Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Ezzo Reign of Terror

Before I continue with my story, I need to go ahead and give a more in depth description of what I encountered next. I call it The Ezzo Reign of Terror.

I didn't embark on parenthood with a lot of philosophies or systems under my belt. I didn't want them. All it really took me was a few nights, post c-section, of sitting up trying to nurse a newborn before I realized that it was the pits. So I pulled my baby in the bed next to me. She wanted to nurse. I wanted to sleep. It was a win-win for everybody. I didn't go around pushing co-sleeping and the family bed as a philosophy. It was just what worked for us. I thought that was what parenting was about.

I have never been a rigid parent by any means. It has never been my style. It isn't in my genetic code. Kid after kid blasted on to the scene and we just sort of muddled through. Parenthood was hard and I often felt I was in over my head but, by and large, I figured that's what parenthood was about.

Early in parenthood I read an article in a parenting magazine (a Christian parenting magazine, no less) where older, empty nest parents were asked what they would change about parenting if they were to do it all over again. The answers were things like "I'd say 'yes' more often" and "I would pick my fights" and "I wouldn't major on the minors." These all seems like sensible things to me. Don't sweat the small stuff. Leave room for growth and personal decision making. Don't get caught up in hyper-control. Sounded wise and reasonable enough to me.

Well, a few weeks after the birth of my third child, the entire family went to watch my husband play a softball game with our church's team. The game went long and my then 2.5 year-old, highly emotional toddler started to melt down. She wanted to go to the car and I wanted her to just sit in my lap on the ground until the game was over. She fussed a bit but I didn't give in to her whining. I was actually quite pleased with myself for being so calm so recently post-partum and standing my ground while being gentle with my daughter. James Dobson would have been proud. Then it happened. Another mom spoke.

"Ginny, have you heard about that new parenting class they are teaching at church? I think you should take it. You would find it really helpful."

I. Was. Crushed. The Ezzo Reign of Terror had begun.

For those of you fortunate enough to be totally oblivious to what I am talking about, let me illuminate you. Gary Ezzo was a dude out in California at John MacArthur's church who was a self-proclaimed parenting expert with no training whatsoever in medicine or psychology or child development but had, according to my husband, a PhD in self-righteousness. To be fair, his wife was, or had been, a nurse, striking horror in the hearts of responsible, reasonable RNs across the country.

Ezzo took it upon himself to write up an entire parenting curriculum for churches and named it the most presumptuous of names possible: "Growing Kids God's Way." Because Gary Ezzo apparently had his own hotline to the Almighty, I suppose. It sounds arrogant. It sounds crazy. But people ate. it. up.

Some of his advice was decent. Some of it was insane. But what was so very hideous about it all was the assumption that his way was the right way because it was God's way and he twisted and perverted scripture to back it up.

Back in the very early days of the internet my husband would go online at work and look up info on him. He came across a comment thread hundreds of comments long about high chair etiquette. I exploded. How dare this man shrink the Kingdom of God down to high chair etiquette!

It gained a foothold in our church. People raved about the classes. Others glanced disapprovingly at me nursing my baby when he fussed and they gushed about their sleep training schedules. Formerly free spirited toddlers were corralled and trained and stepped to the orders.

It took over entire churches. I had a friend at another church who was told that they didn't know if they wanted her baby in the nursery if she was not going to put him on the Ezzo schedule.

The overall effect that the Ezzo reign had was what you find in any sort of legalism. Those who could get with the program and do it right and found that it worked for their child grew arrogant and self-righteous and those who tried and failed crumbled in despair.

Being who I am, even with my very strong opinions and knowing in my head that this man's proclamations were bull shit, self-doubt took over. I was swimming upstream against an entire culture of "do this" and "don't do that" and chiding and chastising and I just didn't cope very well with that. Ezzo had reduced the most basic of loving, nurturing relationships into a factory assembly line of Robot Babies.  I hated the very arrogant presumptions of this man and his formula but felt powerless and worthless as a parent because, in the eyes of so many others, I was doing it wrong.

Thankfully, over times, Gary Ezzo and his kingdom met resistance. His infant baby training programs were called out by the American Academy of Pediatrics, among other organizations, for producing failure to thrive in a number of babies. His twisting of scripture was called out by theologians and Christian medical professionals across the country. He was excommunicated by a successive churches. His daughters, who he had supposedly grown God's way, broke off relationship with him.

