Growing Kids God's Way?
A Critique of Growing Families International
By Dr. Barbara Francis
Concerns Regarding Misrepresentations, Distortions, and Contradictions
Although there seem to be some valuable aspects of the GFI material in providing directives for new parents, it is difficult to sort out what claims and pronouncements are sound advice and what are unsubstantiated opinions of the authors. This is primarily due to a finding that the material seems to offer advice and theories based on misrepresentations, half-truths, or data unsupported by research and supplemental material. The Ezzos, to date, have not provided material or advocates to dispel this contention. As I was becoming acquainted with the GFI material and beginning to have questions about their approach, I contacted GFI headquarters personally and requested a reference list that supported their claims. I was eventually "bumped up" to one of the Ezzos' assistants, who stated that he was "unable to answer any of my questions," but told me someone would get back to me. I never received a response to my request. Neither have several other sources who have made similar requests. When asked about this typical response in an interview, Gary Ezzo stated that specialists on his resource list are "too important to be bothered with the trivia served up by the critics" (Kelly Griffith, Bradenton Herald, 1997). At the time, by the way, I was not a critic—just curious.
I also began to query GFI moms on the material and was told that the program was "completely biblical" and had sound philosophical underpinnings. However, as I examined the material for myself, I found that both contentions were untrue. Many of the GFI authoritative assertions can be accepted as Truth only if one accepts proof-texts as ultimate and unquestionable scriptural truth, or does not, perhaps, have an adequate educational acquaintance with philosophical and psychological theoretical knowledge to be able to discern between schools of thought.
The areas presented here are of particular concern due to the fact that they address critical issues in development and health and are presented by GFI as proven truth. In addition, the GFI contentions often stand in stark opposition to extensive research findings and positions supported by well-known and well-respected Christian child specialists. Scripturally, the proof-texts often appear to be inconsistent with the character of God, the ultimate loving Parent of Grace.
I have listed and commented on a number of these claims. This listing is certainly not exhaustive.
Regarding Emotional Development:
Misrepresentation of addiction development and behavior:
Throughout the material, authoritative claims are made that are neither substantiated nor proven through scriptural reference; they are typically inflammatory and fear producing. One example of that style of presentation: in support their concept of "establishing a biblical mindset" (in reference to parent-controlled feedings and sleep times of newborns), GFI states, "But pleasure has a way of becoming addictive. The gratification drive becomes a problem in child training when the child becomes dependent upon or conditioned to receiving immediate gratification in his ongoing development" (PFP, p. 24). This implies that meeting the needs of a newborn will result in the baby becoming addicted to the immediate pleasure provided, and this will set the stage for the demand for immediate gratification throughout the levels of development. The very use of the word "addictive" is inflammatory, particularly for Christians wanting to do what's best for their child. A review of addiction theories and research reveals that the family dynamics providing fertile ground for any addiction are not in providing pleasure, but rather in the lack of legitimate, age-appropriate pleasure in the forms of comfort, nurturing, and soothing. Addiction is not about life-affirming pleasure, but is rather rooted in a child learning to rely on a substitute form of dependable nurturing when God-given needs are not met through caring and responsive caretakers.
This type of skewed presentation regarding addiction and immediate gratification is representative of much of the GFI material; there is simply no distinction made between what is healthy and normal at one age and level of development and inappropriate at another. For example, the GFI model relates a newborn's need for immediate gratification to the baby's attempt to "manipulate" the parents; the child is seen as being capable of attributes, however, that are just not in alignment with God's design as proven by a vast amount of research. While something approximating immediate gratification is, in fact, appropriate for a newborn (given the mental, physical and psychological capacities of the baby) it is not appropriate for an older child; however this distinction is not made in the GFI material. The assumption is that meeting the immediate need of a newborn equates to meeting the needs of a toddler in the same way. GFI material gives no attention to an understanding of how and why a child moves from the need for immediate gratification towards delayed gratification, but rather assumes that the child is capable of whatever the parent demands, whenever the parent demands it.
