aberrant, maladapted behavior) at later stages of development. Conversely if his needs are met, the child moves comfortably forward in maturation and will even have the emotional strength to regenerate others by meeting their needs. Sheila Kippley, Catholic co-founder of the Couple to Couple League, writes: "a true or natural need is something that goes away once the need is met." (27) The current Pope states, "a society can indeed be proud of itself if it allows mothers to devote time to their children, and if it allows them to bring them up according to their needs." (46 - IV Love; Woman's Vocation to Motherhood)

There is no need so primal and innocent as that signified by a baby's cry; the cry is one of the infant's only languages, and also his most desperate one. It is crucial that adults engage his attempt at communication. To be precise, it is actually most efficacious to respond to the baby's cues of distress before he starts to cry or early in the course of crying. In so doing, the parent allows the infant to associate the response with the cues rather than with prolonged crying, thereby reinforcing the cues rather than the crying. Answering a baby's cry is a pivotal moment for parental responsiveness. It is also a pivotal moment in the baby's life according to Dr. Lee Salk, psychologist brother of Jonas Salk (discoverer of the polio vaccine), and Rita Kramer:

"There's no harm in a child crying: the harm is done only if his cries aren't answered. Babies who are left to cry for long periods of time and are overwhelmed by frustration develop neurotic behavior...If you ignore a baby's signal for help, you don't teach him independence. How can a helpless infant be independent? What you teach him is that no other human being will take care of his needs." (57)

Contrary to Mr. Ezzo's ideas, infancy is not the appropriate stage of life to work out the issue of independence. The baby is far too immature to truly absorb or healthily incorporate this concept. But again, we see the effects of Calvinist thought in this effort: John Wesley, English clergyman, founder of Methodism, and strongly influenced by Calvinist theology, was a strong proponent of early childhood independence training (this should come as no surprise when one considers that he was raised exactly in such a manner by his mother, Susanna). Now, juxtapose this approach with the position of Catholic psychiatrist Conrad Baars (whose work will be reviewed in greater detail later) who supports that a child must be allowed to be a child.

"Too many people are in a hurry for results in all their activities in life, even to the point that they try to accelerate natural growth processes. Everything in nature grows according to its own laws. This slow and gradual growth to a mature state must be respected at all times. If, after a long, cold winter when one is eager to see the tulips bloom in all their beauty, one were to pull them up as they first break through the earth, they would be destroyed. When you force-feed trees the wood will be of inferior quality, less strong and too light. When you force a child to act as an adult before his age you prevent his emotions from maturing and enriching his life." (2)

Not at all in need of independence training, the stage of infancy is a primitive one preoccupied solely with developing trust, as can be attested to by the general psychology community. This trust is taught by the parents, especially the mother.

"The mother is the person most foundational and formative of the capacity for moral relation and action because she is a private tutor of love by her fidelity that evokes from the child in infancy the first developmental virtue which is trust." (63)

Without a sense of trust, it is difficult for an infant to develop confidence in himself or his environment, let alone develop the charitable impulse to care for others. What the baby does learn is helplessness. In his need, he finds comfort only in inanimate objects. There are no people to comfort him; he does not even truly comfort himself, as he cannot yet distinguish his individual personhood. Trust is important on a religious dimension also in that it determines the degree of confidence man has in God. The exhortation for confidence in, even abandonment to, God forms the spiritual cornerstone of great masters of the spiritual life, such as St. Therese of Lisieux and Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Such reliance is possible only with great trust. Jesus knew that the quality of trust was fundamental to a living faith (Matthew 7: 7-11; 6: 25-34). Indeed, it directly lays the groundwork for the theological virtues of Faith and Hope. Erikson writes,

"Hope is both the earliest and the most indispensable virtue inherent in the state of being alive...Hope relies for its beginnings on the new being's first encounter with trustworthy maternal persons, who respond to his need for intake and contact with warm and calming envelopment." (11)

One of the most widespread and unfortunate misconceptions about infancy is that responding to a needy baby leads to "spoiling" of the infant or "manipulation" of the parent. Nothing could be less true; unlike adults, the infant wants wholesome things, things that he needs. His wants and needs are, in fact, indistinguishable. Dr. Sears writes: "Adults and young children manipulate; babies communicate." (58) Beyond the need for food, sleep and proper hygiene, the infant needs touch, affection, and attention, which are equally important for him. Responding to an infant answers his needs.

As Christians, our relationship with God is to serve as the pattern for our human relationships (John 13: 34-35). Which of the following models characterizes our relationship with God: Are our needful cries to God attempts at manipulation or sincere supplication? When He responds to us, is it because He has been manipulated or because He has been merciful? A loving relationship between God and man is based on a merciful response to a sincere petition. A loving relationship between mother and child is similar, excepting this significant difference: the magnificent generosity of God to sinful man is infinitely greater than the generosity of a mother to her innocent infant could ever possibly be (Matthew 18: 23-25).

