Follow Up to Why I Won't Be "Growing My Kids God's Way"

What’s the Big Deal?

I have had more reads, shares, and responses to my last post (click here to read) than any other post I’ve written to date.  I was in awe of the response and felt it would be a good idea to explain why I think what I wrote is in fact a big deal and not to be dismissed easily.  What I think is at stake regarding the “Growing Kids Gods Way” program, at its core, is the issue of grace. 

The truth is that grace is a life-altering reality that is at the center of the Gospel.  It is through grace that we are truly set free and it is grace that exposes the futility of our own efforts to gain right standing with God. It is through grace that we are truly set free.

My Story of Grace

The majority of my Christian experience has been largely void of a practical understanding of God’s grace expressed through everyday life.  Although I genuinely followed Jesus from a very young age, giving Him my whole life, what I primarily learned through church and other Christian influences (including GKGW as a teenager) was a works-based, earning, “getting it right” version of Christianity.  Lived out this mentality has caused me to feel as though I have to get things right in order to be okay.  Under this mentality, if I mess up, I am not okay.    

In the past eight years, though, there have been two major waves of me growing in my understanding of grace.  Those two waves of further understanding have profoundly changed me and now hugely inform how I live in almost every aspect of my life.

I was twenty-three before I really began to understand what the Gospel was actually all about.  I had gone through my own crisis of faith as I realized that who I had become while working in full-time formal ministry was not who I wanted to be: I was lacking connection with God, and I was not loving people well.  In stepping out of full-time ministry at that time, I began to purely pursue God again…stripped down of performance and earning…but instead just really wanting to know Him.  It was in this season that I began to grasp for the first time how truly broken and sinful I actually was and how truly amazing Jesus is.  It was in this season that I gained an understanding of what it meant that Jesus was my Rescue.  That I couldn’t do anything to save myself…truly couldn’t do anything…but He can and did do it all.  My life was profoundly changed.  I began to see how necessary Jesus’ Rescue and Restoration was for my life and all the lives around me to ever truly experience life, peace, and wholeness.  I began to set aside the spiritual striving and ministry accomplishments that became standards for my life and began to replace them with Jesus…His Rescue, His Redemption, His Restoration of me and all things.  This new understanding of the Gospel was the doorway to my understanding the reality of grace. 

The second wave of understanding grace began when I married my husband four years later.  I’ve never met anyone else who loves and follows Jesus as fully as my husband does (to hear his story, click here).  Because he has dynamically experienced the grace of God, he has a vast ability to extend and explain grace. 

In our marriage and life, it has become apparent again and again in the past four years how much I still wrestle with the reality of grace versus the pull of works and earning.  He has helped me to see so many areas that I find myself trying to “get it right,” trying to gain approval, afraid of failure, and immobilized by anxiety over it all.  Not only that, but he has again and again patiently talked me through the reality of grace applied to those struggles.  Often, he has been a tangible expression to me of God’s grace lived out in everyday life.  My husband has led and is continually leading me into the reality of grace.  A reality where I no longer have to get everything right or earn approval to be okay or to be loved, but am set free in the incredible love of God through the total Rescue of Jesus.  I am slowly learning that I no longer have to get it all “right” or hold it all together.  I am learning how to live under the truth that Jesus is the one who holds all things together, including me. Jesus not only leads me into how to live in line with His design but He also forgives and heals me when I mess up and miss His design, so there is release of the fear of failure and there is now no need to perform. I am more and more at peace, and my soul is freer than ever because I am learning to live under this incredible reality of grace.

It is because I come out of a works-based, earning, “getting it right” culture of Christianity…but am conversely learning the everyday reality and expression of grace…that I am so passionate about exposing programs, habits, and expressions of any works-based version of Christianity.

In Summary

The destructiveness of the big picture of the GKGW program and the likely long-term results of perpetuating their overarching mentality must be exposed. I spoke not to be disparaging to parents working through their personal parenting philosophies, but to inform parents about the subtleties of that particular program and the likely outcome(s).

For those who have found pieces of both true and helpful information in the program while also being able to see the overall rule-based nature of the program, you have done amazingly!  That is what I hope all parents would do with any parenting program: evaluate what is both true and helpful while also weeding out what is broken, destructive, and/or not beneficial.   

However, not everyone has seen the flaws in this program.  I wrote for those parents who had not yet seen or did not know of the overarching reality of the program (law instead of grace), the likely long-term outcomes of parenting from such a place (performance-driven people pleasers), and the questionable character of the program’s founder. I wrote to expose these realities so that young parents and families who are genuinely seeking to follow God could be informed about this program claiming to be “God’s Way”.    

God’s “Way” is grace through Jesus.  There is a dynamic difference between living a life trying to keep the law and living a life under the reality of grace.  It is the difference between death and life.  It is the difference between bondage and freedom. 

Because of these differences, the GKGW program is not benign.  It is spiritual in nature.  Everything is.  Our call and our charge is to discern the spiritual reality behind what we follow, believe, and chose to do in life.  A program announcing itself as “God’s Way” for parenting, yet so grounded in a works-based (law) reality is incongruent.  Because I love Jesus, His grace, and young families, I feel compelled to expose those inconsistencies. 