Control of a child's crying and "whining" seems to be of major concern in this model; however, GFI offers a frighteningly incomplete understanding of an infant's crying behavior. In regard to the newborn, the Ezzos state (while presenting their design for parent-controlled naptime), "Crying for 15-20 or even 30 minutes is not going to hurt your baby physically or emotionally. Especially if the cry is a continual start-stop cry. He will not lose brain cells, experience a drop in IQ, or have feelings of rejection that will leave him manic-depressive at age thirty" (PFP, p. 134). For the two-month-old (in regard to dropping the middle-of-the-night feeding), it is stated, "This may involve some crying, which may be as short as 5 minutes or off and on as long as 1 hour" (PFP, p.136).
This attitude towards a baby's cries is rooted in a couple of assumptions. One is that the baby is self-centered, and must learn from the time of birth that it is not the "center of the universe"; this theme is consistent both overtly and covertly. The other is that babies only cry because they are, "hungry,…tired, wet, sick, bored, frustrated, out of their routine, fed too often, or simply because that is what normal, healthy babies do" (PFP, p. 141). While all of these, of course, are true, it's disconcerting that experts recognize pain and discomfort as primary reasons for crying in young infants (Child Development, p. 138), but in GFI these are not even mentioned. Crying is an infant's only form of verbal communication—how else did God provide for a baby to express her needs? How else is she able to say, "Please hold me, I'm scared," "Pressure causes my ears to hurt when you lay me down," or, "My tummy hurts; I need you to please burp me"?
The GFI model supports its stance with the following statement, "Praise God that the Father did not intervene when His Son cried out on the cross (Mt. 27:46). If He had stopped the process, there would be no redemption for us today" (PFP, p.144). Considering the whole counsel of scripture, it seems more likely that our model for responding to our babies is based on the numerous passages that consistently teach and remind us of how tenderly God hears our cries and responds to us exactly at our place of need. This portrait seems to be a more accurate portrayal of a newborn's cries than God incarnate on the cross.
But to GFI, empathetically responding to the infant is "emotional" rather than "soberminded" and is equated with "demand attention." In fact, when asked how much time it is appropriate to hold a baby, GFI responds, "Parents should be more concerned with what is an inappropriate amount of time to hold their baby. The amount of time can either be too little or too much, but the latter is often the case with demand-feeding"(PFP, p. 185).
The GFI program claims that "babies under the PDF (parent-directed feeding) plan tend to cry less in the long run than babies who are demand-fed." They report that the reason is that "infants put on a routine become confident and secure in that routine. Their lives have order and they learn the lesson of flexibility early in life." (PFP, 146). Even if true (they offer no documentation and research indicates the opposite), this could result in a pretty tragic assumption. Research and observational studies of institutionalized children consistently indicate that there are two types of babies who cry the least: those with highly responsive parents who respond quickly and consistently, and those babies who learn that their cries will go unheeded, and so give up hope (Dennis, 1973; Provence and Lipton, 1962).
In a brief statement regarding adult obesity, GFI states that "feeding problems in infancy, such as overfeeding or disregarding healthy eating patterns, may result in eventual obesity" (PFP, p. 143). This is yet another unsubstantiated argument for their PDF feeding style; they further state, "A mother who picks up her infant and offers him the breast each time he cries is teaching him that food is his source of comfort, not Mom" (PFP, p.145).
Once again, an extreme is presented ("each time he cries"); in addition to this, for very young babies, mom's breast and feeding are comfort! The real problem here, as in many other cited areas, is the implication that later problems with food are due to not using the Ezzo method. According to a large body of literature including extensive research, if anything, the opposite is true.
While the etiological roots of eating disorders, including obesity and compulsive overeating, are varied and complex (genetics, biochemistry, sociocultural concerns, modeling), the family constellation factors that seem to contribute to dysfunction around food revolve around perceived deprivation and issues regarding power. In light of this, it's interesting that so much focus in the GFI material is on food; they say, in fact, "Your choice of feeding philosophy will actually determine your child's hunger patterns, sleep patterns, and even his basic disposition" (PFP, p. 49). They then proceed to center the entire model on issues relating to food and control. In PFTY, two of the seven chapters presented (for babies 5 to 15 months) are, again, about food and how to control behavior surrounding food ("Mealtime Activities," "Highchair Manners"). From the parent-controlled feedings of the early months, five-month-old babies begin their "training" of "self-control" with their hands (e.g. keeping their hands at their sides in the highchair, not playing with their food, not putting messy hands in their hair). The Ezzos say, "Mealtime is not playtime. Do not touch your plate, only your food." Control issues surrounding food continue to be a major focus within each GFI parenting manual.
