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Have You Decided to Use Materials from GFI?

Document created on 5/17/00, primarily for parents taking GFI classes. When this essay was submitted to GFI, I was told by Anne Marie that this essay was perfect for either Along the Way (newsletter to contact moms) or The Community Perspective (newsletter for GFI mailing list), but it was never printed by them. This essay appears as it was originally submitted to GFI.

Like many of you reading this article who have attended one or more of the classes offered by Growing Families International, I have been shocked and stunned by the level of controversy surrounding the materials GFI produces. Many of the principles have been taught in churches I have attended all my life and I just assumed that much of the controvery had to deal with issues that good people have differed over for generations (such as spanking). At times I have found myself thinking, "Well, I am not surprised that the world would find fault with some of the things I think are important as a Christian parent; after all, they don't have the same belief system or worldview that I have." But the controversy spreads far beyond just criticism from a worldy perspective. Is it possible to have materials such as the ones from GFI that can bless lives, turn hearts to God, rejuvenate family life, and bring restoration to splintered families? Absolutely! But, if we are to grow in our walk with the Lord, as Christians we need to be able to examine criticism that comes our way through the filter of God's Word and determine what, if any, issues we need to be willing to address in our own lives. It is my goal, with this essay, to provoke self-examination regarding some specific areas of criticism for the ministry of GFI in general, Preparation for Parenting (also Babywise), Preparation for the Toddler Years (also Babywise Book 2), and Growing Kids God's Way. It will be impossible for me to address every area, but I will attempt to address those I find the most serious.

One of the biggest criticisms of churches and people that use the GFI materials is the judgemental and divisive attitudes people exhibit toward others that have not made the same parenting choices or chosen to attend the classes. In Matthew 7:1-2 we read, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Some falsely assume this passage gives a blanket command not to judge at all. On the contrary, the caution deals more with the motive and manner of judging than the concept of making a judgement. If you continue in the context of the passage, Jesus continues in verses 3-5, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." We are commanded to be willing to bear other's burdens and help each other grow in Christ (Gal. 6:1-10), but we must be first willing to do self-examination before judging others. So, how about it? Are these things true of you?

  1. Do you find yourself comparing the behavior of your children to others' children with a sense of pride and self-accomplishment?
  2. Do you find yourself thinking things like "well they deserve to deal with that problem; they wouldn't listen to me."
  3. Do you find yourself thinking, "my child would NEVER do that!"
  4. Do you find yourself accepting the honor and glory for any achievement with regard to your child's behavior?
  5. Do you find yourself being more concerned with the faults of others and their children than the faults and weaknesses in your own family?
  6. Do you magnify the faults of others while minimizing or hiding your own?
  7. Do you say as the pharisee did in Luke 8:10, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men"?
  8. Do you elevate preference over principle in a spirit of pride and legalism?
  9. Do you find yourself worrying about the behavior of your children just because you are with another family that has taken or led a GKGW class?
Does this questioning process mean that you do not see the struggles of others and never seek to help or support them? NO! But there is a big difference in one who goes with humility seeking to support, than one who chooses to separate in a spirit of pride. There will be times for the sake of a child who is struggling when we may choose to narrow peer influences, but again, the spirit with which we do this should be obvious to the other people involved. It is my opinion that there are few things more divisive to the body of Christ than a spirit of pride and haughty judgmentalism.

Another criticim is that in application of the materials, some parents end up having problems because they elevate the application to the level of biblical principle or apply the ideas in a legalistic, inflexible manner. In some cases, this has resulted in problems as simple as a parent being frustrated because after a time of consistency, the child still seems to be struggling with a basic "behavior" issue. But in other cases, it has resulted in something as serious as a baby not growing growing in a normal fashion. So, how about it?

  1. Are you following suggestions in any of the materials as if they are a rule book or a recipe for sure results?
  2. Are you willing to talk through suggested applications with your spouse, pray about them, and decide if those suggested applications are really the best for your family, and are you willing to come up with applications of your own that may work better?
  3. Are you overly dependent on the materials? Do you go to the class book instead of THE Book, God's Holy Word, when you are struggling with a problem with your child?
  4. Do you call a class leader or a contact mom before you discuss a problem with your spouse and pray about it together?
  5. Are you neglecting to consider the needs of each individual child and using ideas for application without discernment?
  6. Are you considering basic developmental issues with your children so that you are expecting reasonable behaviors based on the age of each child?
  7. Are you remembering the admonition that parenting is a process, and that it takes daily patience and consistency to achieve goals?
  8. Are you failing to think about and evaluate outcomes as you apply the materials?
  9. If a health professional were to tell you that your baby was not growing as he or she should, would you be willing to listen to their medical expertise, or would you be afraid they were trying to lead you down a "child-centered" path?
  10. Are you willing to honestly evaluate the materials for areas of weakness, knowing that it is impossible for anyone to compile a comprehensive manual for parenting that includes all situations?
  11. Are you elevating personal opinion and preference to a level equal with Biblical revelation?
  12. Are you focusing on reaching the heart of your children just as much (or more!) than focusing on outward behaviors?

