Thursday, August 19, 2010

Babywise: A Parent's Wish Come True or a Baby's Foe? Part 2, Problems Theological

Note: This is the second installment in a series which I plan to present as a Marriage and Family project for the seminary wives study program at Dallas Seminary. The topic is controversial, but in no way do I seek to attack or offend the well-meaning, loving parents who have followed Gary Ezzo's methods. Instead, it is Ezzo's methods and philosophy that I criticize.

I hope my readers will understand my need to use secondary sources. Were I sitting in an office, sipping a four dollar coffee, and getting paid to write, I most certainly would have been able to obtain primary sources; but, alas, I am "just" a writing teacher turned stay-at-home mom with a very limited budget.

In my last post, I requested that readers not post comments until I had completed the series.
After some thought, I will amend my request. I ask that comments be limited to the issues raised in this post only. I feel that it is important to finish my argument before other issues are raised by my readers. Thank you!

* * *

Though my readers may have expected this post to discuss milk production or failure-to-thrive, I begin with the theological problems behind Gary Ezzo's philosophy. Through hours of research, I've come to believe the theological dangers of Babywise, and other Ezzo materials, to be the most widespread yet subtle of the dangers. It is important for me to explain that, at least in this post, I will refer not just to Babywise but also to other materials from Ezzo's ministry, Growing Families International (GFI). Babywise is a secularized version of Preparation for Parenting that Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo wrote several years before Babywise was published. Though Babywise doesn't reference Scripture, its Christian perspective is obvious to Christians. The theological perspective of the Ezzos is implied in Babywise but is overt in the other materials. I believe Gary Ezzo's methods and philosophy are dangerous due to five theological errors.

The most serious theological concern I have with Gary Ezzo's methods and philosophy is that he asserts his preferences as biblical truth. It is wise to seek counsel from parents whose children we admire and from Christian authors. But all advice must be weighted carefully. Never can we equate someone's opinion or application of Scripture with Scripture itself. When an "expert" offers a specific method for raising children, we must tread carefully; for the Bible itself gives very few specifics in this area.

From 1984 or 1985 (I've been unable in my research to ascertain the exact date) until 1993, Gary Ezzo worked on the pastoral staff of Grace Community Church (GCC; Sun Valley, CA), pastored by John MacArthur. Gary and wife Anne Marie began their ministry, GFI, while at GCC and used the church as GFI's headquarters. Due to the long affiliation between GFI and GCC, after Ezzo's non-amicable departure from the church, GCC was compelled to clarify their position regarding Ezzo and his ministry. In their 1997 statement, the elders of GCC cite several concerns they had with Ezzo and GFI (that they had addressed with Ezzo before he left the church). The first concern was
confusion between biblical standards and matters of personal preference. The best known example of this is the GFI emphasis on infant feeding schedules, combined with GFI's zealous opposition to demand feeding by nursing mothers. Portraying scheduled feeding as the true biblical practice, GFI strongly implies that demand feeding should be regarded as an unbiblical, humanistic--even sinful--approach to caring for infants ("Statement Regarding Gary Ezzo," 1997).
A specific approach to breastfeeding is nowhere stated in Scripture. Even Ezzo has said, "There's no biblical issue governing feeding babies. It's an area of freedom" (Giles, 1993), but he wrote in Preparation for Parenting, "Working from a biblical mindset and practicing demand-feeding can never be harmonized since the two are incompatible philosophies" (Giles, 1993).