According to experts, this type of a model can set up a child for a vulnerability regarding food. Lynne Nieto, R.N., M.S.N., and Certified Specialist in Eating Disorders, recently stated in a personal interview, "The parent who consistently engages her child in a struggle of control over what is eaten, how it's eaten, and when it's eaten, may, in the end, condemn her child to eating problems later in life." She continues, "In infancy, withholding food to comply with a schedule is perceived by the infant as deprivation and abandonment. She cognitively cannot determine if the breast will ever arrive; therefore, building trust is replaced with despair. When the child is older and senses she has no power within the family unit, food can provide the tool by which she exerts power in a family that gives her little autonomy or individuation. Food can become both a self-supplied means of nurturing and a weapon of defiance. In an authoritarian family where the child has little sense of independence or healthy sense of power, the one thing she may feel she can control is what goes in her mouth."
"The Harvard Mental Health Letter" (14;4, 10/97) further develops this idea in their discussion of anorexia nervosa: "Most anorectic women are serious, well behaved, orderly, perfectionistic, hypersensitive to rejection, and inclined to irrational guilt and obsessive worry.…She wants to be strong and successful, but is afraid of asserting herself and separating from her family." They continue by reporting that anorectic girls often come from "enmeshed" families where "everyone in the household is said to be overresponsive to and overprotective of everyone else. Conventional social roles are maintained, but individual needs are not met, feelings are not honestly acknowledged, and conflicts are not openly resolved." Daughters are expected to be "good girls" who excessive work to "please parents and teachers" through perfectionistic behavior and achievement. Many other experts from a wide variety of psychological orientations, including Christian specialists such as Raymond Vath, M.D. (1971), echo this view.
Compulsive overeating and obesity are closely related to these more "studied" eating disorders; however, the etiology becomes more complicated as genetic issues related to weight and the weight of the parents become more salient variables. If one family pattern is consistent throughout the literature, however, it is that of food being used as a substitute for nurturing, a weapon for power, and a form of control. If these characteristics align with any type of parenting model, it is one composed of rigid rules, high expectations, and lack of emotional communication and understanding—certainly not demand feeding!
Within the GFI model, separation anxiety is another area lacking understanding in God's design of both cognitive and emotional development. GFI claims that separation anxiety is due to too much time and attention from mom, rendering the child unable to separate without anger and despair. How they've arrived at this conclusion is unknown and unstated. What is known through extensive research and child observation studies, however, seems to be virtually the opposite of the Ezzo position. Separation distress, which appears across cultures and settings, typically emerges when the child is about eight months old. It rises to a peak in the middle of the second year, and then begins to decline (Kagan, 1978, p. 72). Little ones are actually hard-wired to experience separation anxiety! It is not a negative response in an infant or young toddler, but is often a sign of healthy attachment (The Child, p. 217). It also announces the child's emerging emotional separation from mom; he begins to see her as separate, and no longer symbiotically attached. In addition, separation anxiety is a normal and healthy gauge of a child's developing cognitive capabilities, indicating that the child is beginning to be able to maintain a mental representation of the mother; after all, if he "lost" her when she left the room before having this capability, he wouldn't even know what was lost!
Given comprehensive support from so many realms of scientific inquiry, it seems almost absurd to conclude that normal separation anxiety is representative of inadequate parenting. The real tragedy is how parents are being taught in GFI to view and respond to these normal, legitimate feelings and expressions of their children. In this case, the separation anxiety would provide evidence of a demanding or "spoiled" child who needs even less time with mom, or is, perhaps, deserving of "chastisement" for being rebellious!
Discipline is the overarching theme within the GFI model. One must read the material oneself to gain a full appreciation for this assertion. What is worthy of discipline? For a GFI newborn, it's being "demanding," "manipulative," and "self-centered," which are dealt with through enforcing the "delayed gratification" and "self-discipline" of parent-controlled feedings and sleep time. For a baby five to fifteen months, it is committing a "highchair violation" (GFI term) like playing with food or banging on the tray at mealtime, sucking one's thumb, moving off of the assigned blanket during playtime, or not getting an "immediate and complete response" (PFTY, p.76) to a required answer or action from your baby." It is a shy child who does not respond to an adult (GKGW, p. 141). It is an eighteen-month-old who "steals" another child's toy. For those beyond two years, the "discipline" utilized is "biblical chastisement" (spanking).
