“Growing Kids God’s Way”

Recently, I blogged about the “Baby Wise” book (so called). I have read all of the stories from the “Voices of Experience” page on the Ezzo.info website, and just sat there shaking my head while reading story after story from ex-BW moms. Most of the examples I will mention below will come from one or another of these stories, but I’m not going to go back and link to them all necessarily, because there are probably nearly 50 links (unfortunately some of them are broken), and that’s not the purpose of this post. “Baby Wise” is the secular version of Ezzo’s “Growing Kids God’s Way” [GKGW] which is supposedly based on the Bible. But is it? That will be what this post is about.

Before I get too deeply into Scripture, I will make some general comments about BW/GKGW and Gary Ezzo in a secular way. I’ve not read either BW nor any of the GKGW materials, so I will be going on the stories of the mothers who read and implemented them (or tried to). One of the problems with this sort of undertaking, is that the books will talk about being flexible, but will warn in ominous tones of the dangers of flexibility. This releases the author of culpability in any way — “Oh, your baby had failure to thrive from not nursing enough? Well, I did say to feed your child when hungry — you shouldn’t have followed my instructions to the letter! Your baby didn’t sleep through the night by 8 weeks? Well, you must not have followed my instructions well enough!”

The subtitle of the BW book says, “The natural way to get your baby to sleep through the night.” There are two ways at least to look at what the term “natural” means. 1) It is “natural” that if someone walks off the edge of a 30-foot cliff, that he will be hurt when he hits the bottom. 2) It is not “natural” for people to go walking off of cliffs! So, ignoring your child’s cries for hunger and comfort will “naturally” get him to sleep through the night, but only in the first sense of the word — that is, it is the natural consequence of an unnatural action. One mother said that she thought her baby was sleeping through the night; and then found out when her sister or friend stayed with her, that her baby did actually wake up and cried for a while — she just slept through it. Her friend woke up to the baby’s cries, but the mother never heard the baby. She admitted, looking back, that she must have been so inured to her child’s cries, that it never registered in her sleeping mind. I wonder how many other mothers falsely think that their babies are “good” babies who sleep through the night, when in reality they’re screaming and crying and not being heard. It is also not natural for a woman’s milk supply to drop to such low levels that she has to put the baby on formula because she’s not making enough milk; yet there was story after story after story of that exact scenario, usually when the mother artificially dropped the baby from five daily feedings to four, as prescribed by Gary Ezzo. Many of these women said that they just thought they were some of those women who just couldn’t make enough milk to feed their babies; although some of the women noted that they thought it was odd that they had had plenty of milk (some of them even had over-supply issues!) when their babies were little and/or they were demand-nursing, but lost it when they started schedule-feeding.

Several mothers said that BW/GKGW made them feel guilty about holding, nursing, and comforting their babies. One woman first read BW when her child was a couple of months old, and she was afraid that she had ruined her child for life for having nursed her sweet baby on demand, and held her a lot, and rocked her to sleep. Let me insert here that “guilt” in and of itself is not bad, and can often be good. A person should feel guilty for murdering someone, as an example. So, I do not condemn Gary Ezzo for making mothers feel guilty, per se, but I do blame him for making mothers feel guilty about normal, natural, and God-given actions. In the books, there are two types and only two types of children presented — a “Whiny Willie” who is given as the example of doing things any way other than “God’s way” [which is actually not, but more on that later!] and a “Compliant Cathy” who is an example of the perfection you should expect if you follow the program. Of course, who wants a whiny child? Who would not rather have a compliant and sweet child who is a joy to be around?

The problem, however, is that it is not as simple as that. It is not as cut-and-dried as ending up with a heavenly or a hellacious child, depending on whether you follow Ezzo’s program to a ‘T’ or whether you fail, or *gasp* if you’re one of those horribly permissive attachment parenting (AP) types whose children make their parents lives miserable.😉 One mother found out, much to her dismay, that AP children are not the holy terrors Gary Ezzo made them out to be, when she actually met some. [Ezzo warns specifically against La Leche League and other groups who tend to attract AP-type parents, so this woman had never been around any AP children that she knew of. Finally, when her oldest child was a toddler, she was at a gathering with at least one AP mom and her children.] This woman’s BW/GKGW child was a horribly disobedient child who only obeyed out of fear of punishment; but she noticed the AP mom’s children were actually very compliant and cheerful, and not only obeyed their mother quickly, but did so out of love for their mother, rather than simply out of fear of punishment. These AP children were what she wanted from her children, and what she expected to receive from BW/GKGW. But she didn’t. That is when the wool was pulled off of her eyes.

