8.26.2013

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

22 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing that...I've had several friends use this & it seemed like a genius program for getting babies on schedule but what you say about the "happy heart" & performing is soooo true. I hope the friends I have that have used this caught on & instilled grace instead of works.

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    1. Thanks for the response! I have many friends who have used or still use various parts of the program. And while I am sure that there are helpful pieces of truth in the program, the major underlying issues are so highly concerning that I just had to say something. I am hoping that you're friends have see those things, too.

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  2. It seems you are disagreeing specifically with some fundamental things in the GKGW program, but I think that you are on to something; something that can be applied even if you agree fully with the "program" whatever it may be. People tend to focus on the "steps" or "rules" in everything. If there appear to be no rules, we make some up. It is easier to follow the "letter of the law" than to follow the "spirit of the law". And so that is what we tend to do. Follow the "rules". Of course there must be some room for "following the rules" but it is all to often that we are far more concerned with how we ought to DO (letter) things than on what we ought to BE (spirit). I think following the rules disconnects us from our children, ourselves and our humanity. I think this is exactly what the "world" sees when they look in at the church and come away shouting "hypocrisy!". People trying to follow the "rules" so closely that they forget why it is they believe there are any rules that ought to be followed at all! The rules are not the point!!! YOU CANNOT GAIN A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD, YOUR CHILDREN, OR ANYONE ELSE BY FOLLOWING THE RULES!!! THE RULES ARE NOT THE POINT! They have a purpose, but they are not THE purpose. And when it comes to raising kids, (or just about anything else!) there are many ways to do it and there are many ways that are "right". Each parent would be far better off working on becoming a better human themself and working on really knowing, loving and giving grace to their children than trying to follow any "program" for raising "godly" children. And that is my soap box for the day! haha.
    Nice job stepping out and risking rejection with this post... While I agree, I am sure there are those who don't!!
    I miss you BTW... perhaps I will get it together and be better about keeping in touch!!

    -alexis

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    1. I wholeheartedly agree! Just trying to follow the rules is a very frustrating way to live, it is wrought with anxiety and in the end anger. Because we can't follow the rules (the law) perfectly! It is beyond us. But we can pursue transformation (the spirit) in Jesus to be a changed, to be better than we can make ourselves. It is in accepting this that we are free (grace) and can set other people free (including our own children).

      I miss you, too! Would love to hear what you're up to! Btw, thanks for taking time to respond (and "get") a controversial post!

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  3. It's funny, to me, that I have heard for years about both of these programs... and never knew until reading this post that they were written by the same people. I have a friend who buys every used copy of "babywise" she can (at goodwill etc) and then destroys it, so that no one will be corrupted by it:). I've read it, though never read the "christian" version, and I am nauseous to learn that God's heart for us has been attached to many of those concepts. That's not the Saviour I know and love.

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    1. Amazing, isn't it!...that the those two programs were written by the same people. The intermingling of such rigidity with the idea that it is God's way is so disturbing to me. To the point that I literally do wrestle anxiety when anyone brings up the GKGW program. And if it is that disturbing to me, I knew it was time to share with others what I know.

      Btw, totally laughed out loud about your friend destroying every used copy of Babywise she can find :)

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  4. I used babywise and it was good for my kids and my family. I did, however, modify it as I saw fit. But the idea of eat, wake time, sleep helped my kids to be far more content and to sleep better at night....
    IT IS NOT THE MATERIAL THAT CORRUPTS PEOPLE, it is how they receive it and what they do with it. MORE PEOPLE HAVE BEEN CORRUPTED BY THE BIBLE THAN BY BABIWISE (think crusades, bombing abortion clinics, "God hates fags" signs and just plain self righteous assholes that do nothing to further the kingdom of God), but I wouldn't reccommend burning all the Bibles you come across. That is the same kind of thinking that kept the Catholic church from translating the Bible into the common language for so many years. They didn't want the "common" people to misinterpret it.
    Everyone is on their own path to finding God, figuring out who they are, how to raise their children, how to love others and everything in between. The trouble comes in when people think that they have to be just like everyone else! That they have to ascribe to "baby wise" or GKGW or anything else! People need to come by their own convictions on how to raise children and the like HONESTLY. WRESTLE with it! Know your kids, see how this program or that affects them. And for God's sake DON'T JUST BLINDLY APPLY IT TO YOUR CHILD LIKE THEY ARE A LAB RAT TO SEE IF IT "WORKS"!! DON'T sacrifice relationship with your children, being real and honest with them and connected to them for some set of "do's" and "don'ts" that promises to make them "godly"!!

