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Ezzo Parenting

by Jeri Carr

Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo, the founders of Growing Families International (GFI) and the authors of many books/parenting manuals such as Growing Kids God's Way, Preparation for Parenting, and On Becoming Babywise I & II, offer parenting advice that provides parents with a plan whereby they can control their baby's sleep and feeding habits from a very early age. This plan works with all babies (or so they say), and with their program both parents and babies will be more rested and content.

Sound too good to be true? Take a look and see for yourself...

The Ezzos' parenting philosophy as it pertains to infants centers around their belief that children should be fed on a parent-directed feeding schedule, or "PDF." They add to that the teaching that things should be done in a certain order; that order being feeding, waketime, and sleep. They ridicule those who "demand-feed" their babies--a term they define as feeding in response to a baby's cries (many mothers find this definition of "demand-feed" to be inaccurate, and prefer to feed their baby "on-cue"--when they show signs of hunger).

Feeding a baby when the parents say it's time rather than following their baby's cues can be dangerous for breastfed babies and have a negative impact on the breastfeeding relationship. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes babies should be fed on demand, and in their policy on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk they state, "Newborns should be nursed whenever they show signs of hunger, such as increased alertness or activity, mouthing, or rooting. Crying is a late indicator of hunger."

The Ezzos don't appear to be that concerned with the cries of a newborn, because, as long as parents follow their plan, then presumably all the baby's needs will have been met. A new mother who hears her baby cry may feel compelled to answer, but the Ezzos feel that responding with your emotions is wrong.

But is it wrong? When a mother follows her heart and responsively meets her baby's needs, it creates harmony and a feeling of rightness between a mother and child. A baby communicates that he has a need when he cries; a new mother has a mothering insinct that compels her to answer his cries, and thus through her loving response she fulfills two very real needs: 1) her inborn need to nurture and protect her baby and 2) her baby's need to be taken care of and to be near to her. A mother's body, too, encourages her to answer her baby's cries for often a mother's milk lets down in response to his cries, and the "mothering hormones," prolactin and oxytocin--hormones released while breastfeeding--promote the desire to nurture and protect.

Many of the Ezzos' teachings are in direct contrast to a style of parenting known as attachment parenting. They dislike attachment parenting so much, in fact, that they teach that attachment parenting is incompatible with Christianity while claiming that their way is the Biblical way (or "God's Way") and unsuccessfully try to back their claims up with proof texts from the Bible. More and more Christians are voicing their concerns about some of the Ezzos' teachings, and many believe that the Ezzos use faulty theology and even have cult-like tendencies.

Attachment parenting is a high-touch style of parenting which encourages parents to listen to their heart/instincts and to their baby's cues. In attachment parenting, one of the goals is to help the parent and child build a strong attachment with one another. From this secure, loving, trusting relationship a child will be able to grow into healthy independence as he becomes ready, or as Dr. Sears--the Christian man who coined the term "attachment parenting"--explains, "A child must go through a stage of healthy dependence in order to become securely independent later."

Attachment parenting advocates know of the importance of touch to an infant's well-being. Being close to his mommy helps him feel secure, helps mother and child bond to one another, and helps baby reach his potential. Also, when a mother responds to her baby's cues, her baby grows to trust her, and their sensitivity and attachment to one another is enhanced. These beliefs lead many parents who follow attachment parenting to wear their baby in a cloth carrier, share sleep as a family, nurse on cue, and respond promptly to their baby's cries.

As mentioned before, these beliefs differ greatly from what the Ezzos teach. For instance, the Ezzos warn parents that a baby can be held too much; advocates of attachment parenting encourage parents to hold their baby a lot--perhaps to wear their baby in a cloth carrier a few hours a day or even all day if possible. The Ezzos believe that structured "playpen time" is essential to proper development of babies, whereas, advocates of attachment parenting wouldn't necessarily see the need for a playpen and many would feel a baby's development is heightened when he is worn on his mommy's body where he can observe and participate in her daily activities.

Both attachment parenting and the Ezzos' "detachment" parenting agree that the way you parent your baby has long term effects, but each style of parenting draws dramatically different conclusions. Attachment parenting approaches parenting from an angle that stresses the need to follow your baby's cues--that he will be your teacher if you let him--and that his needs and desires are the same. Advocates of attachment parenting feel that this gives babies the best opportunity to reach their full potential and to become caring, loving adults. Conversely, the Ezzos feel that the parents should be in control. They think demand-feeding creates a fussy, demanding baby who will cause the parents sorrow and stress and will grow up to be a disgrace. Proponents of attachment parenting fear that babies parented in a detached-style of parenting will have trouble learning to trust and will grow up unable to relate well to other people.

Some parents express the belief that the Ezzos' program is fine if used with common sense. I feel, though, that following the Ezzos' teachings can cause parents to lose much of their sensitivity toward their children, and as a result they become blind to many of their children's needs. Also, the Ezzos seem to try to create guilt and fear in those parents who do not follow their program to the letter by saying that if you don't follow it correctly, then it won't work right and--far worse in some parent's eyes--that you are not doing it "God's way." This attitude pushes some parents to disregard common sense, and they take the program too far and endanger not only their relationship with their children and their child's mental well-being, but also their children's health.

Babies should be listened to and parented in a responsive manner. Babies are not inconveniences to be scheduled into our lives. They are precious gifts from God to be enjoyed and taken care of with an attitude of servanthood. When parents allow their baby to becomes an integral part of their life, they will be blessed a million times over.

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