Many women reported that several times they would check on their crying children — but never more often than 15 minutes, which was the prescribed time dictated by Gary Ezzo — and found them lying in their own vomit/spit-up, with a leg wedged between the rails of the crib, or with their head trapped under the bumper pad. Since they treated all of the baby’s cries with cold indifference and unconcern (although many women would actually be sobbing as much as the babies, but the babies wouldn’t know that), or as the baby’s attempts at “manipulating” the parents, they had no idea how long the baby had actually had a real and verifiable need, whether it was just a few seconds or just a few seconds shy of 15 minutes. That’s not normal. (I remember something like this happening with my babies. Once, I had just laid him down and gotten into bed, when I heard him crying. My husband said, “Aw, just let him cry — he’ll be fine!” But I heard something in his cry that was not normal, not a “hey, I just woke up and am not happy about it!” cry. So, I checked on him, and sure enough, he had spit up, and his head was lying in milk-puke, and he was vainly struggling to get away from it [he was too young to roll over]. Because I knew his cries, I could tell that something was actually wrong, and was able to remedy the situation. I’m glad I didn’t ignore him.)

Other concerns, which are also found on the Ezzo.info site, include Biblical and Theological Issues (including twisting of Scripture), Character Concerns (including lies, plagiarism, and a lack of academic ethics, not to mention that they are estranged from their own children!), and Divisiveness (which some say tends towards cultishness). This is not to say that everything the Ezzos have ever said or done is evil and twisted and bad. There are undoubtedly some sound principles, and even perhaps some good motives. But as one mother said, “What is good [in the program] is not unique; and what is unique is not good.” Several parents testified that they felt like they had been brainwashed, and when they finally were able to get loose from BW/GKGW, they were so scarred that they pretty much threw the baby out with the bathwater.

Since I have not read the materials, I cannot say with certainty in what way Gary Ezzo and company have twisted Scripture; but I can tell you what I believe Scripture to teach in regards to child-rearing and more specifically, to infant upbringing. When Treasury Department employees are learning to identify counterfeit money, they do not sit around and look at all the various types of fake currency that people have manufactured. Instead, they become immersed in what authentic money is — how it feels, looks, smells, in all its various forms. This is what I hope the remainder of the post will be. Yet, I do not claim to have all wisdom and knowledge, so I urge you to do as the noble Bereans, and “search the Scripture” yourselves, to “see if these things be so.”

While I am fairly familiar with the Bible, having read it through entirely at least once, and probably have read through most books (especially the New Testament) many, many times, I wanted to do a more thorough search into what the Bible might have to say about children. So, I did a search through Strong’s Concordance for the following words: mother(s), father(s), child(ren) parent(s), infant(s), babe(s), nurse(s)(d)(-ing), wean(s)(-ed)(-ing). Again, I don’t claim perfection, and I may have skipped over some pertinent verses (particularly since some phrases are used so frequently that I barely skimmed through the historical books because terms such as “children of Israel” are so ubiquitous), but I did come up with some particularly interesting things.

First, though, there are some general Christian principles.

Matt. 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” This is, in short, the reason we do anything we do — to bring glory to God. Some of the former BW/GKGW users said that the program used to appeal to their pride — the subtle reason given for teaching the kids to be Ezzo babies and children is to reflect well on the parents, to give the parents pride, to have others say, “Your children are so well-behaved!”, etc. My children were not raised under the principles Ezzo espouses, except as he happened to intersect my previously held beliefs in some way, yet I frequently get compliments on my children’s behavior. Of course, since my children are far from perfect, I also get the “why doesn’t she control her kids?!” looks sometimes as well. And, yes, I greatly enjoy it when people say that my children are well-behaved; but that’s not why I do it. But this should not be the reason for instilling obedience into your children. Your children should obey because it is good for them to be obedient (perhaps somewhat in an abstract sense of the term — to recognize authority and yield to it, as being [Rom. 13] ordained from God; but also in a protective sense — not put small round objects in their mouths, or stick things into electrical outlets), but also to reflect glory back to God. Teaching your children to obey you and/or to act in a certain way out of your own selfish motives will, I think, ultimately backfire; and if not, then it seems to be like the hypocrites of Matt. 6:1-6, who do what they do to be seen of men. Jesus said of them, “I say unto you, they have their reward” — i.e., the praise of men, but not the praise of God.

