Thursday, January 21, 2010
Getting wise to "Babywise"
BY KATIE ALLISON GRANJU |
Lori Rivas finds it painful to think back to the first few months after her 2-year-old son Daniel's birth. Rivas, a 29-year-old stay-at-home mother from Santa Clarita, Calif., remembers days and nights of struggling to ignore her baby's crying, of feeling guilty when she longed to rock him to sleep in her arms but believed that she should not. Worst of all, Rivas recalls the day of Daniel's two week checkup, when the previously healthy infant was discovered to be more than one pound below his birth weight and so dehydrated that he was unable to produce tears.
"I felt that I was failing as a parent," says Rivas.
Rivas and her 38-year-old husband, Theo, a customer service representative, were not only worried about their son -- they were confused. After all, they were conscientiously following the highly detailed dictates of one of today's most popular child-care guides, a book that glowingly described itself in its own introduction as "an infant management program" that has "worked for thousands of parents and, when faithfully applied, will work wonderfully for you!" In a soothing, authoritative tone, the guide further assured Lori and Theo that, if they adhered to the book's recommendations, their baby would sleep through the night by approximately 8 weeks of age, cry less than other babies and even have a reduced risk of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and learning disabilities down the road.
This was enough to convince these eager first-time parents. They wanted the best for baby Daniel.
"We went by the book," explains Lori Rivas.
"The book" is called "On Becoming "Babywise," from a Christian publishing house, Multnomah/Questar. This slim paperback and its companion volume, "Babywise II," for parents of "pretoddlers" ages 5 to 15 months, have sold at least a quarter million copies over the past several years, consistently placing in the top 10 most requested parenting titles on both mainstream and Christian booksellers' lists. The author behind "Babywise I" and "II" is Gary Ezzo, an enigmatic, 50-something, evangelical Christian minister. Ezzo, along with several close family members, heads up Growing Families International, a huge, for-profit "parenting ministry" based in Simi Valley, Calif. GFI has stated that its goals as an organization are "to capture the hearts and minds of the next generation," because "it takes two generations to affect change (sic). We gave the last over to the ideological humanists; they have our tax dollar and the public classroom to bring about their agenda. We cannot collectively capture the minds of the next generation without educating the minds of today's parents." Ezzo's personal parenting philosophy can be summed up in his public statement: "Raising good children is not a matter of chance but a matter of rightly applying God's principles in parenting."
GFI's ever-expanding product line of conservative Christian parenting materials is reportedly now used by at least 70,000 parents in 6,000 churches across the country each week. "Babywise" and "Babywise II" are the ostensibly secular versions of GFI's original and still widely used Christian child-care guides. Dr. Robert Bucknam, a young Denver-area pediatrician, is listed as co-author of the "Babywise" books, while Ezzo and his wife, Anne Marie, are named as the sole authors of their religious counterparts. The bestselling "Babywise" books, generally available in the family and parenting aisles of major bookstores, are fundamentally the same guides as the Ezzos' Christian versions, but with a crucial difference: All biblical and theological references have been removed. GFI refers to the "Babywise" books as "outreach materials" and describes them in its catalog as "the ideal gift for your expectant friends," and as offering "many of the same biblical principles as (other GFI child-care guides)." The catalog goes on to suggest that "Babywise I" and "II" are "ideally written for the Christian obstetrician, pediatrician or health-care provider to distribute to their patients." Although GFI makes no attempt to obfuscate its own agenda as an activist evangelical Christian organization in its other, openly religious materials, parents who buy or are given the seemingly mainstream "Babywise" books have no way of knowing that the books' advice is based largely on GFI's own unique biblical interpretations. Neither are most "Babywise" readers likely aware that the child-care guide that now sits on their bookshelf next to their well-thumbed Spock or "What to Expect the First Year" is designed to "capture the minds" of their children.
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