About Growing Families International
The ministry that eventually became known as Growing Families International did not come into existence through human ingenuity. It was not an idea that moved from a scratch pad to reality, nor a social need Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo felt called to meet. Nonetheless, a ministry to parents began long before anyone knew what was happening. This is their story.
No one really knows when a divine appointment might take place or what it might look like. Life is going in one direction when a chance, (or divine) encounter redirects your steps in an entirely different direction. That chance encounter in the park, a canceled flight, or the nice couple with the new baby who moved in next door, can each be that one encounter, opportunity or moment that changes the trajectory of your life.
For Gary and Anne Marie, such an encounter presented itself in 1984, when they agreed to meet with a young couple with a three-month-old, and a list of parenting questions. The two couples met weekly, sharing, talking, and working through parenting beliefs priorities and practices. Soon the one couple inspired twelve others to become part of the learning experience. Their excitement and enthusiasm attracted eighty more couples, whose equal enthusiasm inspired two hundred, followed by six hundred, and then a thousand. Three years later Gary and Anne Marie's values-based approach to parenting began spreading from continent to continent; and eventually into sixty-five countries. Today, the various curriculums that flowed out of those early meetings have been translated in twenty-seven languages.
From that very first meeting to the present, the Ezzos' life-giving message created culture of parenting, where mothers and fathers feel informed, appreciated and empowered, and their children feel safe, valued and loved. Today, over eight million parents and twice as many children have interacted with the principles and perspectives put forth by the Growing Families parenting network. Growing Families International exist to provide the resources that help families achieve similar outcomes.
About Gary and Anne Marie
As a teaching couple, Gary and Anne Marie are committed to life on life relationships, one family impacting another—not by convincing words, but by the compelling witness of morally beautiful children that validated each family’s experience. They know how to help parents instill within their children meaningful family values, and virtues, and then match those noble attributes with the understanding that others, young and old, rich or poor, possess the inalienable rights to enjoy the same.
The Ezzos beliefs and teaching emphasis was not shaped by their educational experience (Gary holds a Masters of Arts from Biola University School of Theology, Anne Marie is an RN), but rather something more fundamental. It has everything to do with a single assumption on which all their parenting constructs flow. It all starts here.
Whether it was right or wrong, wise or foolish, Gary and Anne Marie approached many of the contemporary parenting challenges “prescriptively” rather than "descriptively". They continue to point parents to how things ought to be, rather than simply accepting the status quo of how things actually are. Their message is filled with life, hope, and the confidence that parents can have a profound effect on the relational health of their family for the good. Here is a summary of some of their core beliefs relating to parent education and child development.
1. Culture of Life versus Culture of Death
Families today are surrounded by a culture of condemnation, judgment and death, where vice is celebrated above virtue, deceit above honesty, and self-interest over the needs of others. We read about it, watch it on television, experience it at the workplace and our neighborhoods. This condition begs the question: How can a mother and father create a life-giving home environment while living in a culture surrounded by death? There is only one way. They must create a culture of life for their children, that can do more than compensate for our culture of death, but rise above it. One way is through the practice of virtue which embodies life.
Virtue and vice are contrasting life and death concepts. Virtuous words communicate value, worth and potential, while promoting beauty, which are reflective attributes of God. Vice is the opposite of virtue and so are vice words. They are common words that speak to failure, corruption and defeat. Instead of pointing our children in the direction we wish them to go, vice words leave them where we found them. They are judgment words and speak of a person as they are, and not what they can become. Dangerous is the person who knows vice as a way of life, for going from vice to evil is but a step.
2. The Basis and Value of Life
The first moral question relating to life concerns itself with the origin of life. If the source of all life is the result of cosmic chance, on what basis can value be ascribed to human life? There is none! Chance is values-neutral. It has no sense of virtue or vice; it neither plans nor plots, nor is it spontaneous. It can no more generate life than take it.
The alternative to chance is much more reasonable. We do not struggle with the science of God, i.e., His existence; for there is nothing in the universe that is more plausible than Divine intention and creative order, and nothing more frightening than a universe without a God-consciousness. Just because some scientist are not able to reconcile the science behind creation doesn't mean the rest of us have to turn to a make-believe "theory” that chance and time became our mother.
By faith and reason we accept God for being whom He says He is. The universe was brought into existence, and all life sprang forth by the spoken Word of God, except man. For he was brought to life by the breath of God (Genesis 2:7), reflecting the image and likeness of the Creator (Genesis 1:27). Man’s imputed value was secured at the time of Creation and validated at the moment of redemption.
3. Structure Function Principle:
Since learning comes in progressive stages, training should take place progressively as well. For this reason, parents need to provide their child with a learning environment that matches information with understanding. Of the many universal laws of child development, one in particular has specific application for training and educating children. It’s called the structure-function principle, and it states that a child cannot perform certain functions (activities), until specific developmental structures are in place and sufficiently mature. This is a fancy way of saying that parents cannot expect specific behaviors from their children until the child has the capacity to achieve them. The newborn does not have the capacity to sleep continuously eight hours at night, but acquire that capacity at eight weeks. The two year old does not have the finger-hand muscle control to write his name, this is a skill that comes in time. Parents should not expect specific skills or behaviors from their children prior to the child’s capacity to perform them. God give us all the cues necessary to know when to begin training and educating our children in specific skills.
4. Family and society
The family remains the values generating institution of our society. We believe parents have a social obligation to welfare of the country they live in, and therefore should socialize and integrate their children with and by the life-principle that all mankind is precious to God, and should be treated with the dignity ascribe to them by their Creator. The Ezzos also believe the refinement of a child’s character is largely the product of Mom and Dad’s direct influence. Unless that influence is willfully surrendered to outside forces or sacrificed to life’s busy demands, children will absorb the moral lessons of their home life. Whatever character qualities are tossed aside or devalued will be devalued by the child. It is simply a truth of life. If something is not important to Mom and Dad, it will not spontaneously become important to the child. Thus, parents continue to be the greatest influence on children thus on society.
5. The role marriage plays in parenting.
The greatest overall influence parents have on their children will not come in their roles as individual parents, but in their joint married roles. A healthy and vibrant marriage relationship is essential to the emotional health of children, not to mention Mom and Dad’s emotional welfare. When there is harmony in the marriage, there is an infused stability within the family. Even more certain, strong marriages provide a haven of security for children as they grow in the nurturing process. That is because healthy, loving marriages create a sense of certainty for children. When a child observes the special friendship and emotional togetherness of his parents, he is more secure simply because it isn’t necessary to question the legitimacy of his parents’ commitment to one another.
6. Nature versus Nurture
Nurture must always work hand in hand with nature, but nature cannot be used as an excuse for the lack of nurture. Parents will do well to understand the nature of children and the power of a child’s self-will. The human self-will is neither a virtue or a vise but it is “innately human.” It is both bias and objective, protective and destructive, self-centered and empathic. It can be kind or cruel obeying reasonable laws of others or the unreasonable law of self. It is not capacity to be broken, manipulated or controlled but pointed and encouraged to pursue that which is good and beautiful. Parents never minister to their children by allowing for an overindulgent self-will, but they aid learning as they help a child gain “self-control” over their will.
7. Teenage rebellion (Myth or Reality)
When society insisted that teenage rebellion is inevitable, marked by impossible communication, peer-dependent children, and rebellious behavior, the Ezzos provided a hopeful alternative, encouraging parents to look forward to the teen years, as a reward of their diligent labor. They maintained that the teen years can and should be the best years of the parent-child relationship, marked by cooperation, love, and commitment to family. To say, their view drove the experts of the day batty, would be an understatement. But the populace embraced the notion and more importantly, pursued it.
8. What parents cannot do.
Too often parents are lead by the false assumption that they can make their children good, wise and sensible. The cannot! They can only give their children the resources to be good wise and sensible. They cannot create outcomes, but only create opportunities for the best outcomes. In the end, every child will make his or her own decisions. They will either choose the way of the wise man, if they are conversant with wisdom, or the way of the fool, it they are conversant with the life of a foolish person.
9. The gender challenges
Is it any surprise that little boys are hard-wired differently than little girls? Little boys have a trail of masculine adjectives that distinctly separate them from little girls, implying the best thing we can do for our children is recognize, appreciate, and nurture their unique gender predisposition. Neither Mom nor Dad should attempt to feminize their sons with a type of tenderness that does not translate across gender lines. By that statement, we are not saying boys should not be taught tenderness and gentleness. To the contrary! It is precisely because of their masculine traits that they should be taught these virtues. But what we are saying is that little boys will never quite get into the tea party scene and in contrast, little girls will probably not try to jump off the back of the couch with elbows extended, pretending to be a tag team wrestler. That is why attempting the gender neutralize children is contrary to the laws of nature and their created design.
10. The need for community
The word community can mean many things to many people. We use it here to refer to likeminded families, tied together by common interests, values, and a significant commitment to a parenting ideal. The purpose of the community is to work toward the mutual benefit of the individual and the collective membership of the group. In other words, to quote the Three Musketeers, “All for one and one for all!” We believe it’s vital for parents to surround themselves with people who share their values and commitment to parenting. These are the friends who provide a second tier of support and with whom they can trust their children with. These are the friends who pick them up on difficult days and encourage them to keep going when others are shouting “give up on your standards and convictions!” The moral community in which you and your children belong will either be a friend or foe to your family values and parenting. When your children’s peers come out of a like minded community, your family beliefs and convictions are reinforced in their hearts and minds and their confidence in Mom and Dad is strengthened.
The Ezzos' 30 year journey was not void of criticism, although most criticism came in the form of demagoguery. (Demagoguery is the deceptive practice of intentionally misquoting statements and misleading readers by adding new assumptions or conclusions contrary what is clearly stated, and then attributing them to the author.) Nonetheless, the Growing Families International continues as a vibrant global ministry promoting life, character and a healthy otherness perspective. Of course, today, the ministry has grown larger than any one couple or family or country, and is sustained with a common passion driven by a shared vision: to reach the world one family at a time with the message of hope that reflects God’s love to all mankind.