In the more secular Baby Wise it’s flanked in terms of spoiling children; in GKGW, Ezzo gives this a theological or moral bent: women are told that their natural impulses to nurture, feed, comfort, and care for their babies are wrong. And that their babies’ natural cries (of hunger and loneliness, most of the time, in my opinion) are an attempt at manipulating parents into doing what the child wants. Instead, Ezzo dictates that children’s cries be ignored if the baby has been fed, burped, and has a dry diaper. He cannot conceive of any actual need the baby has, other than that. He thinks that children should not be made the “center of the family universe” (which I agree with), and that to ensure this, they should be forced into a specific regimen that the parents choose (which I heartily disagree with). Among the things he teaches, based on the testimonies of the above-mentioned ex-BW/GKGW moms, is that parents decide when the child sleeps, and the child should sleep for precisely that long. Numerous stories arose about the “45-minute monster”, which is when a child who “should” be sleeping for at least an hour and a half, according to the total non-expert Gary Ezzo, would awake after 45 minutes. The mothers were instructed to ignore the child until the full 90 minutes had elapsed (perhaps going in to check on them no more often than 15 minutes), because “the mother decides when the child should go to sleep, and the mother decides when the child should get up.” Also dictated are specific play times, and that the parents should have a specific “couch time” when they are sitting together on the couch ignoring the rest of the family, talking just to each other. I don’t necessarily disagree with the latter part within reason; but I also think that children can be welcomed into the family, without them becoming the center of the universe and displacing the parents and disrupting the marriage. I’m also a little confused as to why children ought to be forced into their little “time blocs” and specifically requiring a “one size fits all” sleeping and eating schedule. I think that the reason would be to teach children to be obedient, and to start when they’re young… I just think that that’s a load of hooey! The most scheduled infant will still need to be trained, corrected, and disciplined as he grows up to be obedient — it’s not as simple as “make your child scream himself to sleep for the first three months, and then you get to coast the next 18 years”! And as more than one mother discovered, “sleep-training” children does not necessarily mean that they’ll go to sleep quickly and easily when they’re older. [Just, fwiw, my nursed-on-demand, “let them sleep when they’re sleepy and be awake when they’re not” children get in bed within 10 minutes of me saying it’s time to go to bed — and that includes brushing teeth and reading a story. Sometimes, I’ve checked on them half an hour after they got into bed, to make sure their blankets were on them, and they were still awake — just so quiet that I thought they surely were asleep. Take that, Gary, Ezzo!]

But, back to whether “natural” is wrong… When God created the world, He made it “very good.” Man sinned, and the world was cursed. Much of what we see today (death, disease, etc.) is the result of the Fall, and is natural. Not everything “natural” is good, I will grant you. However, the world still bears marks, however fallen, of the original order and perfection; so just because something is natural, does not mean it is bad! Rather, we should look at what God’s Word says, to determine if something “natural” is bad (like lying) or good (like caring for your family). In doing my search, as well as in all of my previous Bible reading, I never noticed that parents’ normal care and affection was ever said to be a bad thing, especially in regards to their infants and young children. [Some parents may “love their children too much” to discipline them, and this is warned against (see the case of Eli and his sons); but it is usually if not always talking about an older or even an adult child, certainly not an infant! One thing that Ezzo seems to do, is to make everything an “all or nothing” case — there is no distinction made between nursing infants and teenagers, with equal measures of strictness advocated for children of all ages, and for all levels of error and disobedience.] In fact, the bulk of this post will be verses which show that the love, care, and protectiveness that mothers and fathers naturally have towards their children is good and God-given, while being unresponsive towards the cries of children is condemned.