While certainly not every reader of Ezzo has accepted the idea that demand-feeding is unbiblical, some have, even women working for Campus Crusade for Christ: "When another mother among these fulltime Crusade staffers demand-feeds her children, 'she is lumped into a category of people who are of the world'" (Terner and Miller, 1998, 7). Ezzo has even asserted that "a practical routine similar to PCF [parent-controlled feeding--he now uses the term parent-directed feeding] was the method used in biblical times and most likely the method used by Mary, the mother of Jesus" (Ezzo, c. 1990-93, 45). Though not outrightly claiming in this statement that mothers are bound biblically to follow Mary's supposed feeding plan, appealing to Mary as an example does put the thought in one's head. While it is possible that Mary scheduled Jesus' feedings, we cannot know for sure. If PCF/PDF-type routines were used in biblical times, their use then does not mean they are the "right" way for all time. Certainly Ezzo would not assert that Christians today should follow the same diet Mary ate while nursing Jesus or that they wrap their babies in the same type of clothe used in her day.

What frightens me about Ezzo's equating of his
preference for scheduled feedings with biblical truth is that if a mother believes his assertion is correct, she will not follow medical or other sage advice to the contrary. For example, if a woman complained to her OB of a low milk supply and her doctor emphasized demand-feeding as a means of building her supply, she, as a conscientious Christian not wanting to disobey any "biblical teaching," would be compelled to ignore her physician's advice, thinking it sinful.

GCC's statement also identifies co-sleeping, babywearing, and rocking babies to sleep as topics on which Ezzo has asserted his preferences as biblical truth. No mandates on these topics are found in the Bible.

GCC is not the only Christian organization to note Ezzo's equation of preference with Bible truth. Focus on the Family, as a recognized source for many good Christian parenting ideas, has received numerous questions about Ezzo and GFI. In a letter sent to inquirers, Focus states,
The original title of the program, Growing Kids God's Way, has an unnecessarily exclusivistic sound about it, as if there were only one "correct" and godly way to raise children and that all other methods were "unbiblical." In contrast to this, Dr. Dobson believes that there are many different approaches to raising children that are both healthy and consistent with the teaching of Scripture" ("Focus on the Family Statement," 2004).
Truly, Dr. Dobson is correct. Because the Bible does not outline a specific method for raising children, a man has no basis for claiming that his way is the Bible's way. Leading people to believe something is sinful or convincing them that a particular method is taught in Scripture when the Bible is silent on such matters is deceptive and cannot be taken lightly.

Closely tied to the first theological danger of confusing preference with biblical teaching is my second theological concern with Ezzo's material, his misapplication or twisting of Scripture to "prove" a point. Focus states, "Speaking of Scripture, Christian leaders have questioned the Ezzos' use of biblical texts in their parenting materials, highlighting instances in which the authors seem to ignore the original context and purpose of Scripture in order to draw conclusions about their particular approach to parenting" ("Focus on the Family Statement, " 2004). A particular example of Ezzo's misuse of Scripture that I have come across again and again in my research regards Matthew 27: 46, Christ's cry on the cross: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (AV). Ezzo wrote, "Praise God that the Father did not intervene when His Son cried out on the cross . . . . If He had stopped the process there would be no redemption for us today. Our Heavenly Father's non-intervention to His Son's cry at that moment was the right response, bringing peace to all who trust in Him" (Ezzo, c. 1990-93, 122). Philip Ryken, former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, and now president of Wheaton College, calls Ezzo's use of this passage to justify his belief that mothers should not respond to every cry from their babies "sacrilege" (Ryken, 1998).
Even if the point Ezzo makes is valid, the misuse of Scripture to justify his point violates Paul's command to Timothy to "rightly [divide] the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15 AV).

By providing an explanation of Scripture that appears to support his teachings, some readers will become ensnared by Ezzo's philosophy and may not be able to discern for themselves which aspects to accept or reject. One woman admits, "It's been a while since I've had a devotional [reading of Scripture] because I don't feel I trust my discernment any more. Any interpretation I get I question whether I understand it right . . . [.] Instead of measuring against the Bible I'm measuring against [GFI]" (Terner and Miller, 1998, 5). Any organization that creates biblical confusion in one it is supposedly ministering to should be considered with caution.