Yet I still see his books out there. I know many who prefer to use his sleep training methods. He still has some influence. I will never tell people not to use his methods. Some may need the structure. What I will say is that it isn't for everyone and that, no matter what he says, there are no guarantees. Your baby is not a lab rat or Pavlov's dog. Your baby is a beautiful person, created in the image of God. There are no formulas. There are a million different ways to raise children and still be within the framework of a loving, God-honoring family. Gary Ezzo's way is not the magic bullet for the Perfect Christian Child. And do not ever, ever tell me that this way or that way is God's way.

But even though Gary Ezzo doesn't have a corner on the parenting market any more, the damage was done. The idea that there was a right way to raise kids was out there. It still is.


  1. Some how I totally missed this guy while I raising my kids... very thankful for that!

  2. I can only say that in my opinion, you're just as self-righteous in being so judgemental of Gary Ezzo as he is with his views. Other than the fact that you aren't affecting as many with your writing, God sees it the same. There is always a positive with every negative and you could try presenting your opinions as such. Every church, every pastor, every teacher, every writer, every book (excluding God's infallible Word) has good and bad. Because we live in a fallen world nothing is perfect. You take the good with the bad and you pray. A LOT. Pray for wisdom and discernment. And pray that your speech be without reproach.

    1. Amen to that, When our precious blogger used profanity she lost my interest Eph 4:29

  3. I'm praying right now for the best words to respond in love after reading the last comment. Having briefly gone through the "Ezzo" class at our church many years ago (and quitting simply because it made my stomach hurt) I can tell you that your words were right on target. If we, as women, as Christians, as Moms and wives, don't begin to stand up and speak loudly, we will lose the battle. God has given us an intuitive sense of His love and yet we are frequently trampled down by satan's attempt to silence us. Our families are more under attack from the righteous rules set by mankind than by any physical attack. The biggest struggle in parenting is losing our confidence to do what God has equipped us to do. We are so wrapped up in someone else's structure or rules that we lose our way. Keep speaking out Ginny. You've got my support and my love.

  4. While Mr. Ezzo was not perfect, a lot of his teaching was valuable and you can use your intellect to discern what to use. He emphasized respect, good character and morals, and raising children within a strong marriage relationship. We can certainly use more if that.

    1. He emphasizes dictatorial responses and a firm hand on children. Get a copy of his first books that had to be rewritten several times because of his teaching parents abusive tactics to use towards their children. Even though a Jehovahs Witness bible is only 10% inaccurate, I would never give it out to anyone. Same goes for all things Gary Ezzo.

  5. Gary Ezzo is a spawn of the devil himself and probably molested all the children in his path.

  6. I’m 35 and when I was about 8 or so my parents went through the growing kids gods way VHS with a church group for several weeks. My parents are adults-first always even with how they are grandparents with my 3 kids. I remember feeling like luggage as a kid. As a parent of 3 our sleep training and feeding experience was different for each child and I have my doubts about the universality of babywise especially what I know now about Ezzo. As far as parenting goes I feel like it’s important to encourage your children meaning to instill courage for the difficulties of life. Part of that is allowing a little push back within reason and allowing your little ones to have a voice. You can still enforce rules as a parent but you don’t have to shut your kids down in the process. If you want your kids to be little stepford kids that impress your friends with how well behaved they are then growing kids gods way is for you but if you want resilient kids with trust and openness with their parents I would avoid it. I remember my parents friends oohing and ahhhing over how polite, quiet and behaved I was but inside I was anxious and couldn’t relax as a kid often. Let kids be kids and try to understand them. Enforce your rules and explain why as much as possible. There is a way to parent and have authority without treating your kids like second class. I never had a chance to rebel or raise my voice ever for fear of being a bad kid. I rebelled in college and it took years to build courage to stand up for myself not just with my parents but I didn’t get any practice with confrontation, fighting or sharing my true feelings at home so I had to learn that from friends and life experiences later. My sheepish demeanor I learned at home carried into the real world. The overbearing and belittling parenting style felt like it stunted a lot of my development into adulthood. Yes I was a very good kid that made my parents life easy and it “worked” but at what cost? Yes we let our 5 year old talk back but we listen and explain why we are doing things our way and sometimes we compromise or sometimes we don’t but at least he knows he’s not voiceless. We’re trying to raise good adults and compliant weak sheep do not make good adults.