Proverbs has many verses which mention father, mother, and children — for the most part it is injunctions to children to obey their parent’s teachings, honor their father and mother, etc. Discipline, correction and “chastening” are mentioned as tools that loving parents use in the upbringing of their children. For the most part, these do not seem to involve infants at all, although there would almost certainly be some gradual involvement of children as they age — much like teaching a child to read starting with the alphabet and then simple words and then harder words. At some point between birth and adolescence, the child will be trained, taught, and disciplined into right behavior, but these verses sound like they are directed towards an older child or even adult children, rather than infants. Certainly toddlers should be taught to obey; but there is nothing that seems to indicate that a six-month-old child should have his hands slapped for trying to touch food placed on his tray, nor be otherwise disciplined for turning his head away from the table — which is what Gary Ezzo teaches. Some correction is absolutely necessary, even at a young age — we can see the great benefit in teaching children not to run into the street, or to keep away from the hot stove, or not to run with scissors. But the correction should be age-appropriate, and also within relation to the “offense”. Many times, it could be words only. Sometimes physical discipline might be more appropriate. But all this is for the child’s benefit (to keep him within the safe parameters, so as not to be a danger to himself), not merely for the parents’ convenience, or even worse, so they can be lifted up with pride at how “perfect” their child is compared to others.

Also, the various passages on the qualifications of elder, deacon, and preacher indicate that the children of these men should be obedient… but somehow I don’t think that it means perfectly obedient; nor do I think it in any way indicates that a 4-month-old who cries to be held is being disobedient and manipulative and should be punished. Age-appropriate obedience, for one thing — if a man’s older children are rebellious or something, that may disqualify him as serving in that position. But not if his toddler does not instantly come to him every time he calls. In a similar way, the Jewish Law had a provision for rebellious and disobedient children. They were to be taken out and stoned. Obviously, this would be for extreme cases, and not merely for childish disobedience, as is evidenced not only by the severity of the punishment, but also that the “stubborn and rebellious” son was described as “a glutton, and a drunkard.” How many infants, toddlers, and pre-teens might be properly called drunks? This is not to say that younger children should be allowed to run wild! Certainly not! But the punishment should fit the crime; and allowances may be made for age-appropriate (mis)behavior.

Psalm 103 is one of the most glorious Psalms. It speaks of God as a gracious, loving and merciful God and Father. This Psalm to me completely blows away any inference that might be drawn by Ezzo or others that fathers are to be strict and inflexible. Certainly God is a God of justice and judgment; but He is also a God of mercy and grace. Verses 13-14 say, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” That God uses a father’s natural attitude and manner towards his children, as an example of His own dealings with frail humans, speaks volumes. Verse 10 says, “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” How different that is, from Ezzo’s warnings against every cry being a form of manipulation, and that natural childish behavior (touching whatever is within reach and turning to look at things while at the table) should be strictly punished! The Psalmist says that just as fathers love their children and treat them with pity and compassion, so God deals with humans; and just as humans are inferior to God in so many ways — we are so weak and ignorant, compared to Him! — even so children are inferior to their parents. Children are smaller and weaker than adults in physical frame; they are uninformed of so many things! But this should not incite ridicule and harshness, but compassion and tender love. Which is how God deals with us. In contemplating this point, it makes me wonder if Gary Ezzo knows anything of the love and mercy of God, since he seems to be so harsh and unyielding.

Matt. 7:9-11 and Luke 11:11-13 note that even your typical, normal, sinful man gives good things to his children: “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?” Jesus says, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” I think about babies who, under the auspices of Baby Wise and Growing Kids God’s Way are asking for things that they need (food, comfort, love), and their parents are denying them. I might reword this, “What mother is there of you, whom if her baby asks for milk, will she give him a pacifier? Or if he ask for some snuggle-time, will she put him in a crib?” This is not to say that every cry must be answered with nursing or snuggling — sometimes that is not what the child needs. But there were so many stories on that website, of babies who were crying, and crying, and crying, and only stopped crying when they were finally fed (either as a specific instance of one-time hunger, or as the child being constantly crying and whiny, and only became a happy child when the mother switched to formula). Some mothers didn’t realize their children were consistently and continually hungry until a well-baby visit showed that their child had either not gained (enough) weight, or had even lost weight. Some mothers reported that they ended up weaning entirely to formula (some more willing than others), and were dismayed (or at least disconcerted) that they felt no discomfort from engorgement, and wondered how little milk they actually might have been making, for them not to be able to notice when they were sure they weren’t making any!

In this same vein, the great “faith and works” passage of James 2:14-26 might be applicable. The Apostle tells his readers that if someone has a need (is hungry or needs clothes), and all you do is say, “Good luck with getting some food or clothing!” when you have the thing they need but refuse to give it to them, that’s not very helpful. When a person has a need, and you can fill it, you’re supposed to. “Faith without works is dead, being alone.” How much more might this apply to a hungry infant whose nursing mother turns him away from the breast, simply to stick to some schedule or program.

