Gary and Ann Marie Ezzo, through their materials and organization, Growing Families International (GFI), have gained a wide following among many Christians. However, they are also incurring increasing criticism from sources both Christian and secular. The secular criticism focuses on their techniques of child-rearing, especially infant feeding; it also questions whether total control techniques are harmful or helpful to children. The Christian criticism is likewise concerned with the techniques, but it also focuses on the way in which GFI and the Ezzos infer that their particular way is God's way, and that these with a Biblical mind-set will do things the Ezzo way.
The Ezzos and GFI are going far beyond what is in the Bible -- there is no textual basis in Scripture for the Ezzos' primary and most controversial assertions about child care. Strangely, when confronted with this sort of thing in interviews, Gary Ezzo agrees! The Ezzos' use of Scripture is forced and frequently irrelevant. Look up their Scriptural references and one repeatedly finds a tenuous or no relationship to the matter at hand.
If one thing is clear from a theological perspective, it is that the Ezzos fail to establish themselves as worthy of belief regarding Biblical insights into child-rearing.
Main points in reaching this conclusion:
1. Gary and Ann Marie Ezzo are a pro-contraception couple. Their teaching on birth control methods is best described in a 1993 GFI book titled Birth By Design (hereafter BBD). It is authored by a group of seven women including Anne Marie Ezzo. One is a doctor, one is a midwife, and the others are nurses. The "Introduction" states: "Birth By Design is [a] philosophical and theological treatise addressing issues related to childbearing."
In Chapter 1, "History and Philosophy of Birth Practices," BBD states: "The Hebrew nation regarded children as a blessing, yet allowed certain methods of birth control" (p. 4). (No Biblical text is cited.) That's a grave misstatement. There is nothing in the Bible that allows certain methods of birth control. On the contrary, the only time there is any direct mention of birth control is in the Onan account (Gen. 38:6-10), and Onan is killed directly by God for his use of withdrawal, an unnatural form of birth control.
2. Chapter 2 of BBD, "Changing Roles and Relationships," starts with a restatement of one of the Ezzos' recurring themes: "The greatest influence on one's children comes not from one's role as a father or mother but as a husband or wife. That basic Biblical truth has been forgotten and even rejected by parents today. The result is a society that is consumed with child-centeredness" (p. 13). (Emphasis added.) The authors answer to the "child-centeredness" problem is that "the husband needs to romance his wife and occasionally take her away from those things that so easily distract her" (p. 19). And what are these things? The next sentence makes it clear: the baby! Naturally, there are no Bible texts quoted to support getting away from your baby. That's just a non-Biblical belief that's very popular in a society that is adult-centered, not child-centered.
3. The program should be labeled "Growing Kids the Ezzos' Way." There is no Biblical evidence to support the inference that the Ezzos' "Let the baby cry-it-out" philosophy or any other distinguishing part of their program is "God's way" of rearing children (Preparation For Parenting, Chapter 9, "When Your Baby Cries"). Still, the Ezzos resort to a simply outrageous use of Scripture to try to support their cry-it-out philosophy. Because the common English translation of the Bible uses the word "cried," they dare to refer to Matthew 27:46 in this context. "Jesus cried out with a loud voice ... 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken Me?'." Amazingly, they use this text as justification for parents not to respond to their crying infants, noting that the Father did not respond to the cry of Jesus by taking Him off the cross. While admitting that Matthew 27:46 does not "prove" that parents should not respond to the cries of their children, the Ezzos still cite it as supporting their views.
In a radio interview by Rich Agozino with Gary Ezzo in July of 1993, Ezzo responded to a question concerning whether his parenting methods are found in Scripture:
"... God gives us principles in His Word. But apart from that, there are no exact how-to's, there is no blueprint to parent. There is nothing in Scripture that speaks about feeding babies. Whether you feed them on a routine, whether you feed them on a hyper-schedulist model, whether you feed 'em on a free feed, cry feed, or demand feeding -- there's nothing in Scripture about that. And, therefore, what you have is you have freedom from that point on."
Rebecca Prewett adds a footnote at this point: "Somehow, the Ezzos have failed to communicate this freedom to those followers of theirs to whom I have personally spoken." The point is this -- the Ezzos criticize demand nursing and advocate what they call "parent-directed feeding." However, the Ezzos admit that there is no basis in Scripture for either their criticism of demand nursing or their advocacy of parent-directed feeding (PDF).
4. The Ezzos' program claims to build a Biblical mind-set, but the term remains undefined (Preparation For Parenting, pp. 19-21). To a Christian, should not a "Biblical mind-set" mean thinking and acting with the mind and heart of the self-sacrificing Jesus Christ? One finds nothing of this nature in the Ezzos' total-control dogma, a dogma that caters instead to parental convenience. There is no question that responding to a baby's cries with comforting takes effort. Such response, however, is not part of the Ezzos' program -- unless you call checking in on a crying baby every 15 minutes "comforting."
Admittedly, applying Biblical principles about love in general to a specific area such as child care is fraught with difficulties. However, some things can be said. Babies have real needs beyond nutrition and diapering. Babies have real needs to be held, real needs to be in physical contact with their mothers. God endowed babies with only a few ways of communicating, and one of them is crying. The idea that responding to the cries of a baby by picking him up is somehow contrary to a "Biblical mind-set" simply boggles the imagination.
5. The entire program of detailed instructions about time between feedings (Preparation For Parenting, pp. 53-57), time spent in the playpen (pp. 175-178), and time spent sleeping (Chapter 8), is without basis in Scripture. If a couple chooses to follow such an unscientific program, they should not believe that there is a Biblical basis for it, because there is not.
6. The Ezzos denial of God-given instincts in human babies and adults is without any foundation in Scripture (Preparation For Parenting, pp. 22-23, 140). The Ezzos strangely deny that God has given instincts to human persons. This enables them to deny that a mother is following God-given instincts in wanting to pick up her crying baby. If there are no instincts, then it is not instinctual for a baby to root and suckle when it is hungry, or to cry if it has some need to which a parent ought to attend. Such denial of instincts puts the Ezzos in a world of their own. To the extent that they give the impression that the denial of instincts is somehow part of a Biblical mind-set, they also bring discredit upon the Bible and the Christian faith.
7. The Ezzos' program sets up an imaginary conflict between baby and parents from Day One. In the Ezzos view, the crying baby is not carrying out a God-given instinct for getting needed attention, but is somehow seeking to control the parents. Therefore, the parents must respond by making sure that they have total control of the baby's eating and sleeping patterns, and later, playing habits. It is easy to see how total-control parents can become frustrated by potty training; let us rejoice that GFI doesn't recommend using laxatives so parents can also be in total control of the baby's defecation pattern as some total-controllers recommended in the first decade of the 20th century. No Christian will deny that children need to be educated, trained, disciplined, and discipled. At the same time, the Ezzos' hypothesis of baby-parent control conflict finds no support in Scripture.
8. The Ezzos give the distinct impression of having prior conclusions and then looking for some Biblical quotes to attempt to justify them. Also, while sometimes starting with premises with which all Christians would agree, they have a habit of drawing conclusions that do not flow from the premises. For example, from the premise that God is the God of order, they attempt to justify baby-care schedules arranged for parental convenience. Yet when pressed, they state that the Bible is silent on such matters.
The bottom line is that parents who choose to let their babies cry-it-out and to put their babies on strict feeding and sleeping schedules should not try to rationalize such choices from the Bible. Such choices cannot be supported by Scripture or science.
* Excerpted and/or adapted from "Growing Families International: A Theological Critique," by John F. Kippley, The Couple to Couple League International, Inc.:1998.