Dr. Benjamin Spock Biography, Theories and Books: The Controversial Forefather of Intuitive Parenting

Dr. Benjamin Spock took the world by storm in the 1960s and now, more than five decades later, his theories and ideas are still going strong.

Although he was one of the most prominent and well-known figures, he had a "love/hate" relationship with the parenting community (particularly among his co parenting experts), becoming one of the most controversial experts in the field.

While some people embraced his ideas whole-heartedly, others criticized Spock, blaming him for everything from selfishness, permissiveness to anti-feminism.

His parenting philosophies were completely opposite the accepted norms of the time:

  • Dr. Spock in his later years.Child-centered parenting and flexibility?

  • Gasp!

  • Whoever heard of such a thing?

  • Won't children become spoiled and demanding?

Previous experts, such as John B. Watson, had emphasized one thing: Schedule, Schedule, Schedule!

Feed your children on a schedule, make them sleep on a schedule, allow them to play on a schedule, even hugs and affection were slotted in at appropriate times and as rewards for specific behavior.

But, despite very vocal resistance, mothers everywhere were rushing out to buy Dr. Spock's book Baby and Child Care.

After being made to feel like they didn't know anything about parenting, Spock's statement, "You know more than you think you do" was a breath of fresh air.

In this Article on Dr. Benjamin Spock You'll Get

The Dr. Benjamin Spock Biography

Picture of a young Benjamin Spock.Dr. Spock was born May 2, 1903 in New Haven, Connecticut, USA.

Benjamin Spock was the oldest of six children so he often helped take care of his siblings. He studied literature and history at Yale University, and was also very active in athletics, actually winning an Olympic gold medal in rowing in 1924.

Benjamin Spock began studies at Yale medical school in 1925, but later transferred to Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating top of his class in 1929.

In 1937, he became a board certified pediatrician.

He went on to open his own practice and also taught at several institutions of higher learning.

Very early in his career, he began to realize that approximately half of the questions parents asked were about psychological issues rather than medical or physical concerns.

For this reason, he began to promote the idea that all pediatricians should have training in psychology.

In 1946, drawing from his observations as well as his experience as a father of two sons, Dr. Spock wrote The Common Sense Book Of Baby And Child Care.

The purpose was to counteract the popular parenting ideas of the time and offer an alternative approach that was better for both the parent and the child.

The book's success was unprecedented.

In a time that demanded rigid conformity, mothers were now being told that they should relax, treat their children as individuals, and have fun.

And, unlike other experts who were stuffy and dictatorial, Dr. Spock was informal, friendly, and approachable.

Dr. Benjamin Spock talked to the parents as if they were the experts on their own children and made mothers feel confident rather than insecure.

Dr. Spock's Relaxed Parenting Ideas Gave Rise to Criticism and Controversy

The "one size fits all" philosophy was exchanged for the "every child is different" and "trust your instincts" approach.

Dr. Spock's non-conformist ideas as well as his regular columns in the Ladies Home Journal and Redbook, made him a household name, although he continued to be criticized by many of his colleagues.

This criticism was escalated further when he became actively involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement. His left wing political views, as well as his "relaxed" parenting theories, earned him the title "Father of Permissiveness".

By this time, the first generation of "Spock babies" had reached adulthood and his opponents were looking for a way to discredit his work.

In a time when the entire nation was questioning both the moral and political status quo, Dr. Spock was blamed for permissiveness, materialism, anti-feminism, and rebellion.

In advising parents to trust their instincts and show affection, he had somehow created a generation of selfish monsters?

That's what many experts wanted people to believe. While these accusations were unfounded, Spock also felt that many of the ideas in his book were misinterpreted or applied incorrectly.

Dr. Spock Felt Misunderstood

Benjamin Spock did not advise parents to ignore discipline nor did he promote out-of-control behavior.

  • "I didn't want to encourage permissiveness, but rather to relax rigidity."

In response to these accusations, Dr. Spock said:

  • "Reverend Peale blamed me for all the lack of patriotism, lack of responsibility, and lack of discipline of the young people who oppose the war. All these failings, he said, were due to my having told their parents to give them "instant gratification" as babies ... I have always advised parents to give their children firm, clear leadership and to ask for cooperation and politeness in return."