A third danger with GFI materials is that they do not place proper emphasis on regeneration and the work of the Holy Spirit. Please do not misunderstand: Ezzo
does believe in and state the need for salvation. The Christian Research Institute's review of GFI found "that on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith the Ezzos' teaching is orthodox" (Terner and Miller, 1998, 1), but because of the little attention paid to salvation, the elders of GCC were concerned about
the weight of emphasis given to moral indoctrination, compared to the relatively meager stress on the child's need for a divinely-renewed heart. Parents are repeatedly told that the goal of parenting is to raise a "morally responsible child"; and that they can "restrain the natural corruption by instilling into the child the self-disciplines of life" (Preparation for Parenting [sic], p. 22). The impression is left with many parents that in training a well-mannered and morally innocent child, they have raised their child "God's way." . . . The truths of the gospel and the necessity of divine grace are by no means the essential heart of GFI's instruction to parents ("Statement Regarding Gary Ezzo, " 1997).
Certainly, we want our children to be well-mannered and submissive to parental authority. But the reason for teaching children to obey is that God commands obedience. The goal in moral instruction should be keeping the child's heart tender to submission to God's authority and acceptance of Christ as Savior. If a parent loses that focus, he may produce a well-behaved child who is not necessarily God's child.

CRI also noticed that
throughout their programs the Ezzos stress the responsibility of parents to instill in their children the moral fortitude necessary to live by Christian behavioral standards. Very little instruction is given on leading children into a saving relationship with Christ, where the Holy Spirit would become the guiding force of their moral development . . . . The Ezzos' focus is so strongly on what the parent must do to shape Christian character that when they do occasionally mention the role of God in the process, it comes across as an afterthought--unnecessary to their parenting philosophy but thrown in to maintain theological correctness (Terner and Miller, 1998, 4).
Ezzo presents a moralistic system. Yes, a parent may train a child to act in an outwardly moral fashion, but no good will come out of the child's heart without the work of the Holy Spirit. Emphasizing a legalistic approach over the need for regeneration and the Spirit's work is a grave error.

Though not as glaring a theological error as the previous three, my fourth theological concern is that Ezzo seems to ignore the biblical virtue of self-sacrifice. Ezzo makes his view clear that the child is not the center of the home (and I agree), but he seems so overly concerned with the child being controlled in order to fit in with the family routine that he does not consider the necessary self-sacrifice on the part of the parents. CRI quoted Ezzo as writing in
Preparation for Parenthood: "There will be times when you may need more flexibility [in the baby's routine] due to unusual circumstances . . . . Consider the context of each situation" (Ezzo, 1993, 120). But Terner and Miller note that "the examples of flexibility provided almost always relate to the convenience of the adults . . . not the needs of the infant" (Terner and Miller, 1998, 8). Surely, parents are not following biblical principles if they live in self-centeredness, for Phil 2:4 states, "Look not every man on his own things [concerns], but every man also on the things of others" (AV). Romans 15:1-3a instructs Christians: "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself" (AV). In striving to maintain a proper balance in the home, parents must remember that they are the strong. Their children have needs and concerns that only they can meet. Taking the Babywise approach to an extreme may result in the exact opposite of what God intends for the home.

The final theological aspect on which I take issue with Ezzo is that he, as a man, may be violating the biblical command of Titus 2:4. Paul tells Titus that the older women in the Church are to teach the younger ladies to, among other things, "love their children" (AV).
The Expositor's Bible Commentary states, "The training of the younger women is the duty, not of Titus, but the older women, qualified to do so by position and character [emphasis mine]" (Hiebert, 1981, 436). As a man who is not a medical professional, instructing women on breastfeeding appears to be a violation of this biblical teaching.

