Benjamin Spock

Benjamin Spock

Despite being idolized by mothers of the post-World War II Baby Boom and vilified during the Vietnam era, Dr. Benjamin Spock kept his focus on "what was right."

From the late 1940s and into the '50s and '60s, "what was right" regarding baby and child care went against the conventional thinking of the times. "What was right" by Spock's yardstick was "trust yourself," when it came to rearing a child. "You know more than you think," Spock encouraged new mothers. "Do what feels right for you, and you probably won't go wrong."

Gone were the days when parents let infants cry, did not touch them, did not hug them, and fed them on schedule, hungry or not. The boot-camp mentality was replaced by an emotional attachment between child and parent; a feeling of love and being loved. And when that loving bond was firmly in place, everything else that mattered fell into place as if by magic.

The early years

Benjamin Spock was born in New Haven, Connecticut in May 1903, the eldest of six children. His early upbringing included being responsible, in part, for caring for his younger siblings — changing diapers, feeding and babysitting them, and helping them with the ways of life, as only the eldest can do.

Benjamin's mother ran a strict, but loving household; his father was a prominent lawyer.

Benjamin's education was of the private school variety. He attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, as a youth, then Yale University, as his father did.

While at Yale, Spock earned a spot on the rowing crew that won a gold medal at the 1924 Summer Olympics. He studied at Yale's School of Medicine for two years before transferring to the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in New York City. In the process of finishing first in his class, Spock found time to marry Jane Cheney. They produced two sons, Michael and John.

The baby doctor

Spock had specialized in pediatrics at Columbia, but realized early in his practice that to best help young families was to study the internal dynamics of the clan — what makes them tick; what are the issues that create a loving household, as opposed to a mentally and physically tough place to grow up?

So Spock devoted the following six years to the study of psychoanalysis, which made him the only pediatrician with that kind of background. As he talked with parents, the more convinced he became that the conventional wisdom of the day was less than sound.

The result was a compilation of all that he knew to be true and all that he felt was true, about rearing a child. In 1946, this repository of knowledge was rendered into a book titled The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. The publisher, Pocket Books, distributed the daring, iconoclastic tome for 25 cents.

At the time of his death in 1998, the book was second only to the Bible as a bestseller. It has been translated into 39 languages and has sold more than 50 million copies. However, the book led to the sometimes-malign phrase, "Spock-reared babies," giving rise to the misinterpretation that the book encouraged "permissiveness," an attitude with which Spock vehemently disagreed.

The "child-rearing 'bible'"

The main purpose of the book was to get parents to trust their instincts when it came to administering love and discipline — a baby is a fragile being and needs to know it is loved so it can love in return; children need discipline as a way of guidance.

As the book grew in popularity and gained acceptance by other pediatricians, Dr. Spock became a household name. He continued his work by teaching child development at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio for 12 years, lecturing around the globe, and writing other books on child care.

Political activism

It made sense to Spock, that if he had been responsible for encouraging a family lifesyle centered on loving children and providing them with an environment that would help them grow and become productive adults, it would make sense to speak out about seeing them maimed and killed in Southeast Asia.

Antiwar demonstration? Spock was there. During the election of 1972, he ran a third-party campaign and spoke out on issues that spoke to working families, children, and minorites.

The latest developments

Spock made a number of revisions to the "Baby Book," always with an eye to updating pediatric knowledge and advances. Such social issues as single parenthood, working mothers, and day care were addressed.

Aided by his second wife, Mary Morgan, Dr. Spock published his memoir, Spock on Spock, in 1985. The two traveled the lecture circuit, and kept up with their respective writings for medical journals and nonprofessional literary fare.

A great age

Benjamin Spock died at the age of 94 in his San Diego home, surrounded by his family. His innovations in the field of child development are a part of his lasting legacy.

---- Selected Quotes ----

Quotes by Benjamin Spock.

Regarding Parenting
Don't take too seriously all that the neighbors say. Don't be overawed by what the experts say. Don't be afraid to trust your own common sense.
Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, 1945

Quotes regarding Benjamin Spock.

By Dr. Marvin Drellich
Some physicians who have called him excessively permissive just didn't understand and gave his understanding approach to child rearing a negative label. He was blamed for the radical behavior of the youth in the '60s. But that didn't emerge from Spock's teachings. It was far more a reflection of the social and political climate.

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