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A Review and Commentary of Preparation for Parenting
an infant management program developed by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo

by Heidi Bingham

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I have hesitated to write on this issue since so much has already been written and is available on the Web, much of it by people far more qualified than I to evaluate the materials. However, after much study and prayer, I have become convinced that I need to add my voice to those who have expressed concern with this program.

 Preparation for Parenting (PFP), (subtitled: Bringing God's Order to Your Baby's Day and Restful Sleep to Your Baby's Night) is a step-by-step guide to parenting an infant through the first 5 months of his life. It is authored by Gary Ezzo and his wife Anne Marie, and is published by Growing Families International (GFI) of Chatsworth, California. This material is also offered as On Becoming Babywise, I. This is a nearly identical secular version of PFP, the main difference being the removal of all Scripture references and Biblical support. It is coauthored by Gary Ezzo and Dr. Robert Buckman. Although my comments on the use of Scripture in PFP will not be applicable to Babywise, my comments on the medical claims of PFP will be.

The Ezzos' purpose in writing the program is commendable. They wish to guide parents in caring for infants in a godly fashion. They encourage parents to make the baby a welcome member of the family and not the center of it. "Democratic parenting," they write, "the idea that reduces parents to an equal status with their children, was never God's intention. "(page 31)1 They speak out against child-centered parenting, a practice that caters to a child's every whim and teaches them they can get their way with their parents. I agree, and fully appreciate why the Ezzos felt it necessary to create this program. Unfortunately, in his attempt to avoid child-centered parenting, Mr. Ezzo errs in the opposite extreme. PFP is a parent-centered program that insists adults are more important than children and encourages parents to selfishly put their own desires ahead of their newborns. In doing so, they give out what appears to be sound medical advice, but is unsubstantiated by medical literature. They deliberately disparage other parenting styles, using the extremes to show how they fail rather than the norms which show their success. They justify their methods by covering themselves with Biblical arguments. These are frequently tenuous and occasionally even twist the Scripture to support their own opinions.

 It doesn't take long for Mr. Ezzo to misinterpret the Bible. In Chapter 1, "Your Baby Needs a Family," Mr. Ezzo discusses the creation account in Genesis 1 & 2. Mr. Ezzo finds it significant that when God declared that "it was very good" (Genesis 1:31), children were not present. He believes that since children were not present they are not necessary and treats them accordingly. From this one point, he develops four "Principles to Guide Your Family." These are (pages 30-32):