Due to the theological flaws of misrepresenting his own teachings as biblical mandates, the misapplication of biblical passages, the lack of stress on a child's salvation and the role of the Spirit in the child's life, the promotion of a potentially selfish parenting style, and the possible violation of Titus 2:4, I believe
Babywise and GFI have the potential to damage not only children but also their parents. Though not all of Ezzo's advice is theologically false or unsupported, much of what he teaches has the ability to lead readers into theological error themselves. However, Ezzo does not bear all of the blame if his readers are harmed. Christians have a responsibility to guard themselves against error as Paul reminded the Colossians: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (Col 2:8). Every parent must be discerning, carefully weighing what he reads against the truth of Scripture.


Ezzo, Gary. Preparation for Parenting. 3d ed. n. p.: c. 1990-93. Quoted on (accessed August 17, 2010).

Ezzo, Gary and Anne Marie. Preparation for Parenting: Bringing God's Order to Your Baby's Day and Restful Sleep to Your Baby's Night. 5th ed. Chatsworth: CA: Growing Families International, 1993). Quoted in Kathleen Terner and Elliot Miller. "More than a Parenting Ministry: The Cultic Characteristics of Growing Families International." Christian Research Journal (Spring 1998). Reprint. n. p.: n. d.

"Focus on the Family Statement on GFI Materials," September 7, 2004. Reprinted on (accessed August 17, 2010).

Giles, Thomas S. "The Brave New Baby," Christianity Today, August 19, 1993, n. p. Reprinted with permission on (accessed August 17, 2010).

Hiebert, D. Edmond. "Titus." In Ephesians through Philemon.Vol. 11, The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Ryken, Philip G. "Growing Kids the Ezzo Way." Part of the Window on the World series at Tenth Presbyterian Church, April 5, 1998. Philadelphia. /wow1998-04-05.htm (accessed August 17, 2010).

"A Statement Regarding Gary Ezzo and Growing Families International," October 16, 1997.
Reprinted on http:/ (accessed August 17, 2010).

Terner, Kathleen. "Unprepared to Teach Parenting?" Christianity, November 13, 2000. (accessed August 19, 2010).

Terner, Kathleen and Elliot Miller. "More than a Parenting Ministry: The Cultic Characteristics of Growing Families International." Christian Research Journal (Spring 1998). Reprint. n. p.: n. d.

"Timeline of Ezzo Controversy." Revised April 2007. /Timeline/timeline1.htm (accessed August 17, 2010).Align Left


Susan said...

Love it, love it, love it! In these last days we need to be so careful to weigh all things against scripture! And, God has given Moms incredible insight into the needs of their children... though often we feel unequipped; with much prayer the Lord promises to guide us! So many families are either totally child driven or force their children into their schedules. Motherhood is the best teacher for humility and showing where we are selfish. It is truly an eye opening humbling experience! My prayer is that God will continue to grant you the gift of discernment and allow you to use your wonderful gift as a writer to shine forth the truth! Ashley has a wonderful, loving Mom (and Dad!) Love you!

Margaret said...

Thank you for your insight, Heather. I too was introduced to Babywise in Pensacola, first in one of my Early Childhood Education classes, and then through several coworkers and friends when I was pregnant with my first child. As a working mom, I was desperate to find a way to get my daughter to sleep through the night so that I could function "normally." I have been a supporter of scheduled feedings every since because they did help my daughter sleep through the night at an early age. However, you raise some very good points.

I am ashamed to say that, like many Christians, I accepted Ezzo's teachings without question because his book had been suggested by my Christian college and by many godly mothers. And yet, I disregarded the concerns and suggestions of my own mother (who did not breastfeed her children, but implemented a demand-feeding style anyway) considering her methods outdated and somewhat humanistic. After reading your comments, I am amazed at how much my thinking was influenced by Ezzo's teachings!