The Child Abuse Prevention Council states the following concerns regarding this aspect of Ezzo's work:

"It is stated that parents should resist the temptation to go to their child. As if meeting your child's needs is a bad thing." (10)

"A concern of the committee is that the teachings on letting infants cry might lead parents to become insensitive to their baby's needs. They could miss when the baby is sick or injured if they are used to ignoring the child's cries." (10)

"It appears that the 'Preparation for Parenting' program is not well balanced...does not allow for the individual differences that make human beings develop in a variety of ways under a variety of time frames. An understanding of children's developmental stages and make-up must be included in any well thought out parenting program. The issues of control and authority seem to override the elements of compassion, child advocacy, and real developmental needs." (10)

"The Ezzos say that 'shyness is not an excuse for disrespect.' If a child does not respond to an adult's inquiry or comment, then the parents are instructed to apologize to the adult and state that, as parents, they are working on it. Again, the goal is to bring the child to 'the standard'. A child's temperament or mood should not be an obstacle to calling them to 'the standard'." (10)

The last two of the above quotes touch upon a corollary to the general topic of bonding, namely, the degree to which parents acknowledge the individuality of the child, the effect of this perception having significant impact in future parent-child relations. For instance, parents who believe that children are basically the same, differentiating primarily or exclusively as a result of environmental influences, may tend to expect uniformly acceptable behavior, a deficiency in this regard reflecting a failure in the caretakers' ability to properly control the willfulness or "depravity" of the child. As demonstrated in the above quotes, Ezzo favors this approach.

By contrast, parents who appreciate that children inherently have individually distinct temperaments, which operate in conjunction with complex environmental influences to display a diversity of behaviors, will be less inclined to place blame if their child's behavior deviates from the norm. In such a situation, these parents would examine the environmental influences in light of the unique capacities of the child. Several of the authors whose work is discussed in this essay (e.g. see references 5, 29, 61, 62) elaborate on the naturally variable temperaments of children and, to some degree, on how they are affected by those of their parents.


Mr. Ezzo appears to be very disdainful of the natural, animal aspect of the human being, considering it base and inferior and, perhaps, nonexistent. From this puritanical and ultra-rationalist vantage point, one may appreciate how he arrives at some of his scornful conclusions about human instinct and the superiority of rational manipulation over physico-emotional needs.

The tradition of the Catholic Church embraces in its essential goodness the physical as well as the spiritual nature of the human being, acknowledging the dignity of corporeal needs as a truth of human nature. Dr. Herbert Ratner was a physician-philosopher, Catholic convert from Judaism, and motivating force behind such groups as the National Commission on Human Life, La Leche League International, and the Catholic Medical Association. Echoing an ancient Catholic tradition, Dr. Ratner writes:

"There are two revelations: one found in the Book of Scriptures and the other in the Book of Nature; one communicated through the words of the Son, the other through nature from a lexicon written by the Father. However, the Father, the Author of nature, does not go about teaching one truth while the Son teaches another." (54)

Long ago, Aristotle said, there is a reason behind everything in nature. St. Francis of Assisi said, to be in harmony with nature is to be in harmony with oneself and with the Creator. Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus were instrumental in reconciling nature and the Christian faith. Natural law is an important element of the Judeo-Christian religion. It serves as the light of God's truth for those persons who have not yet enjoyed revealed truth, but it also reminds all persons of their proper nature, what it means to be fully human. It seems that most people in our "over-civilized" Western culture (which has been criticized by the current Pope for its blatant disregard for the sacredness of human life) have forgotten natural law, even many of those who defend revealed law. Natural law must not, however, be confused with "naturalism" or "nature worship," which exalt Creation above the Creator and are, therefore, unacceptable (for the beauty of nature, including human nature, should rightly point to and strengthen our praise of the Creator).

More specifically, natural law is the original language through which the Creator impressed the truths of His Creation - especially that regarding right behavior - upon the heart of rational man, providing the foundation for revealed truth and grace. In the words of St. Thomas,

"The natural law is nothing other than the light of understanding placed in us by God; through it we know what we must do and what we must avoid. God has given this light or law at the Creation." (7)

A proper appreciation of human nature as it conforms to natural law "provides the indispensable moral foundation for building the human community." (7) This includes, of course, the community of the family. It is an invaluable tool for Christian parents, as underscored in the Finleys' Building Christian Families:

"A traditional theological principle states that 'grace builds on nature.' Parents need to gain the practical forms of knowledge and the skills needed to be effective parents in today's world." (18)

Mr. Ezzo's literature denies many basic principles of human nature. It is a well known fact from animal studies that maternal deprivation has devastating effects on the offspring. Since the classic studies of Harry Harlow on rhesus monkeys, there have been many fascinating new projects in neurophysiology (e.g. those of Michael Meaney, Mark Smith, and Ron de Kloet; Society for Neuroscience, 1997 annual meeting) which have confirmed and expanded upon his findings. Moreover, contrary to Mr. Ezzo's assertions, human children as well as those of animals clearly do suffer from a lack of parental attachment. This has been well demonstrated in the clinical work of investigators such as Rene Spitz, John Benjamin, Sybille Escalona, Selma Fraiberg, Margaret Mahler, Lois Murphy, Sylvia Brody, Alan Sroufe, Marshall Klaus, John Kennell, Ashley Montagu, Alice Miller, Mary Carlson, and the list goes on. These individuals have shown that deprivation of human attachment in infancy has dire psychological, mental and/or physical consequences of potentially permanent duration. Similar studies from a Catholic perspective may be found in the works of Conrad Baars and Anna Terruwe (whom Pope Paul VI named "a special gift to the Church").

