Friday, May 26, 2006

Salon, the Pearls, the Ezzos

Interesting Salon article on the Pearls and the death of the homeschooled boy in North Carolina. The writer makes clear early on that "Christian" in the particular cultural context has a restricted meaning, and that many homeschoolers, Christian or not, want nothing to do with the "discipline" style of the Pearls and their followers. (Click through annoying ad to get to the whole article.)

At the end is a link to an older article about the Ezzo Babywise books. Too depressing for words, and an irritating photo showing crucifix-toting parents ignoring their hungry crying baby: excuse me, I don't believe it was the Catholic churches that were passing around the Ezzo books and holding seminars on baby-starvation a few years ago.

One thing I don't see mentioned in either article is that both the Pearls and the Ezzos, despite their fundamentalist credentials, are just doing a Christian version of the mainstream parenting advice featured in the awful What To Expect series and repeated by "normal," secular pediatricians and baby advice books nationwide. From the second article:

"Overwhelmingly, "Babywise" parents accepted without question the conventional wisdom that "kids today" are out of control. Faced with the onslaught of media images of rampaging middle-schoolers and wilding teens, these parents believe that by cracking down on what Ezzo defines as infant rebellion now, they will prevent problems later."

And thus the Ezzos' and Pearls' advice to discipline early and often, from infancy onward. But while the extreme admonitions to strike babies or deprive them of food catch the media attention, the underlying premise does not: namely, that infants and toddlers must learn to be independent at an early age, that they must not be over-indulged, that restrictions and limitations must begin from day one, or brattiness is sure to follow. We finally tossed aside What to Expect the First Year when we grew tired of the breathless assurances of disaster if we helped parent our child to sleep, if we nursed her a day past thirteen months, if we in any way let the manipulative little creature think that we might be responding to her emotional cravings and desires rather than to her rawly physiological needs.

The Pearls and Ezzos just take it a step further, but the underlying philosophy, whether in fringe Christian or mainstream secular terms, is the same: your little one must learn to get himself to sleep; to stop himself crying; to not expect that lovely nursing to happen too much; to be a little independent adult, respectful of the needs of the real adults, and that right quick, or delinquency and neuroses lurk in the near future.


Blogger sophia said...

I see what you're saying. I do remember feeling more of a sense that I must not spoil my children with my first two. I didn't have a clue about parenting, so I was relying on parenting books more than my intuition. My husband eventually got rid of "Babywise" because he couldn't bear it.
I always really liked the "What to Expect" books, and I would never have equated them with the Pearls or Ezzos, though.
When my third and fourth arrived, I was tired of conflicting parenting books and felt more confident about my ability to determine manipulation vs. true needs. So, I didn't feel so much like I needed to "de-bratify" my children as much. Maybe I would pick up on more of what you are criticizing in the "WTE" books if I read them now, but at the time, I thought they were so helpful.
In our over-indulgent society, I think parents are wise to teach children to be indendent, hard workers. Ideally to show them in a gentle way that they CAN do it! It's wise not to give them their every desire. I know you're not saying parents should, either. I'm just saying that I think it's a fine line.
We all know of so many adults these days who are living with their parents because they did NOT learn to be independent. I know that as a new mom, I used to think aobut this and then try to parent in such a way so that my kids would not turn out like that. Now, I see that I have about 18 years to teach that and toddlerhood isn't really the appropriate time. I eventually came to believe that if I was going to err, I would rather err on the side of being overly indulgent than too harsh. Experience is always my best teacher, though, unfortunately.

3:42 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

The problem isn't with teaching independence, it's with insisting babies be independent. What bugged me about the mainstream child-rearing philosophy exemplified in the WTE approach was the view of babies as manipulative and needing to learn to take care of their own needs without being a burden or nuisance to the adults around them. There's no sense that the children might naturally change as they grow and mature, and that it's as appropriate for babies to be needy and demanding as it is for older children to be independent and reasonably self-controlled.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous amy said...

When my first child was born back in 1992, my husband and I were driving a small, two door Prelude (no air bag.) Reaching into the back with a heavy baby in a car seat strained my back. To make matters worse, the baby would scream for the entire trip when he could not see a parent. So whenever all three of us went out, I usually buckled the baby in front while I slipped into the back. (Since then I have learned that babies are safer in the back seat, and all subsequent babies have been dutifully buckled in back with a sibling for entertainment. But safety is not the point of this story.)
The pastor of our small church once saw me strapping our firstborn into the front seat and warned us sternly about the message we were sending our son - namely, that he was more important than mom. What disturbed me more than the content of the statement was the sudden realization that many of my closest friends and neighbors were watching the small day to day choices I made and making sweeping judgments about my parenting style and my child's well-being. At that time, the Ezzos were popular in our church. I never read Babywise or Growing Kid's God Way (what a scary title!), but their message was communicated strongly through my friends' comments. The worst mistakes I made in those early years of parenting were choices I made out of fear of what my friends from church would think.
I have often looked back on that season of life and wished there more grandparently types in our church who could have told us all to lighten up a bit. I have also wondered why we all placed so much stock in books instead of the wisdom of our own parents, grandparents, and older friends. Books can be helpful for a starting point, for outlining a general pholosphy. But the grace of seeing past behavior to needs and motivations, that is a grace I have learned from people rather than books.

7:43 AM  
Anonymous caroline said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:47 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Boy, Caroline, you're going to put Opinionated Persons out of business if you keep up that sort of eloquent argument for not judging other parents. I don't think I can fit "The Open-Minded, Charitable Homeschooler" on the masthead.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you ever read any books by Byron White? I liked him, although he can't imagine how one could properly raise children closer together in age than three years.

With my luck, you guys all read his books and hated him!

Have a good Memorial Day weekend!

5:20 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

No, I haven't heard of Byron White. Tell us about him.

6:22 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

(Excellent post above deleted at request of user.)

5:45 AM  
Blogger sophia said...

I was at B&N tonight, and noticed the shelf of WTE books, so I just had to look up spoiling babies. In the one month chapter, they were saying you can't spoil a baby, and to pick them up whenever they cry. By the 7th month chapter, they were saying you might want to be more discerning about when you pick them up when they cry. I was in a hurry so I didn't read the whole section, but the jest was that you could spoil them at the ripe old age of 7 months if you were not careful! So, Opinionated Homeschooler, you were right in your assessment of the WTE books.

11:14 PM  

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