Any time we use Scripture in the process of formulating opinion or philosophy, we are responsible to rightly divide the Word of Truth (II Timothy 2:15). Some have made the accusation that Scripture verses are taken out of context in the materials. Have you examined the verses used as support to see if they really do support the point that was made? Have you taken seriously the responsibility to examine everything being taught so that you know whether or not it lines up with your interpretation of Scripture? While it will be a matter of personal belief in this one area of criticism, it is the responsibility of each person taking any class based on the Bible to discern whether or not the teaching is in line with the Word of God. Crucial in this process would be separating the vehicles for application from the principles.

Preparation for Parenting (PFP) has its own unique set of areas of difficulty, and although some of them are addressed above, I wanted to take the time to add some frank caution with regard to the use of PFP and Babywise. Since January of 1999, I have been answering questions about the application of PFP in a formal manner for GFI. As a Contact Mom, I have answered a lot of questions, but most of them have centered on lactation issues. Because I agree with the overall concept of order and routine in a day, and it is my personal preference to let my babies learn how to settle to sleep on their own, I find many of the practical suggestions to be helpful. In our own family, we never had a doubt as to our own priorities, and how much of a role we would let any book take in our home. When we had a need to deviate from recommendations in the book, we did so with absolute confidence that God would give us wisdom in every singe situation in our parenting (James 1:4-8). Because of my own mindset, the strength of my own convictions, and my willingness to help other moms that were struggling, I was glad to work with moms that were trying to find a balance in using PFP and Babywise. I think it is absolutely possible to read either book and have a balance in the way the materials are applied. But I am learning from my own interactions with people that not everyone has that same confidence. We all come from different backgrounds and we all have different areas of strength. It is not surprising to me, then, that some would have a difficulty with finding balance in application. Take for instance a first-time mom, who along with her husband is a new Christian. They may not have the confidence to question and evaluate. Sometimes, new Christians are so eager to grow in the Lord, that they miss messages given in the video series that urge parents to think for themselves. PFP and Babywise are not intended to provide all the answers. Or it could be something as simple as a mom and dad so desperate for sleep that they ignore warning signs. Worse yet would be the parents who selfishly desire that a new baby in the family will not change anything about the family dynamics. I have talked to enough moms personally over the last 17 months to know that concerns expressed by some lactation professionals and medical professionals are true. There are moms who have struggled with milk supply or lost the ability to breastfeed altogether because they had a schedule for feeding instead of looking to repeat a cyclical pattern. While both PFP and Baby wise say not to have a strict schedule, there are still admonitions to try to achieve certain intervals between feedings which could lead some moms to think that they will not be "successful" with the principles if they allow the baby to nurse too close together. I have talked to moms that have grieved over the loss of breastfeeding because they were not discerning in how they applied the materials. In my page on routine I address this more completely. If you are desiring to breastfeed your baby, you need to know that your baby can still establish good sleeping habits even if you don't follow the book to a "t". The Ezzos say that a legalist is a person who rejects or fails to consider context in any given situation. If God designed breastfeeding to nourish our babies, then it is considering context to learn about the dynamics of breastfeeding so you do not sacrifice what is best on the altar of achieving the perfect schedule. Deciding to formula feed to keep the perfect schedule is rejecting the context of God's wise design. The other area where I have seen parents struggle with applying PFP and Babywise is letting babies cry for long periods of time and not being sure how to handle a baby that just wasn't settling in for sleep. Again, I would give the caution that you must have the confidence in the wisdom God has given you as parents, instead of worrying about what the PFP or Babywise book says. Sure there will be times that you wonder if you are doing things "right" and want some encouragement from someone in person. God wants us to support and encourage one another. But again, there should be a balance. I think moms need to be more willing to consider opinions outside the GFI community too. In Titus 2, God set up the ideal circumstances for discipling young moms--older, more experienced women are to do the teaching. While it is possible that a Contact Mom can be that Titus 2 woman in your life, make sure that you are not overly dependent on that relationship instead of turning to God, your spouse, or other experienced Christian women around you. Along with all of that, you should also be willing to trust that God created your body with specific physiological responses when your baby cries. Don't be afraid to respond to some of those physiological responses. Your parenting needs to have a blend of steadfastness to what you believe is best and the compassion and mercy that Jesus Christ also modeled for us. You should know without a shadow of doubt that the decisions you are making for your baby are based solely on what you believe (with your spouse) to be best for your baby--not on what others think or on selfish motivations for your own convenience. Those are questions that only you as an individual can answer.