Despite Continued Criticism, Baby and Child Care, Is the Second Bestselling Book of all Time

And, it continues to be a popular seller because Dr. Spock strove, until his death in 1998, to keep all the material relevant and up-to-date for every generation.

In addition to magazine and journal contributions, Dr. Spock wrote several books, covering a wide variety of topics from health and nutrition to morality, religion, and behavioral problems.

Benjamin Spock was named one of the 100 Most Important People of the Twentieth Century by Life Magazine, and even more than a decade after his death, he is still considered to be one of the foremost experts on parenting.

Dr. Spock's Famous Theories and Contributions

Portrait of Dr. Benjamin SpockDr. Benjamin Spock made many contributions to the field of parenting, and his theories have stood the test of time, proving that "common sense" never goes out of style.

Although he is credited with introducing many ideas throughout his long career, he is most recognized for:

  • Intuitive parenting

  • A complete and common sense approach to parenting

  • The practical application of experts such as Sigmund Freud and John Dewey

  • Love and flexibility vs. routine and rules

  • Relevant and up-to-date material

Intuitive Parenting:

'Yes, Hugging and Kissing Your Child Is a Good Thing!'

For years, parents had been told that responding affectionately to a baby's cries would create a spoiled, self-centered child.

Hugging and kissing and giving-in to their every whim would take control from the parents and give it to the children.

It might have sounded great in theory, but people such as John Watson and others who promoted authoritarianism were not the ones who had to live with the consequences.

Where was Mr. John Watson when a child cried unceasingly in the middle of the night?

Or, where were the experts when thousands of children became fearful, insecure adults because they had spent their whole lives working to "earn" their parents love and approval?

Dr. Spock brought hope into a desperate situation. He introduced a new approach to parenting that had many mothers breathing a sigh of relief.

The premise of intuitive parenting (or attachment parenting) is simple:

  • Parents, not doctors, are the experts on their own children.

  • You know more than you think you do, trust yourself!

  • Listen to your "gut" feelings, and do what YOU think is best for your child

  • Don't worry about what your neighbors, friends, or family members say, but focus on the NEEDS of your particular child.

  • Every child is an individual, treat them as such.

  • Bond with your child and give affection freely.

  • Oh, and have fun!

Intuitive parenting is not about permissiveness or lack of discipline.

It is about doing what is best for your child so that he will develop a strong sense of value and self-esteem.

Dr. Spock never said that there shouldn't be boundaries - he simply questioned the previous methods of enforcing those boundaries and argued that children respond much better to love than rigidity.

In other words, parents should act less like sergeants or prison wardens and more like ... well, parents!

Below you will find a rather long interview with Dr. Spock but if you're really, really interested in getting in-depth with him and his parenting views on e.g. Freudian insights, permissiveness etc. it's worth view ;-)

Complete and Common Sense Parenting:

'Parenting Is not a Big Mystery and You Can Do It!'

One of the most appealing things about Dr. Spock was that he always gave practical advice.

Parents didn't have to buy special items or follow a complicated six step routine. There were no personality tests or hours of psychological probing. He didn't confuse people with scientific or medical jargon, and he never made mothers feel stupid or inept.

Benjamin Spock made sense!

And, his theories could be applied by anyone, anywhere, no matter where you lived, how much money you made, or how many children you had.

And, he didn't just talk about one aspect of parenting such as discipline or sleeping problems, but had a complete approach, making sure that parents were prepared for everything they may encounter.

His books and articles included material on toilet training, temper tantrums, and illness, as well as nutrition, obesity, discrimination, and altruism.

Dr. Spock gave practical, applicable advice on every question a parent may have, and gave peace of mind to many mothers who had previously believed that they did not "measure up".

Practical Application of Freud and Dewey:

'Finally They Make Some Sort of Sense'

Although Sigmund Freud is now a household name, his writings are both complex and confusing.

Benjamin Spock, like Sigmund Freud, believed that many adult problems are a result of childhood issues, and Freudian ideas are evident in his theories.

For the first time, "Oedipus Complex" and "Infantile Experiences" were understandable to the average parent.

