The Faulty Theology of the Ezzos

I am a Christian parent. The self-giving, self-sacrificing life and teachings of Jesus Christ inspire my parenting choices. My beliefs motivated me to breastfeed both of my children and to practice attachment and gentle parenting. These parenting choices are not only good, but right. I can't imagine Jesus ignoring God's created order by using formula, spanking children, letting them cry without consolation or placing his own wants above their needs.

Yet, Christian parenting is often associated with practices that are at best indifferent, and at worst hostile to the needs of children. The most infamous parenting advice comes from Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo and the Growing Family International (GFI) organization. Their courses, Growing Kids God's Way and Preparation for Parenting are taught in many churches, and their Babywise publications are sold in bookstores. Others have expressed concern about how following the Ezzo regimen affects the physical and emotional development of children. This article briefly critiques Ezzo information, using theology and the virtues and values of a Christian lifestyle.

First, the fundamental problem is that God's Way of parenting is equated with adherence to a schedule and following a proscribed list of dos and don'ts. By implying that there is a morally right formula for perfect parenting, the Ezzos give moms and dads detailed instructions on what they may and may not do. If parents follow the instructions, they are doing a good job; if not, they are being too permissive, which will cause their children to be self-centered.

How does such an approach measure up theologically? A basic tenet of Christianity is that Jesus knows each of us better than we know ourselves. He extends his personal love and care based on what we need. Isn't that the definition of the perfect parent? Does this suggest that there is or should be a uniform, precise way to help our children mature into loving, caring and Godly people? We all know that parents and children are different blends of personalities and temperaments. What works for one family may not work for another.

The second concern is that children are treated as burdens that need to be managed, subjugated and controlled. Children are allowed to eat when it's OK with the parents. Children must sleep when the parents want them to. Catering to the convenience of parents rather than the real needs of the children and family, Ezzo parenting teaches that children are takers, and this taking must be controlled and limited. Is this how Christ understood children? Jesus accepted children as blessings, with much to teach us all. In three of the four Gospels, he tells us that the trustful dependence of children is necessary to enter the kingdom of God (see Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16). Children are blessings who need to be appreciated, loved and nurtured.

In addition, family life based on the virtues and values that Christians hold dear is cooperative, not competitive. Authentic Christian parenting focuses on the lavish giving of time, attention and love; not hoarding, protecting and rationing. Christianity and our own human experience teach us that the more we give of ourselves, the more we receive. Rather than view each other as competitors, families should work together to make sure the needs of all are met.

The third problem with Ezzo parenting is that it works against, rather than with, the wisdom of how God created the mother/baby relationship. This cannot be God's Way. One example is the Ezzo treatment of the breastfeeding relationship. God created breastfeeeding as the way to nourish and nurture his children. It is a choice that should be promoted, encouraged and supported by any church or organization that calls itself Christian. Formula was not created by God to improve the lives of his children. Formula-feeding was created by adults for the enrichment and convenience of adults. Except in extreme and exceptional cases, formula feeding offers no benefit to the child and is not in the child's best interest.

If breastfeeding is a choice with its basis in God's wisdom, then there is also the moral obligation to do what we reasonably can to make the nursing relationship work. The Parent Directed Feeding (PDF) approach and ignoring a baby's cries, both taught in GFI/Ezzo programs, put the nursing relationship at risk. There has been considerable concern with these practices
(see
http://www.bhip.com/features/ezzo.htm ). All of us who work in the field of lactation know that scheduling a baby's feedings, ignoring a crying child and imposing an artificial schedule of sleep undermine that breastfeeding relationship. I suspect that it is a rare Ezzo baby that exclusively nurses for at least the first six months and continues nursing for at least one year, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. How can parenting practices that undermine breastfeeding be in accord with God's wisdom?

As a Christian and mother, I find the Ezzo approach offensive. To use the Bible to rationalize parenting choices that are not in the best interests of the physical, psychological and emotional development of God's children is a distortion of scripture and contrary to the way a wise and all-loving God created us to be. I encourage all Christian parents to pray and carefully discern any parenting advice that contradicts the loving, self-giving example of Jesus Christ.

Mary P. Walker mpwalker@christianparent.com , is a nursing mother with two children. She holds a Masters Degree in Religious education and is a writer and breastfeeding advocate. Her book, The Christian Family's Guide to Breastfeeding will be available next year. Please visit her website at http://www.christianparent.com .

BREASTFEED

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