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    1. Alexis, I totally agree...it's what people do with material that becomes the danger. So, I wouldn't say that people have been corrupted *by* the Bible, but that many people have misused the Bible to justify terrible things (like all the things you mentioned). You're totally right, people ought to be given the right to see and discern what is in any material.

      One of my core struggles with GKGW is that it is presented as the "God's way" or the "right way." Over the years, I've watched many families ascribe to the whole program without using discernment between what is true and what is destructive. I would hope that all parents would do what you have done in response to GKGW (or any program): see what is true and helpful and release the rest. My hope in writing this post was to share what I know about this program so that others (specifically those unaware of some of the overall issues) would have more information with which to exercise their discernment in response to the program.

      You are so right on, too, in encouragement to everyone to wrestle with anything we incorporate into our parenting, to know your kids, to approach them as people, rather than just applying a program to them to see if it "works." We ought to approach parenting as a relationship, interacting with these people that we have been entrusted with.

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  6. Thanks for continuing in the conversation Katie! I am so glad that you have decided to share your thoughts on the GKGW program. I am sure it will give others something to consider when looking at this program as an option for their families. As I said before, I think you have hit on something in this post. Very insightful :) Next time you are in town, I would love to catch up! I think you may have just been here... but I'm sure you will be back!! Hope all is well with you! Congratulations on writing a book BTW!! That is awesome!!

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    1. Thanks for engaging in the conversation! That would be awesome to catch up! I was in town by myself briefly a few weeks ago to see my sister, but next time I'm back, I will make a point to connect with you and catch up! Oh and thanks about the book :)

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  7. And for the record, I wouldn't say that people have been corrupted "by" the Bible either, that was my point...neither is anyone "corrupted by babywise" (our corruption comes from within!Haha!). And in my opinion, destroying all the babywise books is about as rediculous as destroying all of the Bibles.

    I guess what I am trying to say in all of this is that I believe people tend to live "by the law" and THAT is the problem, not what parenting books we are (or are not) reading (that said, I really hope you don't hear me saying that I think your post is irrelevant. Quite to the contrary!) . In other words, we tend towards finding (or making up!!) rules to follow in order to make ourselves feel righteous or to effect change in our lives. I think we do this because because it is easier. Not easier in the sense that it is easy to follow all the "rules" perfectly but in the sense that we can simply point to all the things we DO do right and point to all the people that we "do" better than, and feel pretty good about ourselves....To make my point even finer, I think this tendency towards living life "by the rules" or "on the surface" as I like to call it, is amplified by established religion.The reason I think this is that as soon as a person thinks that they have found "The Truth" and "The Way", the temptation is to never wrestle with finding Truth anymore. We often settle into our cozy corner of christian faith (or whatever other faith we may ascribe to) and surround ourselves with people who agree with us. In our comfort we forget that Faith is not found, it is LIVED! Instead of continuing to wrestle, and work out our faith, we start devising plans to "save" the "lost" and writing curriculums on how people can begin to "grow THEIR kids God's way"!! Which, if you believe that some are saved, and some are lost, and you are the former and can help the latter, this DOES make some measure of sense. However, in my opinion, if you think you "found" Jesus and now you are all set to bring him to the world, without continuing to "find" Him every day for the rest of your life, you have missed it. Anyway... I realize that I am carrying on about something other than what your original post was about. I hope this is not annoying to you! haha! But these are just things that I have thinking a lot on lately, and your post, as well as some of the comments left by others, touched on them for me! Thanks for taking the time to write thought provoking blogs!! I am glad you took time to shed some light on the fact that if you apply this (or any) program without Grace and get caught in following the steps so you can make sure to grow your kids "god's Way" you will most likly be sacrificing their emotional stabillity in favor of "good behavior".

