|BRINGING UP BABY BOOMERS
Take a moment to reflect on Dr. Spock's legacy
March 30, 1998
March 16, 1998
Remembering Dr. Benjamin Spock.
October 23, 1997
A discussion on how to structure child care in the future.
March 29, 1997
A report on a child's early years of development.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of health and youth issues.
Most members of the post-WWII generation of tots and toddlers probably didn't know the name, Dr. Benjamin Spock, until they were of college age, and heard of him as an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.
But to millions of their parents the late pediatrician - who passed away on March 16th - was a household name, a baby "guru," whose best selling book "Baby and Child Care," was a "must read" during the 1950s and 1960s . Not only did Dr. Spock quiet the late night howls of infants, but he also soothed the whimpers of first-time parents. His advice was simple: trust yourself, be flexible and there's no such thing as too much love.
The ideas don't seem radical today, but they were a sharp turn away from earlier ideas about parenting, which prescribed strict supervision with only occasional treats of lavish affection.
How important was Dr. Spock? Important enough that the demographic he influenced-- the baby boomers-- is sometimes referred to as the "Spock generation." And what you think of this generation-- healthy and influential, or spoiled and self-indulgent-- often determines what you think of the pediatrician who reared them through the pages of his books.
How did Dr. Spock influence parenting? Did his bedside manner produce a healthy or spoiled generation of adults? Here's what you had to say...
Andrew Lagemann of Tampa, FL writes:
Is it time to rethink the approach to parenting? Simple enough question to answer. Just watch one week of news and ask yourself: "Am I satisfied with the product of today's parents?"
Lola Maskovsky of Cherry Hill, NJ asks:
I find it curious that Dr.Spock is blamed for an entire generation's behavior; raising a child is much like cooking a wonderful meal.The end result depends on many variables and one can rarely duplicate the exact meal twice. And, the meal, no matter how delicious to me, may not appeal to everyone. My child, although exciting and wonderful to me, might well be some other parent's idea of his/her worst nightmare. Might we not blame Spock's advice and rather take individual responsibility on how we used his advice.
Susan Bunkers of Huntington Beach, CA writes:
I was a military wife, far from relatives and other support systems in the mid to late sixties. "Baby and Child Care" was my child rearing bible. Dr. Spock was consulted on everything; weaning, toilet training, fevers, rashes and, yes, discipline. We had no telephone at home, so help was not easily accessible, and advice from my mother was at least two weeks away! Dr. Spock was more familiar than my pediatrician, and more trusted! I say God Bless Dr. Spock, he got me through many crises, I shall miss him.
Dale Yancy of Nashua, NH writes:
As a 48-year old baby-boomer, I think there is a lot of misplaced adulation over the legacy of Benjamin Spock. He succeeded in "screwing up" an entire generation of kids. He truly was the parent of the 60's protest generation.
But, here is where he really blew it--by telling parents NOT TO SPANK their kids. This created a generation of spoiled, self-indulgent brats who had no real discipline in their lives.
I saw the results of Spock's permissive child-rearing philosophy in the lives of my friends. They all have shattered, broken lives, broken marriages, broken relationships.
Thank-you Dr. Spock. What a legacy!
Lillian Adams of Carbondale, IL writes:
My first child was born in 1940 in New York City when the strict "feed the baby on a schedule-- don't pick him up-- start toilet training him as soon as you get him home from the hospital" regime was in effect. Poor unhappy baby.
My second child was born in Southern Illinois in 1943, and I was surprised to learn that Dr. Spock's book didn't come out until 1946, because there had been a drastic shift in feeding the baby on demand, comforting her, etc. My bible on child development was "Infant and Child in the Culture of Today" by Arnold Gesell of the Yale Child Development Lab. I believe there had been a big shift because of the war in England. I remember reading that they found that during the blitz, children who had been loved and comforted by their parents had many fewer fears and trauma.
Barry Palmer of Sasebo, Japan writes:
The U.S. and the world today would not be the social soup sandwich that it's become without the help of Benjamin Spock. The self-indulged, whiny, snivelly "victims" that are running our government today are the direct result of the pablum this man spat up for years, and a whole generation of liberals gobbled up! Personal responsibility, discipline, integrity, all God feared virtues this nation once possessed and were looked up to by the rest of the world for, have been trashed in one generation. I am ashamed to be associated with this same generation, but the worst may be yet to come. As the offspring of this misguided generation finish college and take the reigns of power of the nation, it may be too late to undo the damage and return our nation to reason and sanity. Glad to be stationed in Japan, it's restored some of my faith in the human race, yet weakened my faith in my own nation.
Chris Hollins of Charlotte, NC writes:
I was not raised by Spock's ideas. His name was not used with respect in our household and people who followed him were considered weak minded.
Elizabeth Stafford of Jonesboro, AR writes:
The general message of child-rearing was most helpful in coping with the demands of an inquisitive child, the only one we have, born in 1967. Dr. Spock's book helped us to think through to the ends of our methods, what we hoped to achieve. But let's not be too methodical either. Dr. Spock's book helped us enjoy our kid and our life together as she grew and changed into the joy she is today, coping with her own exploring toddler.
"Seaweed" of Fairmont, MN writes:
I have trouble understanding why Dr. Spock is being blamed for effecting a generation of children raised without discipline or restraint. I WORE OUT three copies of his paperback "Baby and Child Care" in dealing with my contribution of four babies in three years to the Boomer generation.
I was an only child, as were many of my contemporaries. The Great Depression began exactly a year after I was born. I'm sure that this contributed to the many one-child families I grew up with. I had NO child care experience when I plunged into Motherhood with such uninformed enthusiasm in 1951. I knew nothing, and was convinced that my efforts would be judged on the open stage of the baby-centered society of those years. I felt as if the responsibility of the Ages was on my shoulders, and I was completely bewildered. All I knew for sure was that I wanted to approach parenting in exactly the opposite way that my own mother had, but I had no idea of what that might mean.
Dr. Spock gave me confidence in every area, from enlightened self-interest in taking my own needs and limitations into consideration, through disciplinary standards, to when to go to the hospital emergency room in a panic.
I challenge very strongly the idea that Dr. Spock advocated letting children run wild. Anyone who thinks that must have avoided actually READING his book and putting its suggestions and guidance into action. In actuality, Dr. Spock gave me the courage to establish sensible disciplinary measure in what could have been total chaos in a house full of toddlers.
My kids went through the "hippy" experiences of the 60s with their cohort, but were never completely out of control while doing it. They were free enough to experience life fully, and stable enough to get through it safely. Dr, Spock gave me the wisdom to give my children the "roots and wings" that good parenting provides.
Kathleen Strawbridge of Campbell, CA writes:
Having raised three sons during the 60s and 70s, I can only say that Dr. Spock's book was always at hand. Although I had several younger siblings, his rationale was different from that of my own parents, who were descendants of immigrants and who carried Old World discipline/values into their child rearing. During teen years, I sometimes questioned the wisdom of using Spock's methods raising my boys, however, now that they are adults and parents themselves, I see how right he was. My sons are focused, responsible, loving adults who are doing a wonderful job of raising their own sons. Thank you Dr. Spock for guiding me during those long, sleepless nights.
The PBS NewsHour is Funded in part by: Additional Foundation and Corporate Sponsors
Copyright © 1996- MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. All Rights Reserved. Support the kind of journalism done by the NewsHour...Become a member of your local PBS station.