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.