Isaiah 66:10-13 reads, “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her: That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory. For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” Drawing on the normal and natural and good “typical mother,” God tells the inhabitants of Jerusalem to rejoice, because the city will revive, and will become like a mother: providing sustenance to the inhabitants (her children), carrying her on her hip, played with on her knees, and comforted. Ezzo mocks AP mothers who carry their babies in slings, and calls them “marsupial moms.” I wonder what he would say about this example of a good and loving mother who carries her baby with her and plays with him? Ezzo says that babies should cry themselves to sleep, without maternal comfort. That idea is foreign to the Bible.

The context of Num. 11:11-12, is that the Israelites are in the wilderness, and are crying to Moses for food, and Moses asks God for help. Asking rhetorical questions, Moses says, “These aren’t my children, that I should have to provide their every need,” which certainly implies that fathers should provide for their child’s needs. What is interesting is that he mentions “a nursing father bear[ing] the sucking child”; the NASB renders it “as a nurse carries a nursing infant.” Hmm… I thought they were supposed to be left in the crib until it is convenient for the parents to tend to them…. [Yes, I’m being sarcastic.]

1 Thess 2:7 says, “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.” How is BW/GKGW “gentle” or “tender care”? 1 Thess 2:11 says, “As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children…” How does a father comfort his child by letting him scream himself into exhaustion?

Eph. 6:1-4 and Col.3:20-21 tell children to obey their parents, and, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged,” and “ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Included in at least two of the stories were children who were made very, very angry at their parents, by following the teaching of Gary Ezzo. Both of these children would react violently against their parents, if they told them to do anything, although the girl was generally affable to other adults. The other case, was a boy who was generally a hellion towards anybody. He was actually diagnosed with “Reactive Attachment Disorder,” which is generally only seen in institutionalized orphans who are merely fed and clothed, but are not given the personal care and attention children need to develop normally. That scares me! — that this program, followed strictly (and the mother followed it strictly, because she kept thinking that if she kept on with the severity and the punishments, that eventually something would “click” in the child, and he would become the perfect, obedient child the Ezzos promised to those who followed their teaching) — that this program produced a child with the emotional state of an abandoned orphan, is shocking and scary.

1 Pet. 2:2 says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby.” Again, using a normal occurrence from nature, the apostle points to the typical baby, and his appetites and desires for nursing and breastmilk, and how that this nourishment is what enables him to grow — using that analogy, the apostle says, this is how Christians are to be towards the Bible. But according to Gary Ezzo, children are to be given milk only at intervals that the parents determine, regardless of the child’s individual wants and needs. God, through the apostle Peter, seems to be saying exactly the opposite — that when it comes to a nursing infant (just as with a newborn Christian reading the Bible), “the more the merrier!” What preacher would caution a new convert against reading the Bible too much?! Most preachers, pastors, and teachers that I know would only love to have a “problem” of having a well-read church! So, if Peter can use the normal feeding habits of an infant to show that “infant Christians” should be frequently, consistently, and perhaps even constantly immersing themselves in the Word of God, how can Gary Ezzo say the opposite?

“…that ye may grow thereby.” Again, one of the significant problems with the BW/GKGW program that surfaced most frequently, was mothers who found that by following the program, their children stopped growing. One pediatric nurse recognized the signs of dehydration quickly, so turned to demand feeding before any more harm came to her child. Other mothers noticed that their previously fat children were getting skinny; some didn’t recognize the problem until a well-child visit showed that their child had lost weight, or had gained little or no weight when they should have gained several pounds. That many children don’t grow properly on the Ezzo program, in contradistinction to what the Bible points out as something taken for granted — that nursing infants will grow due to their mothers’ milk — is pretty good evidence that there is something wrong with the program.