Dr. Baars discusses the importance of emotional development, drawing heavily from the Thomistic tradition. He identifies a false presumption, even in Christian history, which puts the will and the emotions at enmity with each other. This is not justified in light of the fact that emotions are not intrinsically bad, although they may become disordered if not properly guided; but, after all, the same is true for reason and the will. In fact, emotions are essential to a healthy human composition.

"[a philosophy which has caused needless suffering is] based...on the belief that our emotions are enemies of our higher faculties and the spirit - which holds that man's will must be trained to act against his emotions, if he is to succeed in leading a virtuous life. This voluntaristic (from the Latin voluntas - will) philosophy, which considers the will as supreme, has dominated centuries of churchmen's attitudes and religious training." (2)

"Aquinas ...realized that all good, also and precisely the moral good, appeals not only to the will through reason, but also directly to the emotions of love and desire through the senses... 'virtue is not only in the will and reason, but also in the emotions.'" (2)

"All our emotions, in their 'pure' state, are good and necessary for healthy living. There are no negative or bad emotions...[but] emotions must be cultured, educated and refined, so that they will respond readily to the will informed by reason." (2)

Both mother and infant, especially infant, rely deeply on emotion in forming the language of their bond. Touch is the physical manifestation of these loving emotions. The healthful cultivation of these attributes, denied in Ezzo's method, culminates in a healthy and holy relationship between the mother and her child. Baars continues:

"Mother and child give and receive in an interplay of love...The mother gives, and the child gives in return by actively receiving and responding to the mother's tender, but unspoken sentiment: 'It is good that you are here; I love to be with you; I love to play with you.' And so the child 'says' to the mother, 'It is good to feel your loving presence; you make me feel wanted and worthwhile; it is good to be part of you.'" (2)

Perhaps Dr. Baars's most original and important contribution is his development of the psychology of "affirmation" whereby one is affirmed (finds existential value and meaning in his person) only by the unconditional love of an-other (contrary to self-affirmation) - in the case of the child, by his parents, especially his mother. Below is a synopsis in Baars's own words of the importance of true affirmation:

"The child's need for feeling loved is as fundamental as his need for food, air and shelter. He cannot live if this need is not satisfied. Exist, yes, but not really live as a human being should live. Without this fundamental feeling of being loved by another being, he will continue to crave it. As long as this craving is frustrated, his emotional life cannot develop. By this I mean that he cannot develop that part of his emotional life that is primary - his humane emotions which, together with his intuitive mind, determine his happiness and his capacity of making other people truly happy. The other part, however, his utilitarian emotions, usually develop to excess - too much fear and despair in some, too much energetic striving in others....the emotionally deprived person is like a house built without a firm foundation. It collapses in a storm, and what looked like a beautiful and strong superstructure of academic degrees, great business acumen, political talent, or religious fervor proves to possess no real strength. Genuine strength is found in the "heart" - the humane emotions interacting with the intuitive mind - which cements the body to the structures of intellect and spirit." (2)

The mother is unquestionably the most important figure in the infant's life. Before exploring the importance of the naturalness of the mother-infant bond, it is necessary first to demonstrate the preeminence of this bond. Mr. Ezzo presents a superficially appealing but false notion entertaining the equivalence of the mother and father to the infant at this early stage of development. This may be seen in such quotes as: "An advantage to bottle feeding is that it allows others to participate. Feeding time for dad is just as special to him as it is to mom, and fathers should not be denied the opportunity to participate." (15) Father, he suggests, may indeed feel slighted and "not consider himself to be part of the management team." (14) If human anatomy and human (and biblical) history is not self-explanatory, John Paul II helps to clarify this point:

"...though it is true that the mother's task must be coordinated with the presence and responsibility of the father, the woman is the one who plays the more important role at the start of every human life." (46 - IV Love - Woman's Vocation to Motherhood)

"Parenthood - even though it belongs to both - is realized much more fully in the woman, especially in the prenatal period. It is the woman who 'pays' directly for this shared generation, which literally absorbs the energies of her body and soul. It is therefore necessary that the man be fully aware that in their shared parenthood he owes a special debt to the woman. No program of 'equal rights' between women and men is valid unless it takes this fact fully into account." (50)

Pope Pius XII, who saw the significance of the natural bond between mother and child, affirms:

"Without doubt the voice of nature speaks in [the mother] and places in her heart the desire, the courage, the love and the will to take care of the child; but in order to overcome suggestions of faintheartedness from whatever cause, the voice needs to be strengthened and to strike, to speak a supernatural note." (63)

Go To Part II of This Essay