Although the GFI model includes two lesser "levels" of reprimand, by the age of two chastisement s initially "used more than levels one or two. Parents should reserve levels one and two, the warnings and mild reprimands, for borderline cases that are less common" (GKGW, p. 196). There is, in fact, an entire chapter dedicated to promoting spanking as the first choice for discipline; both implicit and explicit is the contention that this is, without question, "God's Way." Other types of proven-effective discipline, such as "time outs" and natural consequences, are discredited as not being primary forms of godly discipline. The chastisement is to be carried out with a "biblical rod"; a "somewhat flexible, not stiff or unbending" instrument (GKGW, p.220). This has been described to me by GFI adherents as being a wide strip of rubber tubing, a thin razor strap, or a large glue stick.
This is another area where a misinterpretation of scripture provides a major construct for the GFI model. Chastisement is used exclusively to mean spanking in the GFI material; it is implied that this is God's primary use of the term as well. Ezzo states, "Our society calls it spanking; the Bible calls it chastisement. Chastisement means to inflict pain with controlled force on an individual to amend an inner attitude" (GKGW, p. 209) to support his interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 ("Train up a child in the way he should go and when he grows old he will not depart from it"). A study of the scriptures, however, reveals that there are 76 verses relating to chastisement from God. Those verses include chastisement to mean the following: instruct, correct with loving guidance, teach, counsel, write on your heart, exhort, encourage, warn, rebuke, and admonish, among other meanings. The GFI interpretation is, at the very least, limited.
What warrants chastisement? In general, whatever is considered to be rebellion by the parent. It can relate to not obeying correct "Christian Etiquette for Mealtime Behavior (GKGW, Appendix 4), such as "Do not lean on the table," not "eating what one is served," or throwing a plate of food across a room. It can be stealing a $25.00 toy from a store when you're nine years old, or "stealing" a toy away from another child when you're eighteen months old. It can be "whining." It is always warranted for saying "no" to your parent. It can be a major act of defiance or balking at mom picking your clothes out for you. Considering the lack of understanding of developmental issues in the GFI material, this presents a potentially dangerous situation. Particularly since there is no "grace," a child must obey first time, every time, "without challenge or complaint"; not to do so is disobedient rebellion. The stated perspective of "principle" in the GFI material becomes lost by the wayside in a myriad of do and don't directives (over 300 pages!) that allow the parent to consider any infraction of their rules to qualify as worthy of chastisement. Sadly, even need-based behaviors, such as thumbsucking (past the age of two), are redefined as disobedience.
What do others say about discipline? Whether it is Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, or Penelope Leach from the secular realm, or Dr. James Dobson, Dr. Ross Campbell, Dr. Paul Warren, Gary Smalley, or Dr. Bruce Narramore from the Christian perspective, the view is quite different from the Ezzo position. Dr. Campbell, for example, in How to Really Love Your Child, tells us that using corporal punishment as a principal means of behavioral control can be dangerous for some very important reasons. First of all, spanking alleviates healthy guilt. "Corporal punishment degrades, dehumanizes, and humiliates the child. As a result, a child may feel the beating is punishment enough in itself. If the corporal punishment is instituted with enough frequency and severity, there will not be sufficient guilt provocation to enable a child to develop an adequate conscience" (pp. 87-88). The second reason corporal punishment used excessively can be so damaging is what's called identification with the aggressor. This is a guilt-escaping mechanism in which the child identifies (sides with) the punishing parent, coming to the place where he feels the parent being aggressive and punitive is right. The Ezzos address this by stating, "If spanking teaches violence, how do you explain why children whose parents never spanked them are so violent?" (GKGW, p. 208). We're never told how they've come to such a conclusion or if they have any data supporting such a contention.
This again points to a consistent concern within the GFI model. The Ezzos build a strong case for spanking on some very faulty presuppositions, a distorted offering of the data, and misrepresentations. For example, they state that "there are no legitimate studies at this time to support [that spanking isn't a necessary and useful element of discipline]" (GKGW, p. 207). There is, in fact, an enormous body of literature on studies regarding corporal punishment and the consequences of authority figures role-modeling aggressive or punitive behavior; check into any database at any library. Along with this, once again, exaggeration is used to support their beliefs. No Christian child specialist would completely negate the use of spanking under certain circumstances, but in the GFI model, it is the primary, and exclusively "godly," tool of modifying a child's behavior. No one would even dispute that spanking often works, as the Ezzos assert, but godly discipline is supposed to be aimed at developing healthy, mature behaviors, not controlling behaviors out of fear. As can probably be guessed, children who are primarily spanked for punishment tend to lie more often and misbehave when they are away from the authority figures; they just learn to hide better! Rather than internalizing the correct behaviors that lead to self-control, the need to behave becomes based on external fear and avoidance of punishment. How tragic that so many Christians never move beyond this view of a demanding, capricious God who punishes if we don't "toe the line."