I had never researched Ezzo's history or credentials. I am alarmed at how subtly his preferences have been embedded into my thinking. Even though scheduling helped my baby sleep through the night, I feel that I have actually been affected negatively as a mother. Unfortunately, it is hard for me now to accept a mother who chooses demand-feeding over scheduled-feeding. Also, I feel as if I've missed out on some of the joys of mothering that my own mom experienced (such as rocking baby to sleep, taking a nap with baby on chest, walking around holding baby throughout the day) because I was so concerned about "spoiling" my baby and making sure she learned to sleep on her own. Looking back, I feel that I was unconsciously turning off my maternal instincts in order to follow Ezzo's methods. Most importantly, I feel that I have been so focused on all the things I have to DO to raise my kids correctly that I have not been allowing the Holy Spirit to do the work in my children and myself.

I am sad to say that even though my children did start sleeping through the night early, I am not necessarily a better parent because of following Babywise. However, I think some of the blame also goes to our modern culture which puts so much pressure on mothers to work outside the home, as if the pressures of home life were not enough! It's no wonder so many mothers are drawn to Ezzo's methods for making baby fit into the family schedule and sleep through the night early.

But as you said, parenting is about self-sacrifice. Once you have children, your life is not your own anymore. I implemented Babywise with both my girls (more strictly with baby #1 because I was working at the time). Looking back, I see that many times in an attempt to avoid being child-centered, we actually became "parent-selfish."

Heather, your insights have once again brought to light the dangers of accepting anyone's teachings as law or doctrine. You have given me much food for thought. I will definitely pray for more discernment in my reading and studying. I look forward to reading you future findings. Wish we still had the chance to sit down for a neighborly chat over coffee. God bless you guys!

Anonymous said...

I disagree with your nitpicking. You are doing so much to tear someone apart. The basic idea of babywise (which Im sure you don't realize because you admit you have not read it due to lack of time demand feeding) the basic idea is not to have a schedule but to make sure Your child eats regularly throughout the day so that They may sleep well at night. As with all things, a baby must be taught to sleep at night. They are not born knowing. My baby was never hungry because I fed her regularly and She slept well at night. If She showed sights of being hungry early I fed her, but i made sure She took a full feeding not just a snack and adjusted when to feed her again, but if She hungry a little early, I fed her. She didn't tend to get hungry early as long as She took a full feeding at the last one because she git a good meal. I didn't mess up motherly instincts I gave her health. I didn't miss out on rocking her to sleep Sometimes or holding her, I did all that. But at night I put her in bed and She stays. She does not cry, she happily falls asleep. But crying is healthy. My baby is not perfect, when She is big enough We will have to begin discipline, but I am happy knowing that i have given her the gift of healthy sleeping habits and a loving mother. We play, and sing and She isk happy. Demand feeding misses out on giving your baby What they really need Sometimes. Crying isn't always hunger. Sometimes a cry just needs cried out too. The author may have gone overboard in trying to explain and backup, but the basic idea is very good sound advice. Besides that every Christian knows or should know that nurses know basically nothing more than an educated housewife and mother. And doctors and medical professionals go by "recent info" of the world studies who do not believe in God but science. And the world says let Your kid be the boss, the bible says children obey your parents. The bible says children can be spoiled, the world says They can't. I will follow the holy spirit and my motherly instinct, both of which tell me to take "medical professional" advice with my bible to balance it out. you spend so much time belittling something you never tried or read. Your advice seems to be taking statistics that nitpick and using it to back up your preference, demand feeding. So you are really no better than what you are criticizing.

Heather said...


Thank you for your opinion. I stated in my introduction that I did not read the entire book at the time I had my first child. I have indeed read the entire book and draw upon it extensively in Parts 3 and 4.

I would like to clarify that demand feeding is not feeding your baby at every cry. It is feeding your baby at hunger signals. One of my contentions with Mr. Ezzo is that he routinely misdefines demand feeding.

My purpose in writing this series was to alert parents to the subtle dangers of the PDF program, not to belittle anyone. The main purpose of my blog is to teach Christians to be discerning and not to take someone's word for it when they claim their teachings are "biblical." I believe Mr. Ezzo's teachings are, in many respects, unbiblical.

Thank you again for your comments.