Any time a person, a book, or a ministry is helpful to us, it is too easy to elevate any of those things to a level that lacks balance. We can have the best of intentions and still be wrong. Every single interaction I have ever had with the Ezzos has been gracious and kind. Their sincere desire is to encourage and help Christian parents in an area where there has been a lack of encouragement in any formal way among most churches. Their ministry grew way more quickly than they could have ever anticipated, and it has had its growing pains. No person is perfect, and if we look at the examples of other strong leaders in the Bible like Moses, Peter, and King David, we realize that God is not only interested in perfect vessels. If you truly value the ministry of GFI, be willing to take responsibility for how you apply the materials, and be willing to share with the Ezzos areas where the materials have blessed you and areas where you have modified things to compensate for some weaknesses. They don't expect everyone to love everything they say, and they sincerely desire to keep growing and building their ministry so it can better serve the Lord.

Addendum, November 3, 2000. In mid August (2000) I resigned my position as a contact mom due to many different reasons. First and foremost, I had concerns regarding the baby materials and problems I was seeing resulting from their use. The role of the Contact Mom is to provide support for moms using the baby materials from GFI. During the time I served in a volunteer position as a CM for GFI, I spent a great deal of time clarifying and modifying the advice in Babywise (BW) and Preparation for Parenting(PFP). I came to the conclusion that if the materials needed so much clarification and modification to enable a breastfeeding mom to use them and maintain her ability to breastfeed long-term, then perhaps they should not be used or recommended at all (at least in their current form). I would be untruthful if I said that the controversy swirling around the ministry of GFI had no part at all in my decision to resign. Around the time of my resignation, John MacArthur released a statement of concern over the Ezzo's problems at Living Hope Evangelical Fellowship, and there was concern expressed by our pastor regarding the situation as well. I believed if I could not be in complete agreement with the direction and ministry of GFI, it was the most honest and ethical decision I could make to resign. I would encourage anyone still involved with the ministry of GFI who has not done so to set aside personal preference and bias and really examine the controversy surrounding the ministry. Read with an open mind and then ask questions with an open mind.

Links for more information:

My stated concerns and recommendations to GFI with regard to BW and PFP
dated Dec. 15, 2000 in a letter to Anne Marie Ezzo

  1. Feeding problems often appear to be masked as sleeping problems. Because I don't take many sleeping problems calls myself (most of mine are from moms who have asked specifically for lacation help), it took me some time to connect the dots with what I was seeing. Usually, a mom presents a scenario where the baby began waking "early" from naps, and she thought it was the "45 minute monster" and would let the baby cry back to sleep, some moms saying that they baby cried on and off until feeding time. Or, I'd get a call from a mom who had been working with another CM to "fix" a sleeping problem, but at some point took baby in for a well-baby check only to find that the baby had either slowed down significantly in weight gain, or had not gained weight at all. Believe it or not, the signs for that don't happen overnight. Urination, along with milk supply was gradually decreasing, happening so slowly that it wasn't immediately obvious. Also, most moms discontinue charting diapers once the baby is past 6-8 weeks. Of course, I've also seen posts on [a private message board] that sounded very similar to these same kinds of calls I've had.
  2. The majority of moms that have had either a loss of milk supply and/or babies that didn't gain weight adequately seem to report similar confusion as to the message of BW or PFP (but by far, the PFP issues seem to be stronger). These are the kinds of things I'm hearing: "I was afraid I would develop a sleeping problem that couldn't be fixed if I intervened," "I was afraid I was doing 'credit card' or child-centered parenting if I fed the baby early or helped him when he couldn't get to sleep," "My class leaders said we needed to be more consistent," "The CM I spoke with said 'the materials work' and that I just needed to 'keep with it and give it more time'," "My sister who did the materials said I was giving in to demanding behavior from my baby," "I was afraid that I was going to develop a habit of feeding earlier than 3 hours too often, and then my baby's metabolism wouldn't stabilize and he would never sleep through the night." The main motivator with the majority of these moms seems to be fear of not "doing it right" or "by the book" or feeling pressure from those in their church groups if their baby wasn't following the schedule as other class member's babies. After seeing this pattern I began a more critical reading of BW and PFP, and highlighted statements that I think contribute to this type of confusion. These moms haven't gotten the message at all that I seemed to get upon my own initial reading several years ago [and before my lactation training]. To be fair, I tend not to be a "by the book" person to begin with--for starters, I love to read and think through things, and I'd be terribly frustrated if I tried to follow all the books I've read on parenting! The moms that are struggling (even those I help who are NOT having supply problems) still struggle with expecting times to line up daily and think of the day as "feeding TIMES" (as in by-the-clock) rather than sessions where eating takes place. That kind of goes with what I was saying about moms who worry about delaying metabolic stabilization if they don't stick to the schedule. In other words, if they don't follow the recipe, the result will taste bad.
  3. Moms were afraid to seek help because they didn't think lacation professionals would understand their goals. I think some of the statements in BW and PFP contribute to that.
  4. Moms do not at all understand "context" as it is explained in BW and PFP. I believe it is because it is somewhat poorly defined and the examples that are given just don't cover normal everyday problems moms face. There are messages that say "consider context" but too many others that also warn against too much flexibility.

