A Critique of
Preparation For Parenting

PREPARATION FOR PARENTING
Bringing God's Order to Your Baby's Day
and Restful Sleep to Your Baby's Night
by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo
Fifth Edition; 7th Printing; Summer 1997
Copyright 1993, 1995

Introduction

"Preparation For Parenting" (PFP) is the starting point for the Ezzos' series on parenting. It is designed to prepare parents for the newborn infant experience. This theme is expressed on the manual cover by two subtitles: "Bringing God's Order to Your Baby's Day and Restful Sleep to Your Baby's Night" and "A Study in the Philosophy, Physiology, and Practice of Nurturing a Newborn."

The first three pages of the manual are filled with positive affirmations of the book's content by a variety of health care professionals from around the country. These positive credits introduce the reader to the decidedly clinical emphasis in the manual. Extensive material is provided on such subjects as nursing, crying, sleeping, etc. The book's three guiding premises as stated on page 11 are:

1. God is the God of order, not confusion. Routine and order are mutual allies of both baby and parent.

2. Parents serve their baby best when they are proactive, not reactive. Their response is to be rational, not emotional. They are to think first, then act.

3. For the sake of their baby and the rest of the family, parents should consider their baby a welcome member of the family, not the center of the family universe.

Points of Concern:

A. The series begins on page 19 with a disclaimer about the supposed lack of information regarding parenting in the Scriptures:

"Scripture has very few specific mandates for practical applications in the realm of parenting, especially, infant parenting. It provides the spiritual goals of parenting but not exact or specific how-to's. Therefore, parents guided by the Holy Spirit have the ultimate responsibility and duty to research the parenting philosophies available today. ... Review your parenting options, examine carefully all the alternative theories, observe the end product, and then decide which parenting stratagem is right for you, especially when it comes to infant nurturing." (Bold added.)

1. Such a disclaimer in the Introduction of a "parenting stratagem" serves only to discourage parents from the important and noble exercise of searching the Scriptures for themselves (Acts 17:11). Instead, Ezzo redirects parents from the Bible to "research the parenting philosophies available today." This will inevitably lead one away from the Bible and to psychological theories of parenting.

2. So-called "general information" in the Bible regarding the Christian life, sanctification, holiness, etc., when seriously and consistently applied to life's practical side will most definitely influence parenting in a direct and specific way.

3. Encouraging parents to "research the parenting philosophies available today" turns parents away from the Scriptures out to the world. Ezzo assumes that there are God-pleasing parenting principles out there in this godless world. This sounds like the psychologists' "All truth is God's truth" principle. The world will not be the source of the wisdom that godly parents want and need. That wisdom comes only from God, and Scripture invites us to pray to Him for wisdom when we don't have it (James 1:5).

4. Though Ezzo turns parents loose to search the "alternative theories" available today, he never mentions in the entire series God's plan for parenting instruction within the local church, as recorded in Titus 2:1-8. Within each individual Body of believers, the older women are to "admonish the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be ... homemakers." This divine plan guards against two dangers that are inherent in the Ezzo "stratagem":

a) The danger of immodesty with a male explaining at length to a mixed audience the details of female physiology, nursing, etc.

b) The danger of undermining the independence of individual Spirit-led local churches with an external, one-size-fits-all program.

B. Ezzo talks about the dangers of a "child-centered parenting" style. We are a little confused at his choice of terminology, in that many saved and unsaved parents today seem to be far more self-centered than child-centered. But whatever term is used, we can see, as the Ezzos point out, an obvious failure on the part of parents to train and discipline their children. To correct this trend, the Ezzos encourage parents to shift gears and become "parent-centered" in their approach. We agree that a good strong relationship between husband and wife is of great benefit to the family. However, we fear that the parent-centered approach that Ezzo imagines may not adequately prepare couples in the areas of maturity and self-denial when the various demands of children may threaten the couple's romantic preferences. Ezzo's practical suggestions on maintaining a close marriage (pp. 35-36) reveal an element of immaturity (daily couch time, weekly date nights, buying present for spouse if buying for child, etc.), as well as a somewhat privileged American middle class mind-set.

C. In connection with "couch time" (defined by Ezzo as the 10-15 minutes per day that a couple totally ignores their children in order to sit on the couch and talk about how their days went, thereby visibly showing the children that mother and dad come first and they are second), Ezzo writes:

"In this tangible way a child can see his mom and dad's love for one another, and thus feel secure. In addition, couch time provides a predictable forum for a couple to share their relational needs with each other" (p. 36).

1. The above quotation links love and the sharing of "relational" needs. This "you tell me your needs and I'll tell you mine" approach seems to have little in common with Biblical "agape" love -- a love that denies self to meet the need of another. Christ's love for the church illustrates this kind of love (Eph. 5:25-27).

2. In the same vein, Ezzo suggests that parents need time away from their children in order to build a strong marriage, and that the wife should serve her husband first, before the children, even down to the detail of who is served first at the dinner table. By putting the father first, it is asserted, the children will learn the proper balance of relationships, and the mother will be modeling servanthood. This may sound legitimate at first glance, but closer examination reveals many troubling possibilities. A GFI mother posed a sincere, hypothetical dilemma: young child is teething and miserable, mother is trying to cook dinner, father comes home hungry. By the GFI interpretation, mother concludes that servanthood is best exemplified by setting child aside and making dinner for dad first. My question is this: who made the sacrifice in being the servant? [child] What lesson did the child really learn? [dad is first place, I am second] Is this servanthood, or is this merely a hierarchical, pecking-order experience? It seems to me that true servanthood would better be modeled here if one or both parents attended to the child first, rather than attending merely to themselves. The Ezzos' interpretation of "modeling servanthood" is actually imposing it upon children rather than modeling it, without regard to age, readiness, or foundational teaching. In such a context, resentment may be the result rather than positive Christian learning. (Source: Lisa Marasco, "GROWING KIDS: Is it God's Way?")

