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Monday, February 04, 2008

How Gary Ezzo Made Me a Better Parent

It is 3:00 AM, and 4-week old Peter cries. It isn't a cry, exactly, but a fussy sound of a child who is hungry but not quite wide enough awake to communicate it. I consider rolling over and waiting till he wails, but then I remember Ezzo, and I make myself cheerful about sliding off my bed and picking up my precious baby. My baby is talking to me, and I have the privilege of being one of the people who gets to teach him that big people listen and understand when he communicates. I have the privilege of being the one God chose to make milk and feed it to him. And he, being exactly the way God made him, communicates well.

Anyone who is familiar with Babywise, or Ezzo's other writings, may be thinking, now, "But that isn't what Ezzo teaches!"

Exactly. It isn't. Ezzo teaches that babies need to be taught to conform to adult schedules, and that adults need to learn to view baby's cries not as communication but as a form of manipulation that must be squashed. And while many families have used Ezzo's techniques with results that cause envy among other adults (babies who sleep through the night and do not cry), many families have also suffered heartbreak and serious consequences from having followed these techniques. Babies have suffered documented ailments from failure to thrive to slow starvation. And these consequences are not merely anecdotal; the AAP has condemned forced scheduling. They have documented dehydration and failure to thrive as consequences of Ezzo's practices. Lactation consultants, child development experts, and child advocacy agencies have all recognized these consequences.

And if you look a little more deeply, a basic understanding of how children develop should show us that babies' development should be about far more than merely training them to adapt to adult convenience; rather, infancy and childhood are times when we adults are helping to form the cornerstone for our children's growth and gifts. A child who learns that when he cries, someone cares and helps, learns that he can communicate. A child who learns that his cries go ignored will learn that communication is futile. The fact that a child stops crying does not mean he is a "good" child, but one who has given up on trying to make that connection, because he knows that his attempt will not bear fruit. What is the outlook for such a child in his future relationships? What is his outlook for learning, for communicating?

Ezzo is right about one thing: we are raising our children for God. It is our duty to raise them in preparation for serving Him. But the real question is how do we do this? Do we raise them to serve Him by suppressing their strengths, their ability to communicate, and their sense of worth? Do we teach children that they matter because they are made in God's image by telling them that their needs are evil and manipulative? Or do we teach them to honor Him by helping them to cultivate all their gifts? Do we squash their personalities or mold them?

God made babies. He made them to cry when they have a need, so that we might know. Who are we to say that God made them wrong?

And now, when I hear my little baby cry, and I'm so tired my arms and legs ache like overstretched rubber, I will try very hard to remember that God knows best. I want my son to grow up knowing my love in no uncertain terms; maybe if I am not selfish, he will never be tempted to think that God, in whose image my son sees me, is selfish either.

Bless the beasts and the children. For in this world, they have no voice. They have no choice."