It was back in the year 2000 I was first introduced to the "Biblical" parenting methods I'll talk about in this post. My husband and I along with our two young children (3 and 5 years old at the time) moved from California to Washington State.
We found a great church that focused on the deeper things of God's word and we grew in our faith by leaps and bounds. We also noticed the children of the members of our church seemed extraordinarily compliant, obedient and quiet during family-integrated services.
My own kids were (and still are) wonderful people. But I was curious about how these parents were able to teach even two year olds not to interrupt adult conversations and to go to sleep on command with no "night time routine" required.
It didn't take long for a fellow mom to introduce our family to "Growing Kids God's Way" by Gary and Marie Ezzo. We bought the manuals, we devoured the chapters and instituted the methods in our own family. It was not a drastic shift from the way we were already parenting but it was certainly a much needed "tune up" in some areas in which we felt we were lacking.
There are things we LOVE about GKGW and I want to talk about those first:
1. Children are not the center of the family, Jesus is. Our lives do not revolve around pleasing our kids, they revolve around pleasing our Maker.
2. Children learn to ask FORGIVENESS when they hurt someone rather than just throwing an insincere "Sorry". The onus to forgive is on the offended party.
3. Children learn a good work ethic and are not handed material gifts liberally
4. Children learn to think of the feelings of others and not just themselves
5. Very young children learn sign language in order to circumvent the frustration of not having the words to express themselves
There are other great things about this method and, in our family at that time, we had only biological children who had been wanted, loved, nurtured and cherished from before they were born.
But a few years after we began following GKGW, we became adoptive parents. And here is where my heart BREAKS for families who can not stray from GKGW. . .
Adopted children are always "children of trauma". They are OFTEN "children from hard places". They are frequently victims of abuse, neglect and insecure or absent attachments.
Even if you were handed a new born baby, straight from the womb to adopt, you are being handed a child of trauma. Why? That child has not only lost his/her first parent, that child was gestated in the womb of a woman likely wrestling with her own life's pains and the decision to relinquish him/her. The stress hormone in that baby's pre-birth environment can and will have negative effects on the growth and development of that child.(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6310253/)
The precursor to GKGW is the Ezzo's book "Babywise". In Babywise, parents are encouraged to place their infants on a strict eating and sleeping schedule that the parents deem suitable. Gary Ezzo goes so far as to reference God the father's refusal to take his son off the cross when He cried out as the basis for not going in to your infant when he/she cries out.
Imagine a baby who has come from a place (be it birth mother or inattentive orphanage) where his needs are not met when he cries out being placed into a "Babywise" family where his needs are not met when he cries out. Eventually, babies stop crying out. And parents may believe this indicates he is satisfied and content when in reality, he may have simply given up. The consequences as he grows up can be life-altering.
The aspects of both GKGW and Babywise that pose potential damage to children of trauma are:
1. This is a totally parent-driven approach which authoritarianism is highly prized. When a child has trust issues, this approach quickly becomes a "me against them" in the child's mind and he will often rebel in every way he can. You can not "out spank" a child with a strong will from a hard place. He will take your punishment and turn it into fuel for his anger. Trust me.
2. This approach promotes Pharisaical behavior, in my firsthand experience. A child learns what behaviors win approval of adults and he does them. He learns what behaviors provoke the "wisdom maker" (paddle) and he avoids them. The premise of the book is that when a child is made to obey outwardly, his heart will follow. The Biblical description of the nature of man says different.
Our hearts are wicked and without a regenerating relationship with Jesus, we are not capable of any good thing.
3.child learns to conceal his true heart in exchange for pleasing the adults in his life, the problem is compounded. Now we have a "hidden behavior" or "covered sin" issue to add to the mix. Aside from guiding our kids to choose things that please God just because we love him, we are tasked with figuring out if our child is obeying to avoid punishment or obeying because He longs to do what is right.
For some adopted children, learning to manipulate others has been his source of survival.
When behaviors are demanded from a heart that is not sincere in manifesting those behaviors, we are inadvertently creating pharisees. This is a comfortable place for many adopted children who already have attachment issues. They PREFER to behave in a way that pleases you but can not stand the expectation of true heart work - where parents acknowledge their pain and ask them to share and express it. The thing a wounded child needs most - the raw business of unpacking his trauma and putting it into perspective - often feels to "out of control" or GKGW parents.
4. Spanking. Spanking is a very big part of both Babywise and GKGW. Whether or not you spank your children is a debate for another place. We did. And then we didn't.
Using physical discipline with an adopted child often feels like bullying to him. Or revictimization.
The use of terms like "rod of correction" make parents feel that spanking is a mandate. God corrects us with a "rod", right?
Many theologians would argue that "rod" of correction is the shepherd's crook, used for guiding, not striking, the sheep. And the bible does plainly state in Proverbs 23:13 that we are not to withhold correction from our children and "correcting with a stick" will result in a child making life-giving choices. So spanking is not forbidden in the Bible but neither is it commanded. In these instances, parents must seek the face of God on the approach that best meets the needs of their child while communicating to him that he is safe. For us, spanking doesn't communicate that to a child from a hard background. So we don't.
"Rules without relationship breeds rebellion". When the bonds are not strong, the rules and discipline will not have the effect you desire. I promise.
When GKGW started to feel uncomfortable for us, as adoptive parents, we began looking for a better way. I was handed Michael and Debi Pearl's "To Train Up a Child" and I read in horror as intense amounts of spanking and FOOD WITHHOLDING were touted as Biblical parenting techniques.
I was in tears by the middle of that book and only finished it because it felt like watching a train wreck. I could not look away.
A quick internet search of this little "gem" will fully explain my terror at the thought of any parent implementing the principles in this book. Children have died. I do not assert the Pearls are at fault for parents misusing this book but I do assert that the methods in this book are overly cruel, harsh and loveless, despite what the author's try to portend.
After a little additional search, prayer and the understanding we don't need a book or method to parent but we sure wanted to have a Biblical guide, we found "Shepherding a Child's Heart" by Tedd Tripp.
We read it. It resonated. Yes, spanking is advocated here. We just omitted that practice and soaked up the gentle wisdom. The premise of this book is RELATIONSHIP with a child that points him to Jesus. The focus after discipline is on restoring the child/parent relationship to an open and loving place. The parent is in authority, of course. But the goal is not simply outward obedience but a deep understanding of what puts any of us, adult or child, into a right relationship with God and the blessings that flow from that.
It's not a perfect text. Only the Word of God can claim that title.
But, for us, it answered what was wrong with other popular ideologies and fit well for a child who was adopted or biological. And we, as parents, learned about our own hearts and need to surrender fully to our LOVING father at the same time.
So, please, adoptive parents, do not follow any cookie cutter approach to discipline. Do not simply look at the well behaved children of your friends and do what they are doing. Don't take my advice for any of this without deep prayer and introspection. If it feels too heavy, rigid, unloving or if you see your practices putting DISTANCE between you and your child, STOP THEM. The spirit of God in you will tell you when you are on the wrong path with your child. Will you listen?
For further reading: