Stewart, Mark, Insight on the News
The authors of popular `Babywise' books for parents are under attack by child-rearing experts who find fault with their methods. But `Babywise' supporters claim such critics are less concerned about scientific than social issues -- another skirmish in the ongoing battle over eroding parental authority.
They started modestly, meeting in their home with parents who were members of their church. Word soon spread, and the couple began developing books and a video training series. Today, Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo are among the most recognizable names in the arena of child-raising. The Ezzos head a $4 million-a-year organization called Growing Families International, or GFI, which has ties to more than 6,000 churches and has reached more than 1.5 million parents.
The Ezzos are popular but also controversial. In their cornerstone books, Preparation for Parenting and On Becoming Babywise, the authors claim babies can be trained to sleep through the night by the age of 8 weeks. They espouse "parent-directed feeding" as opposed to demand feeding, even for infants as young as 2 weeks. They support spanking for children as young as 18 months.
While parents across the country swear by the Ezzos, respected child-raising experts such as William Sears decry their philosophies and methods. Sears, author of 26 books on parenting, calls the Ezzos' advice "malpractice."
Amid the rhetoric, there is an occasional voice of moderation. Focus on the Family, a nonprofit group headed by James Dobson, reviewed the Ezzos' materials and released a statement that stopped short of endorsing them -- but noted that parents who use the GFI curriculum should do so "only in conjunction with generous measures of common sense, intuition and natural parental affection."
Some supporters claim the controversy around the Ezzos stems from a larger culture battle over eroding parental authority. "I worry about the `me-ism' and the philosophy that a child can have when every cry is granted immediately," says Mindy Brouse of Ingram, Texas. "I was a teacher, and I know what that can do to children emotionally down the line."
Linda Meloy, a pediatrician in Richmond who teaches Preparation for Parenting courses, agrees -- to a point. "I think a lot of the vehemence comes from the fact that we [as a culture] don't like parents being parents," Meloy says.
"Many parents need permission to be parents. So in that regard, the material needs to be out there. But I don't want to come across as being totally for or against the Ezzos. I do advocate the program, but I bring a lot of other things in, too. I think there are very good fundamental principles, and I haven't been able to find such a good comprehensive course by anybody else for young parents."
The Ezzos say their purpose is to help prepare parents' minds. "The preparation of the mind is far more important than the preparation of the nursery," they write. "Your baby will not care if his head rests on designer sheets or Disney characters. His behavior will not be ordered by his wardrobe or bedroom accessories; it will be ordered by the worldview that dictates how you live your life."
That worldview, which the Ezzos say is based on the Bible, troubles a number of experts in the Christian community, including the Ezzos' former church, Grace Community in Sun Valley, Calif., where they developed much of GFI's material. The elders there …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Growing Controversy. Contributors: Stewart, Mark - Author. Magazine title: Insight on the News. Volume: 16. Issue: 11 Publication date: March 20, 2000. Page number: 28. © 1999 News World Communications, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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