Isaiah 49:15 says, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” Here again, God teaches a spiritual and a life lesson from something natural. In wanting to show how God remembers His people, He uses the example of a nursing mother: the epitome of an example in natural, human faithfulness, is a nursing mother. Any woman who has ever nursed a baby should instantly recognize this lesson. I can see two different ways this is true — 1) the natural hormone of oxytocin which is released in the mother while nursing is also a bonding hormone, and causes her to feel more and more “in love” with her child, and is therefore less likely to “forget” him and more like to have “compassion” on him; and 2) if the mother does not feed the child on time, her breasts feel suddenly very heavy as they fill with the milk that the child should be drinking, which is certainly a “wake-up call” to the mother that her child might be hungry if she happens not to be around to hear him. Even in this modern day of working mothers, this still holds true — and is perhaps even more evident! — as the woman who suddenly feels her milk come in (with no child in sight) will certainly be consumed with thoughts of her baby, as she pumps milk in the break-room to feed her child later. And should the mother be in a situation where she can’t pump, I would wager that her thoughts will be more and more centered on her absent baby and her full and aching breasts. Yet Ezzo tells women to forget their sucking child and not to have compassion on him — to ignore their child’s cries for food and comfort. Many women told stories of sitting outside their child’s door sobbing while the baby was “crying it out”. Even one mother who has bought into the Ezzo program hook, line, and sinker, and still promotes it, writes of how terribly difficult it is to make the baby cry and cry, and that if a mother is not 100% committed and intent on following CIO to the end, then she shouldn’t even start, because it will just confuse the child to have his cries answered sometimes and not others. There are women called “contact moms” in the BW/GKGW program — sort of like a La Leche League leader in reverse — for women who have questions and concerns while doing the program to get in contact with, so the experienced moms can encourage them to continue the program. It is precisely because it is so difficult for women to naturally carry out the program, that they need “contact moms” to encourage them to ignore their child. In both the book and through the “advice” of contact moms, women are given various tips on how better to ignore (forget) their sucking child, including going outside or taking a shower, so they couldn’t hear their babies’ cries. Yes, there are women who forget their nursing infants, and do not have compassion on the child they bore; but the fact is that these are rare and not normal, and certainly not Biblical. How Gary Ezzo squares these two diametrically opposed things is beyond me.

The first several verses of Lamentations 4 are interesting, in this line of thinking. The context is the prophet lamenting over his nation and his city which have been overthrown and laid waste — the people are devastated, and probably in the midst of a war-induced famine. In the NIV, v. 3-4 reads, ” Even jackals offer their breasts to nurse their young, but my people have become heartless like ostriches in the desert. Because of thirst the infant’s tongue sticks to the roof of its mouth; the children beg for bread, but no one gives it to them.” Heartless humans — defined as those who do not give food or drink to children who are begging for it — are counted as lower than jackals. Yet Gary Ezzo says that children who cry for nourishment earlier than the times their parents have decided they ought to eat — and I will reiterate, that many, many of these children were truly hungry or thirsty — Ezzo says that these children are merely manipulating their parents, and should be ignored. Of course, he pays lip-service to “feeding children when they’re hungry,” but it’s teaspoons of that versus cupfuls of warnings about messing up a child’s metabolism by feeding him more often than every 3 hours, or 2 and a half hours at the absolute earliest. One child was so dehydrated that catheterizing him four times got no urine, and the doctors and nurses struggled for nearly two hours trying to get an IV started without blowing the vein. They nearly had to call in a surgeon to put an IV in his head, but the last time they were going to try for a standard IV, they were successful. The mom asked if her baby was going to die, and they couldn’t answer her.

Hosea 11 also has some insights into the character of God as Father — even when Ephraim (i.e., the nation of Israel, as opposed to the nation of Judah) sinned against God, God still had compassion on them, even when they turned to idols and false gods. “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.”

I Cor. 13 — the great chapter in the Bible on love — also speaks about childish behavior: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” It is normal for children to act in a childish manner. Paul does not castigate himself for having acted childishly when he was a child; nor does he say his parents did wrong in allowing his childish behavior. Now, had he kept on acting childishly when he was an adult, then that would be cause for concern. But childish behavior in a child is acceptable. Certainly parents should take steps during their children’s early years to make sure that they are maturing, but at least one of Ezzo’s child-training principles is to physically punish a 6-month-old child for touching the food on his tray, and for turning his head from the table. One mother had a particularly harrowing tale of following this principle:

She was one of the many women who found that her milk supply was not adequate to feed her child on the Ezzo schedule, so she started her child on table food around 4 months old. Her child who had been nursing only a little bit (because of the strictness of the schedule, and perhaps some other issues, he was basically eating only enough to survive), took to table food quite well, and started eating a lot, and gaining weight. But despite the fact that her body had proven Gary Ezzo wrong as far as the scheduled “parent-directed feeding” went, she continued to listen to him and his advice on the “necessity” of children not grabbing the food that was placed on their tray, and on keeping their faces always turned towards the table. So she slapped his hands when he grabbed the food, and pinched or thumped his cheek (or something) when he turned away (perhaps merely to see what caused some noise in the room — not in “defiance of her parental authority that it was time to eat”). Before long, he lost interest in food and nursing — he became anorexic. Anorexia in an infant of perhaps 6-8 months old!! Food had been made into a battle, and he developed an aversion to it because of the punishment involved in it. Like Pavlov’s dogs who started salivating at the sound of a bell, because they associated it with getting to eat, this child drew back from all food because he associated the act of eating with having pain inflicted on him. Eventually the baby was put on a feeding tube because he would not eat. That doesn’t sound like “God’s way” to me at all!

Touching just briefly on “love” from 1 Cor. 13 — love is described, among other things, as patient, kind, long-suffering, selfless. The typical parents who are sucked into “Baby Wise” are usually hooked by the thought of their baby sleeping through the night by 6-8 weeks old. [Many parents have found that not to be the case, even when they precisely followed the principles. In fact, more than one mother reported that her child almost never slept through the night, even going on into two years of age at the time of them giving up the Ezzo program.] Sleeping through the night is not for their child’s benefit though — it is a selfish benefit for the parents! “Ahh,” the parents think, “if I do what this book says, I’ll be getting a full night’s sleep within 6-8 weeks after the baby is born, unlike those poor, unfortunate AP-type parents who won’t get a full night’s sleep for years!” [This also is not necessarily the case.] It’s selfish. But love is selfless — doing what is best for others, regardless of how it might impact you. Leaving a baby to cry for hours is not kind. It may fit one definition of “patient” or “long-suffering” in that it is a tremendous and difficult internal battle most mothers have at hearing their child wailing for them and forcing themselves to sit still and just wait — but that’s not what is truly under consideration here. A better picture of patience and long-suffering is the mother holding her colicky infant in the way the child is comfortable and can sleep, even if that position makes the mother uncomfortable and interferes with her sleep.

Ps. 131 is a short psalm, but I think it has tangential bearing on this topic. Verse 2 reads, “Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.” This certainly seems to imply that a still-nursing child does not “quiet himself,” but rather is quieted through nursing. Isn’t that interesting? Ezzo says that a nursing child should be taught (through crying himself to sleep) to quiet himself. The Bible says differently.

The book of Isaiah has numerous references to “children” — many of them referring to the nation of Israel as “God’s children.” Repeatedly, it is said that God treated Israel, His children, with great love and compassion and tender mercy (see also the Psalms, which are replete with such words and phrases), yet Israel repeatedly rebelled. One of Gary Ezzo’s seeming principles, is that parents can ensure morality and spirituality in their children through following his principles. While I agree that parents have that responsibility, I do not see that anyone can give certain assurance that it will happen. God’s dealing with national Israel of old seems to exemplify this; but I will paraphrase what one mother said, in giving her testimony of leaving the BW/GKGW program: If Adam and Eve, who were created perfect, and were placed in a perfect environment, and who had a perfect Father ended up sinning, how much more should it be obvious that parents cannot ensure perfection in their children!

7 Responses

  1. Wow, this is very interesting. I’m not sold on either AP or BW. It’s so hard to read so many different things and try to find the right fit. What I do know though is that when I worked as a wilderness instructor with troubled teens, my motivation for holding boundaries was love. Love is the most effective tool, and like you states so clearly, this Ezzo moron has missed the mark. There were staff that were so rigid and the kids “feared” them to obedience, but I could get kids to do things because they knew I believed in them and loved them. I was very strict at times, but because they knew I loved them, it didn’t come across as rigid. This goes for all ages. My son is only 16 months old and really doesn’t understand discipline. I’m sure I will come to you with questions as he grows:-). Thanks for this post.

