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The Ezz and I (Ebenezer 2.1)

This is a very hard blog post to write. But in order for the next post to make sense, I think I need to face the music.

In the Spring semester of 1999 at Indiana University, I took Children and Religion with Robert Orsi. The best thing I learned from Professor Orsi was how to conduct a class discussion; he was a whiz — a natural. And the texts he assigned still ring out in my memory. All in all, a very successful class.

But my project, now, is an embarrassment. I think admitting that might be good for other grad students, good for scholarship in general, good for understanding where I stand now, and good for imagining where I might stand in the future. It’s all very humbling.

Nine years ago, all the rage in conservative Evangelicalism was a little-known man named Gary Ezzo who claimed that his child rearing expertise was “God’s Way.” What had started as a “parenting class” at John MacArthur’s church became nothing short of an empire.

All my contemporaries were having babies (while I was “nursing” textbooks and endnotes), and they were all talking about Gary Ezzo and his approach to “Growing Kids God’s Way.” I decided to pick this trend for my project for Orsi’s class. Seemed obvious enough.

I will reluctantly show you the paper. Go ahead — you can read it. But before you do . . . let me just say — I was wrong. As a mom who now calls herself an Attachment Parent — Ezzo’s ridiculous, muddled-headed foil to his seemingly commonsensical, Godly parent — I know I was wrong. My denotative descriptions of Attachment Parenting are pretty fair, I would say now, but the moral conclusions I make are just incorrect. Sure — there may be parents who would fit that negative description, but that would be like judging all Americans on the antics of Paris Hilton.

I won’t torture you or me by going line by line over all my errors. Instead I’ll just back up a tad and identify the reasons for the problems:

  • My method was so totally new, and I was completely unprepared. I was attempting to do an ethnography — what seemed to me to be a rhetorical analysis of regular conversations. I didn’t know how to collect those conversations, and I was running into many brick walls. I didn’t know my way around or over them.
  • Because I was having trouble finding people who were willing to talk to me, more than a few of my subjects were close friends. I wanted to tell their story as best I could. I wanted to be more than fair, I think, and I wanted them to think I was being fair.
  • There was so much criticism of the medical problems in Ezzo that I really couldn’t parse it all. There I was — a Ph.D. student in rhetoric and religion and an Associate Instructor. I was just plain overwhelmed, and I had to draw the line somewhere. I wasn’t trained to judge medical info, and so I just cast that aside for this project. I said to myself, “I’m not a doctor. I can’t interpret all that. I can only talk about their words.”
  • And quite honestly, I wasn’t a parent. What did I know about any of this stuff?
  • I could only get the secular, watered-down version of Ezzo’s plan from Babywise. I couldn’t really get the comprehensive Ezzo text — Growing Kids God’s Way — because they wouldn’t let it out of “trained hands.” I’d have to take a big series of classes in order to get at it, and that’s something a busy grad student can’t do. Sure — alarm bells went off at that point, but I was desperate to think the best about this organization.
  • I have to repeat and unpack that last sentence: I was desperate to think the best about this organization. Every good fundy knows that we have to field more than a normal share of criticism. It doesn’t take long in your adult life to realize that the media can really be pretty sloppy in dealing with the facts. As you grow up in the subculture, you catch the idea that the real problem is that people inside the group just don’t have the words to express themselves or the arguments to defend themselves. They need an apologist, right? A loyal, er . . . rather an empathetic, skilled apologist. That idea of loyalty pushes any criticism out of bounds as simply unreasonable griping and immoral living. I was still learning that at this point in my study. At IU, I researched many, many approaches to social change, and it seemed to me that those inside any culture were more effective at enacting social change than those outside (i.e. Martin Luther King does more than Malcolm X. Or so it could be argued.). And I was fully, loyally inside. I needed to prove to the Ezzo community that I was inside. And that meant to deliberately choose to think the best of the organization (and push all criticism outside the boundaries).
  • I took Ezzo’s criticism of Attachment Parenting at face value. I shouldn’t have. He presents a very, very skewed view. His unflattering snapshot of attachment parents, I now know, more closely represents Alfie Kohn’s advice more than William Sears’.
  • I didn’t know child-rearing literature enough to know that the things I was praising in his text were not at all new to him — baby signing, including children in the family, anticipating and scripting solutions, love languages, etc. That all exists elsewhere and in qualified sources.
  • And . . . unfortunately, I let myself get bullied. Early in my research, a GFI employee called me and yelled — yes, yelled — at me for even thinking about doing this project. In escalated tones, he bellowed, “Why should we trust you? Why should we think you’re going to be fair?” And I shrugged and said, “You can’t. You just have my word is all. I’m a fellow Christian, and I want to do the right thing.” After hanging up, my mind was reeling. How can I communicate that I’m not out to get them? This is a test case for me. If I am going to write the dissertation that I want to write, I have to be empathetic (i.e. prove my loyalty) to my research subjects. . . . You can see why this was a tough crossroads.

So there you have it. For what it’s worth.

What’s amazing to me now is how God — in spite of my goofy, short-sighted conclusions — was already using my error to make something beautiful. I’m just amazed at that. But I’ll save it for the next post.

If I ever run into Prof. Orsi, I want to tell him all this. I don’t think he’d mind, but he’s a very busy and important man. I don’t know if he’d remember. I know he was a little befuddled by my conclusions. So am I now. And I’d like to tell him how God used him and that class and my errors for His best.

More to come. . . .

[tags]Children and Religion, Robert Orsi, Gary Ezzo, Babywise, Attachment Parenting, William Sears, Empathetic Rhetorical Criticism[/tags]

The Ezz and I (Ebenezer 2.1)

11 thoughts on “The Ezz and I (Ebenezer 2.1)

  • February 16, 2008 at 10:07 am
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    “#
    # I have to repeat and unpack that last sentence: I was desperate to think the best about this organization. Every good fundy knows that we have to field more than a normal share of criticism. It doesn’t take long in your adult life to realize that the media can really be pretty sloppy in dealing with the facts. As you grow up in the subculture, you catch the idea that the real problem is that people inside the group just don’t have the words to express themselves or the arguments to defend themselves. They need an apologist, right? A loyal, er . . . rather an empathetic, skilled apologist. That idea of loyalty pushes any criticism out of bounds as simply unreasonable griping and immoral living. I was still learning that at this point in my study. At IU, I researched many, many approaches to social change, and it seemed to me that those inside any culture were more effective at enacting social change than those outside (i.e. Martin Luther King does more than Malcolm X. Or so it could be argued.). And I was fully, loyally inside. I needed to prove to the Ezzo community that I was inside. And that meant to deliberately choose to think the best of the organization (and push all criticism outside the boundaries).”

    YES! Exactly! Both within the Christian subculture (and when I was within the Ezzo microculture) there is so often the feeling that other people “just don’t get it.” There is the feeling that most criticism is because people don’t understand.

    I can now say honestly that many criticisms of Christianity have some basis in reality–but STILL so very many of them are because people just can’t “get it” without being a Believer and having the Lord work on our hearts. But, the outworking of Christianity in peoples’ lives is imperfect, and so we should listen to criticism from non-Believers.

    Ezzo parenting, on the other hand, I’ve come to believe those “outside” do “get it”–a lot more than many Ezzo parents do. . . It was easy for me to dismiss criticism when I was an Ezzo parent. “They just don’t understand. . .” But the reality was, *I* was the one who didn’t understand–I just couldn’t see that the problems we were having were legitimately connected to the Ezzo teachings. (And it wasn’t just me lacking flexibility and common sense!)

    I’ve become outspoken about Ezzo parenting. . . And while I do believe that is important, I regret that I haven’t always been able to communicate, I understand where you are coming from. . . I “get it” and know your motivation is out of love for your children. . .

  • February 16, 2008 at 11:57 am
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    This is a fascinating series – thanks, TulipMom, for linking it on your blog! I’ve also linked.

  • February 16, 2008 at 5:31 pm
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    The mark of a mature person is the ability to admit when you are wrong and find a new way. Some people never admit they are ever wrong. I think these people, after a while, lose their legitimacy.

  • February 17, 2008 at 6:59 pm
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    I am keen to know what changed your mind. Your original article is so glowing. When did you realize you were disagreeing? What made you choose not to do what your friends had done?

  • February 17, 2008 at 8:40 pm
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    lovebeingamom — That’s coming. I describe some of that change after the birth of my first son in the previous post. But there’s more. 😉

  • February 20, 2008 at 12:42 am
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    Having order creates confidence in the Ezzo ethic since within order, life is predictable and
    controllable.
    Hmmmm…. sounds an awful lot like… um… an idea your alma mater would appreciate. 🙂

  • February 21, 2008 at 11:59 pm
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    You said, “…Growing Kids God’s Way — because they wouldn’t let it out of “trained hands.””

    The material has been available to the public for purchase on GFI.org for years.

    I am a supporter of the GFI material. Posts like this help me understand a little better where the critics of the GFI material are coming from. I continue to come out feeling that it is a shame that you folks can’t focus on what you choose to do rather than what you choose not to do.

    You said, “How can I communicate that I’m not out to get them?”

    How about adding a little balance to your links. Instead of linking to the #1 propaganda and gossip site against GFI and Ezzo when clicking the name Gary Ezzo in this post, I would recommend that you link to one of these sites:

    http://www.GrowingKids.org/meet-the-ezzos/
    http://www.ezzotruth.com/ezzo.html

  • February 22, 2008 at 8:35 pm
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    Hey, Hank. Nice to see you here.

    The material has been available to the public for purchase on GFI.org for years.

    Well, let’s put all our cards on the table here. Define “for years.” If you check that paper from 1999, you’ll see that I was in correspondence with Anne Marie Ezzo herself, I was on the GFI forums, and I had many friends involved. No one would give it to me, Hank. I tried. I even begged. I was told over and over that I had to attend a class. Policy might have changed since then, I’ll admit, but I was describing my experience in 1999.

    As to your other comments, I think you have misunderstood the nature of this post and those that sandwich it. I was speaking about my apologist stance in 1999. God has overturned my life since then in remarkable ways. I can no longer speak with the same voice.

    I wish you the best as you minister to your lovely, growing family. I know God will bless you and grow you in His unique way.

    Peace.

  • February 22, 2008 at 11:16 pm
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    Hank,

    If you haven’t yet read the research to which Camille referred at length in this post, I encourage you to do so.

    I recognized myself and many of the parents with whom I had close connections (Ezzo-wise) and the motivation of our hearts as parents. . . I believe you would recognize yourself and other likeminded parents in that paper.

    And perhaps. . . from there. . . you may be willing to entertain the idea that there are many people (like myself) who are critical of Ezzo ideology not out of ignorance, but out of true understanding.

    I would encourage to, just for an hour or so, set aside your assumptions (about me, about those who do not embrace Ezzo parenting, about the author of this site) and read through the posts here. Read through the whole Ebenezer series, and consider how the Lord can encourage you and your family in continuing to embrace the Gospel, loving one another, and raising your sons to the Glory of God.

    Grace and Peace,
    TulipGirl

  • July 14, 2009 at 3:32 am
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    We have 4 biological children and 4 adopted. Three of our adopted children are siblings and were 14, 9 and 7 when we adopted them from Brazil in 2006.

    We returned in the fall of 2007 to adopt our children’s sister’s son (confusing I know). He was 11 months old and although he was fed (overfed actually) and cared for as well as he could have been in an orphanage, he had no opportunity to bond with a parent or caregiver. Our experience with babies was with our biological children and we were not prepared for the damage that the lack of bonding had done to our son in those first months of his life. We have seen amazing things happen in his life! God has seen fit to heal him in so many ways but there is still a piece of him that seems to be missing. I truly believe that children who are reared the way that Gary Ezzo recommends will be in the same place of distance and isolation that our son was. God gives mothers instincts and compassion for a very good reason!

  • August 9, 2010 at 12:04 am
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    Camille,

    We’ve been on very similar journeys! I, too, started out with Ezzo (by the way, did you even verify the man’s credentials when you did your paper? He never even earned a Bachelor’s degree!!) and have become quite the AP baby-wearing, breastfeeding in public mama! God does give us mama instincts for a reason, and shame on those who wear religious garb and insist that we follow “their” way.

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