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    1. Alexis, I totally couldn't agree more! What you just described is one of my greatest struggles with the "Christian" culture in general...the sometimes blind trust of anything with a "Christian" label...the lack of wrestling with and testing everything. You described it so well and I couldn't agree more! Thanks for engaging over this whole issue with me!

      And I probably should not have made light of someone destroying Babywise books. I definitely think people should have the opportunity to think for themselves. I did not mean to encourage a burning of books mentality; rather, I identified with the passion that this friend of a friend, not seeing the greater issue of censorship. Thanks for pointing that out!!!


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  8. Good information and reasoning. I once heard a friend comment that they saw their children as a garden in which one must pull up every aberrant weed that pops up. They were on to their kids for every bad attitude or infringement. Besides the stress on the parent, I wonder what the long term effect of such an approach would be. Anxiety for the child? OCD? Resentment I'm sure. Besides sending the wrong message about rule based behavior as a way to gain approval, I think a critical sin finding parent will form a weaker bond with their child. In the end I think my child needs to know that I am for him, that I want to see him succeed and be happy. When I correct him it is because sin is a hindrance to his ultimate happiness, not because his happiness is irrelevant to the all-important rules. The last thing I would want is for him to see the Bible as an enemy of his heart desires, when it is the word that refines and directs them rightly. I cringe to think that parents are actually imposing emotions on their children, as if one is not allowed to feel grumpy or even defiant. Sounds like a recipe for a split personality to me, or at least emotional detachment. Thanks for bringing this program to the light, now I can shake things up at my church tea party too :-)

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    1. I love what you had to say. I, too, feel for children who grow up in homes where the rules become the end all reality. I love what you said about happiness, too, that we correct our children to lead them into happiness, not to stifle their happiness. Glad you have a little more info now to take with you to those church tea parties ;)

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  10. Thanks for this honest review. I have always wondered about this program or material, and felt very much the same as this - "the lifelong patterns established in the program are highly destructive to leading a grace-filled life".
    It's also enlightening to find out that this man who heads it all up doesn't even have a relationship with his adult children!!! Big, BIG concern right there! Thanks again, Hope (Australia)

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    1. Totally!! While it initially seems like a great program (kids tend to "obey" immediately), it is definitely valuable to research and learn the long-term outcomes! So glad that this was helpful!

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    1. Oh friend, I don't even know you and have so, so much compassion on you! There probably is a direct link between GKGW and the path your firstborn has gone on; however, I am absolutely certain that all of that is not beyond God's reach. Let's start praying now for totally redemption and restoration of your child to God's amazing grace and love. Just curious, have you opened this conversation with your firstborn? Have you confessed of what you just shared here to your now adult child? The first step back for your firstborn may be your open confession and repentance. Which you may have already done, and if so, I applaud you! I am praying with you for your child.

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  13. This is a thought provoking post. Reading this and several other critiques of the program as I was looking it up makes me think that my parents were particularly wise in how they applied it. My parents didn't use Babywise, but were exposed to GKGW when my brother and I were 6 and 8 (or 5 and 7), and we were quite unmanageable. My parents were adult converts and didn't really know how to raise kids, so when my dad read through the program and found it made sense to him, he and mom used it (though I suspect now they didn't strictly adhere to it all, from the comments on it) and our relationships improved drastically. However they were also always warm and affectionate, and listened to us well in conflict. They used the book's methods to establish boundaries, but still made it clear through it all that they did it because they loved us. The post makes me consider that perhaps they approached it in a rather healthy manner, and encourages me to read through it more critically, when I get a copy. I know it has good in it, because my brother and I are fully grown adults and we both appreciated the way our parents dealt with us, but I also see now that the "program" shouldn't be followed with the assumption that it's all healthy and good.

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