  1. By God's design, the husband-wife relationship is the first social relationship established in Scripture.
  2. Here, they correctly point out that the first 2 humans created were a husband and a wife. Other relationships, such as parent-child, sibling, etc., came later. The point?
  3. By God's design, the husband-wife relationship is primary in the network of dependent relationships.
  4. The husband-wife relationship is primary in that is was first, but that was covered under the first principle. Mr. Ezzo's point here seems to have more to do with the "dependency" than the "primacy." Mr. Ezzo points out the what God created on one day was dependent on what he created during the previous days. Mr. Ezzo believes this theory of dependency applies equally to relationships, therefore the relationships that came second are dependent on that which came first. I find this Biblical comparison to be a leap of logic. Also, I do not agree that the dependency is necessitated. If a mother is widowed during pregnancy, does the non-existance of the husband-wife relationship mean the relationship between mother and child is non-existant? Of course not, but that is the logical conclusion of such statements of dependency. The parent-child relationship does, in fact, exist outside of the husband-wife relationship. The husband-wife and parent-child relationships greatly affect one another, but to assert that one is dependent upon the other is a logical fallacy. It is also Biblically unsupported.
  5. The husband-wife relationship must be viewed as the priority relationship in the family.
  6. I have a real problem with this. Yes, the husband-wife relationship must be maintained, but nowhere in Scripture do I see any evidence that it is a "priority" relationship, somehow more important than other relationships. This type of reasoning sets up a false dichotomy in society, giving us excuse to designate "adult activities" and ignore children when it is not convenient for us. The prevailing emphasis throughout the Bible is on complete family units. As a matter of fact, the parent-child relationship, more specifically the father-child relationship, is repeatedly used as an analogy for the relationship we have to God. I think the Ezzos make a serious Biblical error in elevating the husband-wife relationship above others. This error drastically taints their entire program with an adult-centered view.
  7. Since marriage is the priority relationship, all other relationships must be subject to it.
  8. Here, Mr. Ezzo correctly asserts that parents have authority over their children, he also correctly defines authority as the God-given right to rule, but this does not come about because the parent-child relationship is subject to the marriage relationship. Parents do not have authority over their children because marriage is a priority relationship, but because God assigned that authority to the parents. This may seem like a minor point, but I believe a correct assessment of where the authority comes from is essential in applying Biblical principle to parenting and keeping our attitudes straight. When we understand that our authority comes from God, we get a sense of the immense responsibility that comes with it, as well as our accountability to God in carrying out our responsibilities. By asserting that parental authority comes from a supposedly primary relationship, Mr. Ezzo misses the context of the authority, centers it on human relationships instead of the origin of that authority, and creates a situation of power for the parents. This is apparent in the overly controlling methods he advocates in his materials.
I am astonished that Mr. Ezzo can draw these four "principles" (I use quote because I do not agree that they are Biblically sound principles) from the creation account and 4 words from Genesis 1:31. They are not consistent with the whole counsel of Scripture and come across as Mr. Ezzo looking for justification for his personal belief in the primacy and priority of marriage over other family relationships. The specific applications he draws include insisting on:
  1. A weekly date night ~ a night away from baby designed to strengthen the marriage relationship. No where in Scripture do we find even a hint that the presence of a child hinders the continued growth of a strong marriage. This is an idea embraced by our adult-centered society. The Bible teaches that children are a blessing and puts no conditions on it. It would be more consistent to believe that children bless the marriage relationship rather than interfere with it. Also, the weekly date night necessitates supplemental bottles in the routine of breastfed babies. I believe breastfeeding is God-ordained and should not be interrupted for anything less than emergency reasons. In my article, Breastfeeding by Design, I present a Biblical argument for breastfeeding without supplemental formula. Even if the bottle contains breastmilk, the basic supply/demand of breastfeeding is interrupted unless mom wants to take time away from her date to pump. This is not consistent with God's design. I am not against dates between spouses, but there's no reason a small baby can't come along. Save the babysitters for when the child is older and can understand his parent's absence and return and will not need to breastfeed while mom's away. This overemphasis on getting away as a must to maintaining the marital relationship comes from the secular view that children are a burden, not the Biblical view that children are a blessing and a reward (Psalm 127:3).
  2. Couch time ~ 15 minutes at the end of the day where mommy and daddy get to talk uninterrupted. It is to take place when the child is awake to demonstrate togetherness. Mr. Ezzo suggest the parents explain, "this is Mom and Dad's special time together. Dad will play with Ryan afterwards, but Mom comes first." (page 36). First, there is *no* Biblical reason to believe mom (or dad) comes before the family as a whole. Second, the Bible no where dictates such minute details of our lives as a 15 minute period of time after work. Although Mr. Ezzo includes this in his manual as a "suggestion," in practice it is an essential to the PFP program. Third, try explaining to a lonely 2 month old baby that "this is Mom and Dad's special time together" (remember this suggestion is in a book designed for parenting infants up to 5 months old). He just does not have the capacity or the ability to wait. That comes later in his development. The infant left alone is not a welcome member of the family, but a spectator observing the "all important" marriage relationship. Again, the insistence on setting children aside stems from the belief that children are a nuisance. This is society speaking, not God! The Bible teaches that "God sets the solitary in families." (Psalm 68:6). Some translations use "lonely." I think this, and the overall themes of Scripture treating families as units, carries much more weight than Mr. Ezzo's assertion that these 15 minutes will somehow provide the infant with a sense of security about his parents' love for one another and, at the same time, provide essential relational time for mom and dad.
Mr. Ezzo is incorrect in his assertion that the marriage relationship must take priority over the parent-child relationship. Although this concept attempts to establish parental authority, it skews the Biblical idea of the family and misses the context of proper parental authority. In this situation, children are not welcome members of the family, but appendages to the *important* relationship. It creates a false dichotomy of adult world vs. child world. Marriage primacy and the adult/child dichotomy is secular in origin. Family unity and an inclusive society is Biblical. Those who embrace the Biblical reality that children are blessings will not set them aside as unnecessary additions to be tended to when the important matters are concluded, but will include their children as part of the whole.

 By far the most distressing misuse of Scripture is Mr. Ezzo's justification for allowing children to "cry it out" (a common parenting practice of the last generation that is now being questioned by the medical community). Throughout PFP, Mr. Ezzo advocates teaching children to sleep, to wait for their next scheduled feeding, or to accept forced separation from the parents by allowing them to cry for what he believes are short periods of time. The short period of time is "5-45 minutes" (page 125), "15-20 or even 30 minutes" (page 133), "5 minutes or off and on as long as 1 hour" (page 134). He includes a footnote comment (endnote 9, page 216) stating that "a normal baby may cry as much as 3 hours total per day, with 5-45 minutes of on again and off again crying." While this is an accurate assessment, it results from studies of infant care methods similar to those outlined in PFP. Dr. Sears, a noted Christian pediatrician, believes this much crying is not necessary for a normal baby.2 Other studies show that prolonged crying raises a baby's heart rate, often to dangerous levels, and blood pressure while decreasing the oxygen content of his blood3 and even crying for a few minutes can cause a baby to become disorganized creating feeding difficulties.4

