ON BECOMING WISE TO “BABYWISE” — PART I

A return to “traditional” values?

If you follow One Fit Mom’s Facebook page, you’ll recall that about a week ago, I had a 48-hour flirtation with Babywise; more specifically, with Babywise II: Parenting Your Pretoddler Five to Fifteen Months.

I’ve been on a parenting book kick as of late, exercising my library privileges to devour volume upon volume of parenting advice, both new and traditional. This, because our very mobile, very precocious, very “spirited” one-year-old has begun to give us a run for our money. I want to be armed for the future, but more importantly, I believe that the parenting approach we use now — how we shape Oliver’s present behaviour — will set the precedent for how he responds to us and comports himself in the coming years.

Back when I talked about sleep training, a number of readers chimed in to recommend the Babywise method of early sleep training. Though our own sleep training process was completed with great success, I was curious about this method, which claims to have babies as young as six weeks old regularly sleeping through the night. I went online to order Babywise from the library, and as I added myself to the wait list, I saw there was a second book — Babywise Book Two — geared towards the parents of five to 15 month olds. I thought it might be worth a read, and it was available right away, so I ordered it.

In the last month or so, Oliver has started to display (developmentally normal, age-appropriate) “undesirable” behaviours, such as throwing food, touching off-limits items, whining and screaming. In the past, these behaviours were largely without intent; for example food fell on the floor at mealtimes as a byproduct of excitement, distraction, or his still-developing gross and fine motor coordination. It has become obvious that many of these behaviours are now deliberate — even defiant. For example, Oliver has long been fascinated with a particular charger plugged into the wall. It used to be that a firm, “No touch, Oliver,” would stop him in his tracks, but lately, he will pause, look at me, smirk, and reach for the charger again (rinse and repeat ad nauseum, until I physically remove him from the area).

The day I started reading Babywise, I’d  finally reached my limit with the post-meal clean-up routine, and with Oliver’s recent mealtime behaviour in general. His behaviour had crossed the line from learning and exploration to mere bad manners. There was intent behind his actions. If Oliver could make the decision to fling his food, spit out his water, bang on the table, yell, flip his plate, splash in spilt water, stick his feet up on the table, etcetera, I believed that he could also make the decision — with proper encouragement — to not do these things. He could learn new and more desirable mealtime behaviours. I was excited, because Babywise had an entire chapter devoted to highchair manners — something I’d never seen in any of my previous parenting reads.

My first thoughts, as I began to read Babywise II, were:

1. This book is basically the diametric opposite to attachment parenting (or “child-centred parenting,” as it is referred to in Babywise).

2. When was this book written?! It must be a newer edition of something originally written in the 50’s. (Nope, it was actually written in 1995!).

3. I feel like there’s a very old-fashioned religious undercurrent to this book. The oft-used phrases, ‘moral development,’ ‘priority of marriage,’ ‘training the heart,’ ‘command,’ and ‘obey’ are off-putting in the context of what is supposed to be a secular parenting book.

4. The author is making some good points, but he often confuses opinion with fact. Many of his assertions directly contradict the most recent research in child development (another reason I thought the book was older than it was).

5. Where are the references for all of his claims? This is the first parenting book I’ve read that has no footnotes, no citations, and no bibliography.

About halfway through the book, I voiced some of my concerns in this post (and the subsequent comments) on my Facebook page.

Author Gary Ezzo is a compelling writer. He’s an ex-preacher, endowed with the gift of persuasion. As I read through the book, he made claims that I knew had to be wrong. But he made them with such conviction that I actually began to entertain the possibility he was right. He appeals to the base parental desire to “manage” — a euphemism for control — the more challenging aspects of a baby’s temperament. He promises that following his method will yield the ideal of the calm, happy and obedient child.

In Part II I will discuss my specific concerns with the Babywise method, and with the author’s background.

15 responses to “ON BECOMING WISE TO “BABYWISE” — PART I

  1. Interested to read more of your thoughts on Babywise.
    I’ve never read the books but read some harsh comments about it from AP-oriented parents. Specifically, they claimed that the original Babywise prescribed a feeding schedule that lead to several infant deaths from malnourishment.
    Currently reading Simplicity Parenting. Not much there specifically for toddler behavior but a good read for parenting and family life in general.
    We’re lucky that our almost three year-old is pretty mild mannered but he still throws the occasional tantrum and knocks bowls of soup on the floor in frustration. We do a mix of ignoring bad behavior/praising good and breaking out our “very serious and not happy with you” voice. Occasionally he gets a time out or toys taken away. He always has to help clean up the mess he created.
    I’m also getting comfortable with dealing with poor behavior in public. Yesterday it took us 20 minutes to walk 200 metres holding hands on a busy street. Henry didn’t want to hold hands and he didn’t want to walk so every ten steps he would sit down and whine. And then he’d get up again. It’s slow going but I have to get him walking more, and holding hands consistently, before the new baby arrives.

    • I haven’t yet read the original Babywise (I’m on the wait list for a copy), but I am curious about it — even more so now, after having read some very damning criticisms of the method. I think there’s a lot we can learn from approaches we don’t agree with, as well as those that we do agree with. Despite my overall negative impression of BW II, I can admit that there were still a few nuggets of good information and advice in there.

      We are starting to deal with the walking thing as well. Oliver thinks he wants to walk everywhere now, so he fusses to be let down or out of the stroller, takes a few steps (usually in the wrong direction or towards traffic), then gets mad when I try to hold his hand or redirect him, plops down on the ground, and whines to be picked up again. Last week it took us more than 15 minutes to walk to daycare (a two-minute walk if I carry him). Of course living downtown, this is a safety issue, so we are going to have to address it sooner rather than later, and there’s certainly not going to be much leeway to consider Oliver’s desires.