Dr. Bruce Narramore, in Help, I'm a Parent, presents a more balanced, and decidedly biblical, picture of toddler discipline that includes (1) not rewarding misbehavior, (2) rewarding good behavior, and (3) extinction (pp. 51-54). He believes that spanking is certainly a helpful tool in the discipline arsenal, but states that it does not solve the underlying problem and suggests spanking only under certain conditions (Chap. 8) Instead, Narramore, like most specialists, chooses to utilize logical and natural consequences as a more effective means of disciplining whenever possible.
"Chastisement" is of particular concern when considering child abuse, even though GFI claims that it is "emotional mothering [that] can set the stage for child abuse (PFP, p. 153)"; it is rather interesting that maternal emotions are assumed to be angry and abusive! It would seem more likely that abuse would occur in a home where the positive emotions that accompany attachment are minimized or denied, while obedience and parental power are magnified—particularly in light of the license GFI gives to parents to spank a child into submission at the parents' discretion. Most certainly, this does not include everyone using GFI, but one does not have to listen too long in the counseling office before hearing of children in this program who are spanked repeatedly even for minor infractions, sometimes close to the point of reportable child abuse.
The secrecy element of GFI chastisement raises an even higher red flag of concern. Although their website discussion page is only available to registered adherents to their program, confused GFI parents have contacted me regarding their growing worry over situations that appear on this GFI site. Due to confidentiality issues, I am unable to print these dialogues; let it suffice to say that many are heartwrenching descriptions of children being treated in cruel ways by those assigned by God to provide guidance and nurturance. If GFI has nothing to hide, why not make these discussions public? One can get the flavor of these concerns by reviewing the GKGW single parenting supplement, which advises parents not to chastise in public, to be careful about neighbors hearing children's cries in apartment buildings, and to instruct one's children to not tell anyone—even the child's other parent in a divorce situation—about occurring chastisement, due to potential "misunderstandings." In light of the current epidemic of child abuse, these injunctions are frightening. Built into this model is the assumption that all Christian parents are spiritually and emotionally mature, and can utilize this type of license in a godly manner. My experience in the counseling office and through evaluating research is that this is a tragic assumption to make. Unfortunately, being a Christian does not guarantee health, only forgiveness.
Issues of Internal Consistency and Integrity
Models of parenting contradictory to GFI are presented in a skewed, distorted, and highly pejorative manner.
This finding is consistent throughout the material. For example, the extreme permissive parenting model GFI presents as the alternative to their model would be dismissed by virtually all Christian parenting specialists as humanistic, radical, and unbiblical. The theorists GFI provides to build their case are the most liberal of the liberal. Names like Darwin, Freud, and Skinner are used, while secular theorists and researchers who provide data consistent with scripture are blatantly missing. The message is clear, one must accept one of two positions: That of GFI, or that of anti-God secular humanists. This message is another constant throughout the GFI program: GFI is good; all other parenting techniques, including those endorsed by well-respected Christian experts, are bad. If you choose to follow God, you will follow GFI.
A primary target of the GFI model is what is known as "attachment-type parenting," which they portray as the hallmark of permissive and ungodly parenting. For reasons unknown, GFI feels a need to discredit the concepts of attachment to such a degree that their presentation is profoundly skewed. They have, without question, redefined "attachment" in a way that is inconsistent with any other material found in the literature.
For example, an unsubstantiated statement in the GFI material (p. 54, PFP) claims that attachment theories "have a mystifying and drawing effect on deeply wounded people. Mothers, especially, who in their own lives suffered under the hands of abusive fathers, experienced emotional neglect in childhood, or lost a child to death are the most susceptible to the promises offered." In other words, apparently only emotionally disturbed people are drawn to emotionally bond with their babies! As often the case, research points to just the opposite: mothers who behave in unempathic ways towards their babies are often the products of poor mothering themselves (Ricks, 1985). Consistent with this are theoretical beliefs that the mother's capacity to attach and empathetically respond to her baby's needs are largely a result of having received this empathic attunement has an infant (Davis & Wallbridge, 1981). Often the mother who hardens her heart to her baby's cries and needs may unknowingly and unconsciously resent giving her child what she herself didn't receive (Searles, 1986).
Because of this GFI bias against the concept of attachment, relevant theories are completely misrepresented. Once again, only the extreme-of-the extreme concepts are presented, even in theoretical considerations. For example, Otto Rank and birth trauma-theory are explained and described in detail as the roots of attachment theory and are used to support the contention that, "To date, no one has ever demonstrated a relationship between the birthing experience and later neurosis" (PFP, p.59). The Ezzos are absolutely right, but it doesn't have much to do with attachment theory! Otto Rank is a minor player in any concept of attachment.
Although attachment theory has been studied for decades, names like Bowlby, Spitz, Harlow, Brazelton, Ainsworth, and Mahler, who are highly respected and undisputed pioneers in understanding attachment, are not even mentioned in the GFI material. Neither is the massive body of literature and research supporting the belief in an attachment style of parenting as valuable, even crucial, to healthy child development. Visiting any library (even the one in your church), one would be hard pressed to find even one author or specialist in any area of child development that will not give credibility to bonding and attachment. A recent review of one database alone (PsycInfo) revealed over 4,000 articles on attachment in various species, and over 1,700 on human attachment alone! This is a very disturbing finding when you consider that the GFI material tells parents, "Attachment parenting theories are faddish and not well-grounded on an impeccable body of empirical data" (p.59, PFP).
Confusing and ambiguous use of terminology
Consistent throughout the GFI material is a mixing of terms within one presentation, leaving the reader confused about what's actually being stated. For example, in the section on Bonding with Your Baby (PFP, p.167), sometimes the word "bonding" refers to a single act, and at other times seems to reflect the entire concept of parental bonding and attachment. One is just not sure of the definitions presented. Is "bonding" the overall concept of a mother/child relationship, or just the issue of mother/child interaction immediately after birth? One is asked to reject an entire overarching principle based on a presentation of a narrowly defined and often ridiculous example (e.g., Otto Rank's birth trauma theory).
Another, even more concerning area where this occurs is in the "flip flop" between discussions of newborns and young children. One parenting directive can be presented as pertaining to both in the same sentence; one often doesn't know what or to whom the material pertains.
The Ezzos present their material calling themselves "professionals" (PFP, p.60).
This seems to be misrepresentative of their levels of expertise. In terms of education, to date, all we are told about the Ezzos is that Gary has a "degree from Talbot Theological Seminary" and Anne Marie "has a background in pediatric nursing." When queried about concerns regarding their qualifications, Mr. Ezzo chose to not address the question, but rather stated, "(Again) who are the critics? What are their families like? Are they sought after by young parents as role models to be emulated?…We ask, qualified by whose standard? And surely, education does not make them credible nor does a certificate. We know plenty of lactation consultants who are in desperate need of parent education" ("Q & A with Gary Ezzo," by Kelly Griffith, Bradenton Herald, 1997). If the Ezzos choose to present their material from the point of their experience as parents, that is certainly acceptable; that, however, does not qualify them to label themselves as professionals.
Lack of supportive data and research.
Throughout their material, GFI makes sweeping statements and dictums regarding parenting and child development, but rarely includes supportive material from other sources. Even though a highly authoritative tone permeates their contentions, they are almost completely devoid of any research to back up claims (PFP contains a total of 23 references, most are related to the argument for GFI philosophical underpinnings. PFTY, GKGW and RMI cite no references, outside of a few scriptural proof-texts.