My recommendations will probably seem extreme, but as I have prayed over it, considered all the moms that I have talked to, talked through this with [my husband] and other contact moms, I just can not think of a better, safer, more ethical way to handle it. I am not in [GFI's] shoes, however, and know that you [refers to the Ezzos] have other issues to consider that will not impact me personally.

  1. I think a part of the problem is the Contact Mom ministry itself. The CM ministry, in my opinion, has inadequate accountability and training. I know training is available for CMs who attend conferences, but that is quite an expense for someone in a volunteer position. I'm not sure of the percentage of contact moms who complete certification, but I wonder how many do. I've worked with too many moms who have just plain gotten bad advice from a CM. I've talked to other contact moms who are sensitive to the problems moms can have with breastfeeding say that they too have worked with moms who received advice from a CM that made them cringe. No matter how well-intentioned a person is, if they are dispensing advice that affects the medical well-being of a baby, then they should have either medical training or extensive experience with baby care--not just be the Mom of one or two small children who has gone through PFP a few times and had little or no other resources available to them about breastfeeding or behavior that is defined medically as "normative." I was shocked after I became a CM myself to realize how many contact moms were relatively inexperienced in parenting and baby care. From what I have been able to determine, many contact moms use only PFP or BW as the guideline for what is "normal." When I realized these concerns about the CM ministry, I did a review of the CM manual and the "Frequently Asked Questions" booklet [help booklet for contact moms from GFI]. I found answers to questions in those resources that were actually reflective of older versions of PFP (I was surprised how many inconsistencies there were with regard to how much time should elapse between feedings for the newborn, and even how to time feeding intervals). While there are warnings not to give medical advice, there isn't an acknowlegement that in reality, advice that affects the medical well-being of a baby could in fact BE medical advice. I don't see where contact moms are urged to remember that not all babies and moms will fit the ideal and to think contextually about each individual.
  2. I think there are too many places in BW and PFP that are confusing and inaccurate. It is my recommendation that churches who use PFP be contacted to let them know that there have been breastfed babies who have failed to gain weight appropriately, and moms who have lost their milk supply. I would encourage all churches that use the materials to withdraw them from use until problems can be addressed and corrected. I would also recommend that bookstores be given a request to pull Babywise from their shelves. If these two actions seem too severe, I think at least a strongly worded warning should be widely made available from GFI for churches and retailers to provide with the purchase of these books that some breastfeeding moms and babies will not thrive without modified use of the materials.

If someone has already read BW or PFP and they want support for developing a routine without possibly damaging milk supply, then I'm more than glad to help [see my page on routine for more information]. I found the idea for the sleep/feed/wake cycle to be tremendously helpful, and I'm an organized practical Mom who loves routine. But I suggest significant modifications for the baby materials so that breastfeeding can be maintained. Until the materials are updated to remove confusing references and inaccurate information I simply cannot recommend them to anyone. I'm concerned about the "the baby materials WORK" mindset. I have to ask: "At what cost do the materials work?" I was one of the ones that didn't understand how it was really possible for moms to "misunderstand" or "misapply" the materials to the point that their babies were not gaining or that their supply was dropping. But, then I became a contact Mom. I began taking lactation calls and hearing moms who were suffering because of mistakes that had been made. I realized I was prideful to think my own experiences were indicative of what everyone else experienced. Babywise and Prep just don't leave enough room for babies and moms who fall outside the range of what they establish as the "norm." The longer I was a CM, the more moms I met that had experienced real problems with the materials (including contact moms). I agree that moms and dads should take responsibility for their own choices. But I also believe that materials with medical flaws in them should have authors who also take responsibility for the problems. I am concerned that I have never seen Gary say, "in our earlier materials we made some mistakes. I was wrong about some things. I realize that I have a responsibility to make this right." A complete acknowledgment of responsibility would involve both the parents and GFI. I also have the concern that the baby materials engender a fear of the professionals best qualified to help a mom solve her breastfeeding problem/s.


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