Dr. Benjamin Spock, 1903-1998
His life covered most of the last century. His influence will reach far into the next. He was, and will always be, a man for all children.
While specializing in pediatrics, Spock realized that he could best help his young patients and their parents if he gained a greater understanding of their psychological needs and family dynamics. With the dedication and intensity that marked his every endeavor, he studied psychoanalysis for six years, making him the only practicing pediatrician of his time with this combination of training. The more he talked with parents and studied the psychological and emotional aspects of childhood, the more convinced he became that much of the prevailing wisdom of the day was flawed.
Spock's ideas have become such a part and parcel of the parenting landscape that it's easy to forget how revolutionary they were. In post-war America, parents were in awe of doctors and other childcare professionals; Spock assured them that parents were the true experts on their own children.
They had been told that picking up infants when they cried would only spoil them; Spock countered that cuddling babies and bestowing affection on children would only make them happier and more secure. Instead of adhering to strict, one-size-fits-all dictates on everything from discipline to toilet training, Spock urged parents to be flexible and see their children as individuals.
Perhaps most revolutionary of all, he suggested that parenting could be fun, that mothers and fathers could actually enjoy their children and steer a course in which their own needs and wishes also were met. All this and much more, including a wealth of helpful medical advice, was delivered in a friendly, reassuring, and common-sense manner completely at odds with the cold authoritarianism favored by most other parenting books of...