The Ezzos come over for dinner with my family.

Who knows what I’m saying in this photo, but my stellar eye infection really brings out the chatty Cathy in me. Clearly, not an Ezzo moment.

Reading Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards’ Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future illuminates the ways in which the struggles of feminism have gained complexity for the Third Wave. Since its publication in 2000, the book itself is already somewhat dated. For example, it glosses over the rising numbers of educated feminists who are choosing to educate their children at home with the premise that the revolution starts now. While providing ample information on the continuing battle for a choice over whether to continue pregnancy, the book skims over the tremendous battles fought by women who seek to reclaim their uterus and birthing process from the medical establishment by giving birth at home.

I can’t read the words of sisters without remembering that it’s my responsibility to say what I see and not to expect others to say it for me. Being a woman who has decided to also be a mother changed my mind and reaffirmed my belief in the continuing need for feminism in our society.

What I discovered did not please me. I am very good at biting off the head of a man who condescends to women and I am unparalleled in my ability to provide running monologues on the extent to which we perpetuate the patriarchy by honoring the concept of “success”. Yet I am somewhat lacking when it comes to integrating my parenting choices (which tend to follow the child) with my Riot Grrrlish self. I’m going to take a little detour to explain what I mean by this.

Fact: It’s important to parent and raise your children in a way that works best for you. However, “a way that works best for you” should not be taken to mean that the child becomes a product which you compare to other highly-valued objects. When we talk about children, we don’t talk about possessions or things- we talk about little people whom we hope will NEVER be treated like possessions or things in our super-thingified culture.

After the King and I first got married, we attended a small-group for young parents which focused on parenting strategies. The textbook for the group was one written by the Ezzos which outlined their program for “Biblical parenting”. As the sessions progressed, my discomfort with some of the phrasing from the Ezzos just wouldn’t go away.

The “strategies” seemed mean and hurtful- as if to punish little babies for being needy, vulnerable little beings who cannot thrive or survive on their own. Letting them “cry it out” required me to deaden my most natural maternal instinct to comfort and soothe- and deadening that instinct leaves you less sensitive to a child’s needs and concerns. I cannot believe that women were created with this universal instinct by accident. It seems to me to be an important part of the way in which God wants us to relate to our children. In other words, that constant nurturing impulse is a given- a starting premise for any parenting methods rooted in respect for human beings or their Creator.

Your Shenanigans Will Not Be Tolerated wittily sums up more Ezzo in the most snarky and simple fashion:

The Ezzos believe the primary threats to the family came from a bad relationship between the parents and child-centered parenting (i.e. behavior that acknowledged and dealt with the little person’s feelings or fears). Their solution to these percieved threats might be called the Nuclear Rearmament Strategy with all selfishness and inhumanity implicit in such a description. You can read the details here.

Essentially, the Ezzos insist that the “greatest influence parents have on their children is as a husband and wife, rather than as a mother and father”. While there are ways in which this is true, the rest of the Ezzos’ philosophy is just one particularly rough interpretation on how to honor this relationship in a family. Lest we begin to worry about kids getting liberal ideas, the Ezzos quickly insist:

Of course, promoting egalitarian roles in marriage is precisely what the King and I were trying to do. As we worked our way through those first years of marriage, deciding who would do the laundry and who would cook dinner, we realized that “expecting” me to cook dinner just because I stayed home with the kids was another patriarchal way of undervaluing the work I do by caring for our kids.

It didn’t come as an epiphany, of course- it emerged through arguments and re-arguments as we learned from our gay friends that a “partnership” is the only way to truly honor one another within a marriage. Our partnership is my favorite place to be in the world- it evolves, changes, and amazes us continuously as we negotiate new ethical qualms and novel interests. The Ezzo-style marriage for us would be a quick route to disenchantment and divorce.

As the group meetings continued, I realized that I was accepting and learning this odd philosophy without studying the source- so I decided to study the source. Who are these Ezzo folks for whom egalitarianism is such a threat? What makes them such supercalifragilistic specimens of humanity? Are they known for their kindness and generosity, like Jimmy Carter? Or their peace-making skills, like Nelson Mandela? Or perhaps even their piety and joyfulness, like Thomas Merton?

What I learned was that the Ezzos did not have a reputation for honesty, truthfulness, and accountability in their longterm relationships. Former elders from churches wrote warning letters to naive, exhausted parents like myself- letters which suggested that snake oil might be part of the package we were purchasing from the Ezzos and their outfit, Growing Families International.

The snake oil really started to stink in 1998. That spring, the conservative, evangelical-minded Christian Research Journal published a report on their extensive evaluation of Growing Families International. While acknowledging GFI’s popularity (over a million reported followers around the world) and noting that “a number of the parenting ideas in GFI materials are sound and have benefited families who have used them”, the article evaluated the widespread controversy associated with the organization. They concluded:

As far back as 1998, a physician writing for the American Academy of Pediatricians warned that the Babywise method was “linked to dehydration and failure to thrive”. This physician, Dr. Matthew T. Aney, expressed his concerns again in 2001 after comparing a chart generated by the Babywisers to one generated by the AAP. But the Ezzos are still winning hearts and minds under the guise of their secular books on the “Babywise” method- essentially the old Biblical parenting without reference to Bible verses or Evangelical terminology.

The truth is that my feminism is not compatible with a parenting philosophy that undervalues emotions and the stuff of the heart. And I am baffled by the Ezzos’ pro-life politics in light of their anti-child parenting. Fear is not a “structure” that little ones need in order to thrive. And love is not manifest in how we hurt or frighten little ones who rely on us for their lives and livelihood.

There is a lot of pressure to consider children who “obey” their parents out of fear as “good kids”. Deep down, however, I know that fear can be used to motivate us to do anything in the world, including bombing cities overseas and marching lockstep behind political parties or ideologies. So I bite my lip and accept that my children are usually not the most “obedient” ones in the room. Instead, I focus on their zest for life, their creativity, their strong individual sense of justice, and their love for our family.

Michael Bates expresses my misgivings better than anyone when he shares his own about the “first time obedience” strategy central to the Ezzos’ philosophy:

While Michael and I probably don’t share the same views on other things, we both have that same gross feeling in our stomachs that something is wrong with the extent to which childhood is demonized by the Ezzos. Tomorrow, if you can bear it, I’ll share the story of a young mom who sees the world through Ezzo-eyes and what this has helped me to realize about parenting as a feminist, Jesus-loving existentialist who is more convinced of her own ignorance than her sanctity or “savedness”.

[Caveat: I don’t believe in hell and I don’t think anyone is going there. If you’re concerned about my politics or worldview, see my bio for details.]

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