Why I Won't Be "Growing My Kids God's Way"

Recently, I was at a dinner where the Growing Kids God’s Way program became a focal point of conversation.  Those present were for the most part in favor of the program, celebrating the “good kids” that came out of using the program.  I found myself battling a wave of anxiety as I worked hard to quiet my heart and not spew forth every single thing I felt and every opinion I have about the GKGW program.  I’ve found myself in similar conversations and situations over the years; however, this past one was the final straw for me.  I can no longer just sit quietly by, when something with such subtly destructive patterns is so applauded.

Having had my own experience when my parents used the program in my teenage years and later doing my own research on it as I became a mama, I have found that while the GKGW program is readily accepted in Christian circles, those using the program have little knowledge of the background of the program nor the likely long-term results of using the program.  So, today, I am taking a risky step in the “church world” by sharing what I feel, know and understand about the GKGW program. 

My core struggle with the program is that while it produces seemingly amazing results at the onset, the lifelong patterns established in the program are highly destructive to leading a grace-filled life.  Almost all my friends who use On Becoming Babywise, had babies who slept through the night early on as a result.  And I’ve heard numerous examples of how amazingly well behaved the children and “tweens” brought up under the GKGW program are.  I get why it’s so applauded when that’s what the seeming result is.  But that’s what’s most disturbing to me.  In the early years, you get really “good, nice” kids who do what you say.  Everyone around you is impressed.  However, it is highly likely that those “good, nice” kids will have lifelong expressions of a shut-down heart. 

The darkness present in this program is so subtle.  Those using it think they are doing something “God-honoring” but are instead most likely (but unknowingly) raising emotionally shut-down people pleasers who have little concept of God’s grace because what they’ve learned is that they must act right to get approval.  At its core, GKGW is a performance-driven parenting program.  Which, in the end, is anti-Gospel.  It is anti-Gospel, because the message of the Gospel is that we couldn’t do it all, we couldn’t get it right, we couldn’t even be right, we couldn’t save ourselves, we couldn’t try hard enough, we couldn't change our hearts...but that Jesus can…and that is why He came.  It is the difference between religion and Rescue.  It is the difference between legalism and grace. This is why I literally have anxiety in response to GKGW.  The difference is so subtle, so sneaky and yet so anti-everything that Jesus came to do for us. 

What I have discovered is that the leader of this program had a variety of issues in his own personal life, issues that, in my opinion, disqualify him from having credibility as a parenting guru.  I’ve listed links to some of my research at the end of the post, exposing concerns with the program and with Gary Ezzo himself (founder of GKGW).

While I have not read through the entire program, I did go through their teen program as a teenager (with my parents).  I also skimmed through On Becoming Babywise shortly after my first son was born.  My parents were also GKGW trainers for a while (but I don't know that either of them would advocate the program now). In addition, I’ve also had various conversations about pieces of the program with my fellow mama friends in recent years.  So, I have had my fair share of exposure. 

As a result of this background with the program, I have some major concerns with the program.  My first concern is with the rigidity of the program both for babies on the “babywise” schedule and for children being raised under the parenting program.  It is in this rigidity that I feel like the personhood of the child is lost.  When parenting practices are centered solely on the parent, we minimize the person that the baby/child is.  The goal of parenting should be neither parent-centered nor child-centered, but Jesus-centered and family-oriented. 

I also take issue with the focus on always having a happy heart.  It is my impression that to be “right” in this program, one must always have a happy heart.  The problem is that in enforcing that as the only “right” way to be, children will not learn how to navigate and process other emotions, resulting in simply stifling anything that is not a “happy heart.”  While we definitely should engage the Holy Spirit in working through our emotions and ask Jesus to expose what we need to know and transform our hearts when they are angry, rebellious, etc., we must not create an atmosphere of happiness as the only acceptable way to be.

Another thing that is unsettling to me is the idea that this program is “God’s Way.”  I really believe that there is a deceptiveness present in promoting this as “God’s way” to raise children.  While I am sure that there are words of truth in this program, GKGW misses so many aspects of God’s heart.  The focus of the program is on right behavior (law, legalism, religion), not on genuine heart transformation (grace, Gospel, Rescue).  Promoting this program as “God’s Way” to raise kids makes it even harder for Christians to see and expose the aspects of fault and falsehood in the program.

Lastly, I have major concerns over the program based on what I have learned over time about its founder Gary Ezzo.  The reality is that based on reports of his character, I could not follow him as a leader of parenting practices.  Not only does he not have any background or education in child development, medicine, education, or family studies (which he has lied about his credentials on a variety of occasions), he is also estranged from his adult children, and he has had tumultuous relationships with church leadership over him. These are not things I want my family to be characterized by, so it would be hard for me to follow someone else’s teaching with these outcomes in his life.

For those of you just now finding out these details as you read this post, I know there will be questions to wrestle through, parenting theories to process.  I do not know all the answers nor do I have the parenting solution, I just knew it was time to share what I know about GKGW and my concerns resulting from what I know.

For further information on the concerns I’ve expressed here, please read any/all of the following links:

To read about general concerns with On Becoming Babywise/GKGW, click here

To read more detailed medical concerns with On Becoming Babywise, click here.

To read a well-written summary of the long-term concerns with raising children under the GKGW program, click here

To read a detailed timeline of the Ezzo’s life, exposing various issues, click here

To read Christianity Today’s article (2000), expressing overall concerns with the program, click here