For example, their PDF model of parent-controlled scheduled feeding and sleeping is said to regulate metabolism (p.66, PFP), reduce the chance of colic (p. 68, PFP), and mature the "stimulus barrier" more quickly (p. 69, PFP)—while attachment parenting and demand feeding lead to neurological disorders (pp. 68-70, PFP), metabolic disorders (pp. 55-56, 70, PFP), and postpartum depression (p. 60 PFP). Absolutely no research or supportive data is cited to back up these claims. The GFI material presents the Ezzos as the sole source of knowledge, wisdom, and experience for their program; and although Gary Ezzo claims that GFI has a medical peer review board with "hundreds of pediatricians," he refuses to cite them, stating "these people are too busy to be bothered with trivia served up by the critics" ("Q & A," Kelly Griffith, 1997). Also, the proponents of GFI argue that, since the material is biblically based, citings from secular sources are unnecessary. However, in reviewing the material, it is inherently clear that the "biblical base" is almost exclusively proof-texts based on the Ezzos' own theology. I find this potentially dangerous for any area of inquiry, particularly one as important as child development and parenting.
Other aspects of this material that are confusing, and make it extremely difficult to analyze, are the double messages inherent in the presentation. There are often two opposing, mutually exclusive requirements of parenting behavior; what might be strongly stated on one page is refuted on another. It goes something like this:
A child must obey first time, every time/Don't be inflexible.
Four pages of do's and don'ts are given for correct table manners/Don't be legalistic.
Page after page of truly arbitrary controls is provided/You're building moral character.
Let your two-month-old cry for an hour; you can't allow her to control you/Teach your children about love and compassion.
Teach your children to be independent/A child must obey without challenge.
Exclusive adherence to the GFI model and actions demanded of parents through guilt and shame (the explicit and implicit message is that either one can follow the GFI way, or one can choose not to parent in the way God desires) stands in direct opposition to the statements giving permission for personal differences. Which message does the parent believe?
Another potential problem in these double messages is that they are used to support whatever argument necessary to answer criticisms of the overall model: "Yes, but, it says right here not to be legalistic," "Yes, but the book specifically says there's a difference between scriptural principles and applications," "Yes, but the book warns you to feed your baby if she's hungry," "Yes, I did chastise my child for crying when I left him in the church nursery, but he knows the routine; he was being willfully disobedient," "Yes, but it's people misusing the program, not the program itself."
This confusion is made possible by the by the enormous amount of detailed material (GKGW is 334 pages long) that often seems to contradict itself in different sections of the manual. I found myself thinking, "Didn't I read the opposite of that earlier?" but it is next to impossible to flip through page by page to figure out what was read when! This inconsistency not only produces confusion, but also allows for literal justification of both sides of often-mutually exclusive concepts; one can simply "prooftext" to justify either side. As in the scriptures, one must examine and understand the entire counsel of material, and the character of the author, to truly interpret the message.
"The Dangers of Permissive and Authoritarian Parents"
This is actually a quote off of the general GFI website. This was particularly puzzling since an examination of the GFI material puts it squarely in the camp of a strongly authoritarian parenting style according to the researcher who coined these terms, Dr. Diana Baumrind. In fact, its rigid alignment with an authoritarian model is the most clearly known and commented-on aspect of the GFI model by others who have reviewed it. As in other instances, GFI has taken a term coined and generally understood to mean one thing, and redefined it to their benefit. It is well known through research that authoritarian parenting is damaging to children, and tends to produce dependent children who can often play out compliant roles, but have difficulty initiating, asserting themselves, and feeling confident. They tend to be discontented, distrustful, self-centered, and often hostile. According to the Baumrind descriptions, authoritarian parenting is that of "old fashioned strictness" which follows a "traditional" viewpoint. In this style, "obedience is viewed as a virtue, and conflicts between child and parent are met with punishment and force. The child is expected to do what the parent says without argument. The children of Authoritarian parents are not given much freedom or independence." (The Child, p. 280). I invite you to read the GFI material for yourself and come to your own conclusions on these definitions.
Misrepresentations of Philosophical Positions
This is consistent theme throughout the GFI material. Positions that do not agree with the GFI are grossly distorted and maligned, as in the case of attachment parenting. An interesting aspect of GFI, however, is the contradiction inherent within their own model. For example, a great deal of time and energy is spent vilifying the "godless" concept of behaviorism, yet the GFI model is clearly based on distinctly behavioral presuppositions. There is an undeniable belief that imposing GFI parenting techniques will create a certain type of child, namely one who is compliant and obedient. No one can deny that the model will tend to do just that, at least initially and superficially; but for Christians it is an area of sinful pride that tells us we have ultimate control over our child's personality, free will choices, sinful nature, temperament and, most importantly, the unique work of the Holy Spirit in our child's life. It is not only sinful pride; it is behaviorism at its best.