      P.S. I think you’re now the third person to recommend Simplicity Parenting. I’m going to put that on my library list.

    • Well what do you know… just got an email from VPL that “Simplicity Parenting” is ready for pickup. Guess I’d already ordered it and didn’t remember 🙂

      • You will LOVE Simplicity Parenting (I recommended it on your FB page a couple of months ago). Rachel is right–there’s not a lot of toddler specific information, but it’s useful nonetheless. It’s almost like a philosophical parenting book more than anything. I’ll be interested to see what you think of it.

        • I just picked it up from the library the other day, and I’m hoping to start it this evening (after I finish the rest of this blog post!). I read the jacket, and my first thought was, “This sounds a little bit Waldorf-esque,” and then I saw that the author has been working with the Waldorf movement for many years. I am really fond of many aspects of the Waldorf education/parenting philosophy, so I’m sure I will find this book helpful.

  2. I know kids are all different and special, etc, but Oliver is doing exactly the same things, at exactly the same age, as Justine! Good luck! You will always make the right decision for him, no matter what the books say 🙂

    • It’s not that I think the behaviour is out of the ordinary for this age, but I was definitely caught off guard by the level of intent that seems to be behind it. But as I am coming to realize, intent is not necessarily a bad thing, as it means that they have the ability to choose their actions, and can therefore be taught more appropriate behaviours.

  3. I read all kinds of parenting literature, regardless if I agree with a particular method, or not. You definitely seem more structured in your parenting approach than we are here, but we love the articles at Hand-in-Hand Parenting and Laura Markham’s Aha Parenting. Basically, set a limit, and then listen to the sadness or anger that ensues with compassion and empathy. Set up an environment that allows for more yes and less no. Playful Parenting by Leonard Cohen is one of my favorites, but I find it harder with two kids. I am just starting “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka since I enjoyed her tone/writing style in Sleepless in America. I guess the important thing to do is find a method (or a few!) that resonates with you and go with it. If only one method worked, we’d certainly all be up a creek…

    • There is definitely value in reading things that we don’t agree with, as well as those we do. At the very least, it stimulates critical thinking.

      “Raising Your Spirited Child” was one of the first books we read. The public health nurse recommended it to me when Oliver was eight months old and starting to exhibit some challenging temperamental traits. It was an exceptional book, and really helped me to understand some of the reasons Oliver gets as frustrated as he does. It also opened my eyes to where Oliver’s more “spirited” behaviours and personality traits come from (hint: there are some definite genetic influences there :)). I loved the book’s emphasis on positivity and on avoiding negative labels.

      Thanks for the recommendations on Aha Parenting and Playful Parenting. I will check those out!

  4. I have “Raising Your Spirited Child” which I have quite enjoyed, and I really enjoyed reading “Unconditional Parenting” by Alfie Kohn, which is NOT (as it sounds) a book all about letting your child do whatever it wants (phew!), but is rather on the opposite end of the spectrum to the “control your child and make it do exactly what you want it to do……” school of thought. It also emphasises the positive and promotes helping the child to work out for themselves (eventually) what the right thing is to do, and why (ie: not simply for reward or empty praise). All interesting stuff…..!

    • “Raising Your Spirited Child” was so helpful! I’m going to put “Unconditional Parenting” on my library order list too. And then maybe one of these days, I’m actually going to get around to reading a novel… for fun 🙂

  5. Hi Carli,
    My daughter has exactly the same age as Olivier (I guess she was born 10 days before 😉 ) , and I’m having exactly the same experience as the one you’ve described so well. Me too I feel a bit puzzled as she’s been behaving in a defiant way lately. I’m not quite sure about how to react to this. If I were 100% convinced that she can understand that I’m not ok with her behavior and, more important perhaps, why I’m not ok, then I would be very strict without hesitating at all. But maybe she’s too little to really understand, and I feel uneasy with repeating all the time “No” “NO”… Do you think all the kids are that challenging at this age? Is it a phase?

    • I think this is the age where they only start to become challenging! 🙂

      I have the same dilemma as you. On one hand, I want to put a stop to certain behaviours sooner rather than later; on the other hand, I do not want Oliver’s days to be filled with “no,” “stop” and “don’t touch.” I am also trying to figure out which things Oliver is capable of understanding at this age, and which things I will have to wait to address until he is a little bit older.

      The other dilemma is that certain behaviours — for example, screaming and yelling, throwing toys and climbing on furniture — might not be desirable, but they are actually important to the baby’s development at this age, so we have to put up with them for a period of time so that they can learn the skills that they need to learn. Sigh 🙂

  6. I actually really loved both books 🙂 It helped my husband and I put our little guy on a schedule early on and he was sleeping through the night in no time. He never had a problem with feedings or anything and once he got older and started displaying unwanted behavior I followed the age appropriate disciplinary steps. I must say it has really has helped us. We do of course have those bad days as every parent does but consistency is the key! 🙂

  7. I just found your blog and I absolutely LOVE it! I am 16 weeks pregnant and am just like you were…not showing at 15 weeks, and just a bit thicker than normal at 16 weeks. It is so nice to see someone else who lifted heavy and ate paleo during pregnancy, and it’s even nicer to see your progress pics so I can know what I might actually look like at each week assuming I grow at the same rate as you 🙂 (I was comparing myself to other people’s progress pics and feeling left out, haha). Looking forward to reading through your blog!!

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