Dr. Benjamin Spock was a much-loved pediatrician whose book Baby and Child Care
(published 1946) became an all-time best seller and was translated into 39 languages. When I was growing up (in the sixties and seventies), his book was my mother's parenting bible which she consulted for everything and which I can still picture in my mind's eye: dog-eared and well-worn.
The central message of his book was that parents, particularly mothers, should trust their instincts about raising children. Spock's advice flew in the face of the child psychology behaviorists like John Watson, who believed that holding, kissing and coddling children were ill-advised because it led to spoiling them. (Interestingly enough, two of Watson's "unspoiled children" committed suicide as adults. Actress Marian Hartley (granddaughter of Watson) wrote about this in her autobiography.)
Dr. Benjamin Spock was a revolutionary parenting expert who advocated children's rights and encouraged parents to treat children as individuals and be loving and flexible (rather than harsh and coercive) with regard to child discipline.
When he was a child (the eldest of six), he helped care for his younger siblings. Perhaps it was these early experiences that led to his great compassion for children and his recognition that they need love and attention in order to grow and develop in a healthy way.
As a young man, Dr. Spock attended Yale University. In addition to his studies, he excelled as an athlete. In fact, he won a gold medal at the 1924 Olympics for his participation on an eight-man team.
Although Spock was later accused of advocating permissiveness, in his biography, he discounted this, claiming that his writings were misinterpreted. What he advocated instead, was that parents should be attentive and respond to children's needs. He emphasized the joy of parenting and believed that parents, not doctors, were the true experts when it came to understanding their children.
Spock attended medical school at Columbia University. He completed a residency in pediatrics and in psychiatry.
The good doctor was a courageous political activist and conscientious objector who took a stand against the Vietnam War. Even though his activism hurt book sales, he saw this as a way to stand up for the countless children who he had helped parents raise into young adults.
Born on May 2, 1903, Dr. Benjamin Spock lived to the ripe old age of 95. He died of cancer on March 15, 1998. His contributions to parents and children have made a lasting impact on the world.