3. The "predictable forum" of couch time seems far too inadequate to exemplify to children the depth of a self-denying, Christ-like love that should openly characterize the godly couple every moment of the day.

D. The details of nursing are directed (in the manual and in local study groups) to a male/female mixed audience.

1. The idea that men must be equally familiar with the mechanics of nursing is more an American phenomenon than a Biblical pattern.

2. Paul's letter to Titus (2:1-8) advises the older women to teach the younger women the details of their gender-specific responsibilities within marriage and the home. This Biblical pattern avoids the inappropriateness, immodesty, and embarrassment of a mixed audience setting.

E. Ezzo dedicates much of the PFP manual to the inter-related subjects of infant feeding, sleeping, and crying. He rejects so-called "attachment-parenting" and "demand-feeding" and encourages parents to take the "parent-directed" approach. This approach, according to Ezzo, is an approach of order. The fact that God is a God of order (1 Cor. 14:40) is used for support.

1. Ezzo admitted at the beginning of the manual that the how-to's in the manual were his own ideas. Yet he speaks quite critically of the ideas of others, particularly the ideas of foreign, primitive cultures. His American cultural bias is often evident. He speaks, for example, rather dramatically about the dangers of children sleeping with parents as a "passively abusive" method (p. 73). How will that advice fit in a foreign culture where there is no such thing as a crib or bed, and the entire family sleeps in the same room? The playpen is another example. It represents a significant prop in the Ezzo system (pp. 175-178). It provides a confined, safe spot for baby to sit while Mom gets other things done. Fine. But why would a playpen ever be necessary in a foreign culture where three or four generations live under one roof? While Mom worked on supper, Grandma might have a chance to spend time with baby. Certainly, that kind of adult/child interaction is more beneficial than the developmental advantages of drooling on the playpen rail!

2. Adherence to a strict sleep and feeding schedule may seem unnecessarily efficient to some mothers and can be potentially dangerous to the health of the baby. Parents must not assume that the newborn is capable of consistently adjusting to the Ezzo grand plan. Exceptions must be anticipated. Instead, it is the responsibility of the adult to make the adjustments, to show concern, sensitivity, and self-denial.

3. To illustrate to parents that they should not get in the habit of answering the baby's every cry, Ezzo uses the example of God, the Father. When Christ cried from the cross for His Father not to forsake Him, "Our Father's non-intervention to His Son's cry at that moment was the right response" (p. 142). To use this passage of Scripture (Matt. 27:46) to support his own "parenting stratagem," reveals that Ezzo is desperately grasping for Biblical support, and it undermines the uniqueness of the Calvary moment.

4. A true understanding of human depravity -- of our total inability to choose good over evil in the spiritual realm and our blindness to the things of God until He regenerates us -- will render almost ridiculous the argument that infant scheduling could offer any sort of answer to this human condition. The suggestion that we, as parents, can train the hearts of our children and bring about a condition of spiritual inertia and somehow take control of our children until God takes control is not only presuming upon the sovereignty of God, but presuming that we can somehow do that which only He has power to do -- change the heart of a child. (Source: Family Issues page; Rebecca Prewett Internet Web Site, 6/98.)

F. The "results" achieved by Ezzo-trained parents are spotty at best. One mother makes the following observations (Source: "Some Concerns About The Ezzo Method of Parenting," by Rebecca Prewett):

1. Within a year of hearing the Ezzos for the first time on the radio, I had learned of at least a dozen babies in Southern California that had been diagnosed "failure to thrive" as a result of their parents' implementation of the Ezzo method. At least one baby reportedly required hospitalization and was expected to live only hours, but survived. Another lost 25% of body weight within two weeks of birth. What bothered the professionals involved were the evasive answers they are being given by some of these parents as to how often the baby nursed, whether the baby was nursing at night, etc. Only when the parents realized how serious their babes' conditions were did they become completely forthright. A few offered the alarming information that they had been told in their "Prep" classes not to discuss their feeding methods with "outsiders." Further, they had been warned to expect opposition from medical professionals who had been trained in "humanistic" institutions. As a result, some professionals are now beginning to ask routinely if parents have taken any parenting classes or seminars; so far parents seem willing to admit if they have taken the "Prep" course. I am appalled that Gary and Anne Marie would appear to encourage parents to be evasive with their pediatricians and other health care providers. Whose best interests do the Ezzos have at heart -- theirs or the babies?

2. Other parents expressed concerns about divisiveness within families and churches. Some families had actually felt compelled to leave their churches because of constant criticism over their "refusal" to adopt the Ezzo Method. I learned of grandparents who were alarmed at how their grandchildren were being raised -- and were criticized strongly for voicing their feelings. In more than one church, GFI advocates clamored for the Sunday School teachers to be replaced by those who had taken the Ezzos' classes. Another church reportedly required attendance at GFI classes as a prerequisite for church leadership. Certainly these sort of actions are not insisted upon by the Ezzos; however, they are undeniably a "fruit" of their method.

3. A magazine publisher described the torrent of angry letters she received after publishing an article about breast-feeding voicing disagreement with what she had discreetly referred to as "a couple from California." She said that, in her years of publishing, she had never received such "unkind and insensitive" letters. Their very tone brought to her mind Luke 6:40 ("... but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher"). The letters, she wrote me, only served to convince her that this teaching was of more cause for concern than she had previously thought.

Biblical Discernment Ministries - 7/98

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