 Again, Mr. Ezzo turns to Scripture to support this medically refuted parenting practice. On page 142, he sites Matthew 27:46 saying, "Praise God that the Father did not intervene when His Son cried out on the cross." He uses the Father's nonintervention at this pivotal moment in history as an example for us to follow in parenting infants! I understand that Mr. Ezzo is taking a stance against parents who jump, often without thinking, at their children's every whim, and certainly we should all strive to mirror God's sacrificial love, but This unique and spectacular event in human history is not normative and to apply it to the crying of infants is just unacceptable!!! At the crucifixion, Jesus took all the sins of the world upon Himself. He literally became sin. God, being perfect and holy cannot look upon sin, therefore He was forced to turn away and not look upon His only Son. Grey Gunn, representing Focus on the Family, writes, "We see no way to make such an application of this verse without completely disregarding its original context and purpose." I agree completely. The crucifixion portrays a Sacrifice, not normal interaction between parent and child. There are numerous other Bible verses illustrating God's response to crying to which Mr. Ezzo could have turned for guidance. Let's consider some: 

  • And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them. Exodus 2:23-25 
  • Here, God hears and responds to the cries of his people
  • And Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh: and Moses cried unto the LORD because of the frogs which he had brought against Pharaoh. And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the villages, and out of the fields. Exodus 8:12-13
  • And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet Exodus 15:24-25
  • I find this verse particularly interesting. Mr. Ezzo contends that if a baby is hungry (or thirsty) at times other than designated by his routine, the parent must insist the baby wait until the next scheduled feeding. This is apparently to teach the infant to take a full feeding each time (the incorrect assumption that the last feeding was a snack and snacks are wrong) and to guide his hunger patterns into the routine. Offering the breast to quench baby's thirst is wrong, yet God provides water for his people when they cry to Him.
  • And when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. Judges 3:9
  • I cried unto the LORD with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.

  • I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me. Psalm 3:4-5

  • In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. Psalm 18:5-6
  • Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me.

  • They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the LORD, but he answered them not. Psalm 18:40-41
    Here, God does not answer cries, but whose? David's enemies, not God's own children.
  • LORD, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.

  • I cried to thee, O LORD; and unto the LORD I made supplication.
    Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me: LORD, be thou my helper.
    Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness;
    To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever. Psalm 30:7-8, 10-12
    This Psalm is interesting. David is troubled when God hides his face. His response? To cry out to the Lord. Should we not expect an infant to cry out when his parents hide their faces? And what then should be the response of the parents? God turns David's mourning into dancing. Should we not at least try to do the same for our children, assisting them with whatever it is they're struggling, whether it's falling asleep or separation for their parents? And if it's not possible, be their to support them with our love? Mr. Ezzo advocates non-intervention, allowing a child, an infant to remain alone to work through his troubles Himself. God intervenes!
  • This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. Psalm 34:6
  • I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue.

  • If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:
    But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer.
    Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me. Psalm 66:17-20
    Here, David puts a condition on God's hearing him, whether or not his heart it right. While this is an acceptable condition to place on older children (we do not want to give in to the selfish desires of our children), a newborn is not able to distinguish between needs, reasonable desires, and selfish desires. A parent must take time to train the child's understanding before he can refuse the child's plea for help. Many parents do not recognize how early a child begins to understand this, but Mr. Ezzo incorrectly applies this principle to newborns, turning away their pleas and not displaying the mercy which God shows to David
  • I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me.

  • In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. Psalm 77:1-2
    David cries to God but is not comforted. Although David feels abandoned by the Lord, He knows that God is there offering comfort. It is David's own lack, the refusal of his own soul, that turns away the comfort. No where in the Psalm does David imply that God chooses cast him out of His presence because of this refusal. Contrast this with Mr. Ezzo, "if the child is not comforted by the baby swing, an infant seat, siblings, or Grandma, consider the crib." (page 150) Infants in the newborn stage do not know someone they cannot see exists, so putting an infant who cannot be comforted into his crib is essentially putting him out of your presence. This is not a godly response to an infant in a particularly fussy time.
Here are some other verses you can look up:
  • Psalm 107:6, 13; 119:145-151; 120:1; 138:3; 142 
  • Matthew 20:34
Certainly, there are times when God's answers to our prayers is, "No," and for our own good. There are times when our troubles are so great that we feel abandoned by God, but we must keep in mind that God has promised, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." (Hebrews 13:5) As adults, we can understand that God is present despite our feelings. A newborn infant, left on his own to cry cannot find comfort in that sort of rational thought. There will be times when we must tell our children, "No." When deciding the course of our actions, we must keep in mind the developmental limitations of a newborn. Using the events of Christ's crucifixion to justify non-responsiveness to the cries of a newborn is a blatant misuse of Scripture. It appears that Mr. Ezzo has looked to Scripture to justify his own beliefs about parenting rather than honestly assessing how God truly responds to our cries.


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