It is 11:30 at night and your two month old baby just won’t sleep. You are tired and exhausted and wondering what you have done wrong and you type into Google “How do I get my baby on a schedule?” and land at http://www.gfi.org or you might ask around and hear someone whisper the advice to you “Try Babywise” or “Try Growing Kids God’s Way”. Do you give them a try? Having a schedule, peace in your home, well behaved children – and for the Christian – the promise this is all Bible based is seductive. If you think that you might have heard about them before you are probably right. They made the news because their strict scheduling of feeding was (allegedly) associated with malnourishment and even death in some babies whose mothers were obviously following the program a bit too closely.
What is Ezzo, Babywise and Growing Families International? Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo developed the Growing Kids God’s Way workshops and books and their more secular book Babywise was at one point a hot seller. I have know people who have really stood by the GKGW program and would rave endlessly about how great it was. One of my “rules for life is: “Always assume good intent”. Most parents want to be “good parents” and while what we feel constitutes a good parent is sometimes be very different we all want to do what is good for our children. I don’t think anyone would have the fortitude to stick with this program unless they really felt they were doing what was best for their children.
But there are some absolutely maddening things with this parenting method. I have seen the very typical “blame the parent” shtick in both the criticisms of the program and the response to criticism from supports of the program. Blame is laid at the parent’s feet more often than not. If the program doesn’t work for a couple it is because they didn’t try hard enough or follow the plan close enough. On the flip side if someone is describing the “strictness” of the program or faulting its practices it is always just a misreading – the parents are taking it too far and beyond the intent of the text. Maybe there is some Ezzo Sweet Spot where if you do it just so then it works perfectly? No, I am afraid this wagon is missing a couple wheels.
So, in fairness let’s look at the good things first:
Routine: Few and far between are the children who don’t do better on a schedule than off and for young children especially having a predictable schedule is a blessing to their lives. It provides them with a sense of security and predictability in a world that is very big and beyond their control. Routine is in fact very good for the whole family, the caveat to that of course being that the schedule must balance the needs of the whole family and work for the family as a whole.
Respect: To me this is a key concept, but I think I take a slightly different tack then the Ezzo’s do. Instilling children with a sense of respect for others, for authority, and for themselves is the base for successful relationships. While I am not convinced that the Ezzo style methods are going to achieve the goal of instilling respect in your children the goal is one I agree with. But respect as a concept, respecting yourself, respecting others and respecting virtue, is absolutely key to good parenting.
Obedience: Again, this is one of my key concepts, but… From what I have seen of the Ezzo material for older children obedience is the core of their parenting style. What scheduling is to the infant obedience is to the older children… basically everything. It colors everything. Obedience is very important to a happy child and peaceful family; it walks hand in hand with respect and discipline.
Values Parenting I am not sure exactly what to call this so I will stick with “values parenting”. It is (somewhat surprisingly to me) not universally agreed that parents should pass on their values and beliefs to their children. Some parenting philosophies feel that a parents shouldn’t “form” their children. Personally I find this rather bizarre and agree with the Ezzo idea that one of the most important things parents do is shape the values and beliefs of their children. In fact I would go so far as to say this is a universal fact of parenting, even among those circles that decry it as overwriting their child’s internal (natural, in-born) personality. If parent’s value “self-discovery” and teach their children to “discover” their own selves then they raise children for whom this is the norm, they shape children to believe this is the right way. The parent’s think the child is naturally a “self-explorer” while overlooking the fact that they raised their child to be just that. So at least let’s be honest and figure out what we are shooting for.
If you like your world view, your values, your faith and/or your culture then by all mean instill this into your children. It is your right and obligation as a parent to shape the person you are launching into the world. Every parent has the right to pass on their faith, culture, values and beliefs. Now I know the inevitable comeback to this is something along the lines of “what if parents are Nazis?” Fair enough, but I have to pull the oft quoted line from Jefferson’s “Note to Elementary School Act, 1817″ where he grapples with the line between paternal rights and the societies responsibility to guard the rights of the child. He says: ” It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible asportation and education of the infant against the will of the father”. Indeed I agree that it is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent passing on questionable and at time repugnant world views on to their children than it is to try to interfere with the parent’s right to indoctrinate their own children into their beliefs and traditions.
Strong marriages: I find it interesting to see how often the marriage relationship is overlooked when speaking about parenting. The Ezzo’s do not make this mistake and devote a goodly amount of material to the topic of healthy marriages.