  2. I have always been an AP parent for the most part, and the horror stories you mentioned nearly tore my soul in half. How utterly and completely awful. The story about the infant with anorexia especially made me feel just horrible. Do have any idea how he is doing now? I would hope that all of these parents who have now sworn off of BW, that their kids are okay now.
    My kids (age 3 and 1) have always been pretty obedient, though we’re still working on listening the first time mommy says something. And my kids are both so sweet and loving! My youngest is nearly 18 months, and no sign of weaning yet (though I’m sure there is almost nothing left to drink). My husband gets bugged by it, but if it keeps my baby as loving as he is right now, I’ll let him nurse until he wants to stop (I say that 5 years old is my hard limit😉 )

    • Here is the link to the infant anorexia story. The parents’ story was written when the child was 12 months old, and still on a feeding tube. Here is the excerpt from the end of the history (although not the end of the article — the father continued writing some general concerns about the Ezzos’ program):

      “Things continued like this until Matthew was nine-and-one-half months old. He was learning up through this time to supplement breastfeeding by taking formula from a cup, but again, ex-tremely small amounts of maybe an ounce or two. His spoon-fed and fingerfoods were, however, on the decline to the point where he would refuse to swallow the spoon-fed food we did get in, and wanted nothing to do with fingerfoods. Then, within a two-day period, Matthew stopped nursing altogether (apparently due to Michelle becoming pregnant, which changes breastmilk flavor). Over the next week he became increasingly dehydrated, with a fever above 103-104 de-grees. He would take perhaps eight ounces of formula over the whole day, and, still to his dis-like, we continued to spoon feed him until he would protest too loudly or stop swallowing. We felt we had no choice but to push the baby foods, as we were so concerned with his lack of for-mula intake. With his continued rapid decline in energy/health/weight, he was admitted to Chil-dren’s Hospital to begin naso-gastric (NG) tube feedings. He was released from the hospital after 4 days but has remained on the NG tube.

      “To say the least, these last months with him on the NG tube have been the hardest ever. There were times that he was throwing up so much we didn’t know if he would make it. How-ever, with the proper amounts of nourishment, his weight has begun to climb dramatically, along with his energy and disposition. At the beginning of the tube feedings, he was almost ten months old and weighed a mere fourteen pounds, eleven ounces. (If he had continued following the curve he set in his first couple of months, he would’ve been just shy of 20lbs at this point.) At twelve months, he showed significant progress, weighing in at a wonderful eighteen pounds (still off the charts, but getting closer). “

      From a later article:
      Today, at 20 months, Matthew is off the feeding tube, but has yet to gain weight. The Hsiehs have become activists, warning other parents of the dangers of Ezzo’s philosophies.

      • Thanks so much for providing that followup. I was a little surprised by how upset that article made me. I was never for the BW program before, but I am definitely going to recommend strongly against it now.

  3. This is a great article! I think it’s also important to note that Gary Ezzo and his wife Anne Marie relocated to Charleston, South Carolina several years ago moving across the country from where his duaghters live. They do not have a relationship with their 2 adult children. I think this says a lot regarding their parenting advice. I have no desire to follow the parenting advice of someone who has no relationship with their adult children!

  4. Until very recently I had never heard of the Baby Wise parenting method (and this coming from someone who has read every book about parenting I could find since age 12, which I suppose says something about its outcomes/recommendations in and of itself), but I was mortified that this man claims his teachings are from the Bible. As a Biblical Christian myself, a student of history and apologetics, this BW philosophy couldn’t be farther from it. In the Bible (and historically speaking of the time) weaning happened usually between 2-3 years. Babies slept with their mothers until they were weaned. Young children were seen as extensions of their mothers and their every need was indulged by their mothers, fathers, older siblings, or even extended family given the situation. Children usually began religious instruction around age 9, at which time they would be expected to have the discipline and self control to start following the Law, but they weren’t considered to be old enough/capable enough to be held accountable to the Law until they were 13. The best verse concerning how discipline should be applied is the one mentioned from Col 3 (provoke not your children to wrath). Discipline, physical, verbal, or other, should always be age appropriate to what the child can comprehend as punishment for an action, instead of the child being afraid of the parent hurting them or just angry that the parent is ‘frustrating’ their wants. Thanks for the good article, and its always nice to find someone (in person or not) who actually reads/respects the Bible!

  5. Ugh, I had a friend who when I had my first highly recommended Ezzo to me. She described the how and why and I just could not believe it. I had never heard of AP either back then, but it felt so so unnatural and counter intuitive.

    I suggest new parents to not set out with a particular plan to raise their children but to get to know them intimately by carrying them, sleeping with them, EC-ing them, nursing them on demand and all that. This deep knowledge will guide you when you run into behavioral issues. You will pick up on cues if you are present with them as soon as issues rise up and you will know what to do. Oftentimes new parents are so afraid to make mistakes when following their intuition that they tune it out altogether. It can’t possible be right, right?

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