Spock made Freud and Dewey make sense!

Now, these experts were no longer just names studied in a university classroom, but they became relevant to a whole new generation of people.

Thanks to Spock, parents now knew what Freud was trying to say and they understood how to apply these ideas to their child-rearing practices.

Love & Flexibility vs. Routine & Rules:

'Yes, You May Kiss Your Baby and It Doesn't Even Have to Be Scheduled'

Dr. Spock made it 'legal' for mothers to show affection towards their children. Mother holding her baby. Remember, parents had always been told that their babies should eat, sleep, and play on a schedule that was imposed upon them by the adults in their life.

Allowing them to eat an hour early or rocking them back to sleep in the middle of the night would create children that ruled the home.

Kids were supposed to do whatever their parents said, and the job of a good parent was to make sure that their children were molded into the perfect specimens.

The ultimate goal was to have babies sleeping through the night, eating three times a day, and learning to play independently as soon as possible.

In an attempt to make sure that the children did not control the home, the opposite actually happened - the parents controlled the children. And, every child had to fit into a rigid, non-flexible framework.

But, unconditional love cannot flourish in a controlling atmosphere.

And, although a cranky, collicky baby can reduce a mother to tears of exhaustion, the simple fact is that most parents want to hold their children. Most mothers want to play with their babies.

Many of the previous parenting ideas were simply unnatural - and completely at war with a mother's natural instinct!

So, even though Dr. Spock created a lot of controversy, he was really only speaking what was in most mothers' hearts.

He gave them permission to hug, kiss, cuddle, pamper, and enjoy their babies.

And, he not only said it was OK to show affection, he told them that it was the best thing they could do for their children.

Spock: 'Just Like Adults Are Different so Are Children - and They Should Be Treated as Such'

As adults, we don't like rigid, non-flexible rules.

We want to be treated as unique individuals, and Spock suggested that we give the same respect to our children.

Since every child is different, a "one-size-fits-all" approach to parenting cannot be effective. Some children are ready to be toilet trained at 24 months, while others are 36 months.

One child may be calm and passive, while another is active and inquisitive. Spock urged parents to throw out the rigid rules of conduct and milestone achievement for a more flexible approach to parenting.

While "go with the flow" was the mantra of the sixties, it did encourage parents to respond to their children based on their needs, personality, and individuality.

Allowing for a little flexibility in the rules will give children the space within which to grow, explore, and become all they are meant to be.

Spock Introduced the Concept of Fun into Parenting

In short, love, affection and flexibility can make parenting fun!

This was a novel idea to a generation of parents who had been ingrained with the responsibility of producing children who did the right thing at the right time.

Isn't the job of a parent to mold and shape a child to the socially acceptable standard? Who has time for fun and games?

Well, according to Dr. Spock, parenting should be mutually enjoyable. Children are meant to cherished and enjoyed, not controlled and conformed.

Dr. Benjamin Spock Always Made Sure His Material Was Relevant and Up-to-Date

Unlike many other experts, Spock always worked to make sure his books and theories were current with the changing times.

He recognized that every generation faced unique issues that needed to be addressed, and he wasn't afraid to change his material to accommodate social and medical concerns.

While many people in the field of parenting were left by the wayside because their material did not seem relevant to a new generation, Dr. Spock made it a priority to communicate with parents of every age and to explain how intuitive, or child-centered, parenting could still be applicable in current situations.

As Society Changed, so Did the Emphasis of Spock's Books

He still addressed the basic issues of feeding, bathing, nutrition, toilet training etc, but he recognized the need to adapt his material to an evolving world.

He made additions to reflect the changes in the role of women and removed the strongly sexist language that was present in the first printing.

He also devoted time to discuss such things such as two job families, single parenting, step-parenting, divorce, and homosexual or lesbian families.

Because Dr. Benjamin Spock was not afraid to admit when he was wrong and worked to constantly make sure his books were current and up-to-date, his theories and ideas have stood the test of time and survived despite criticism.

He has transcended generations and still speaks to the hearts of parents everywhere. His words echo through the decades:

  • "Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do!"
Famous Benjamin Spock quote: Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do!

Books by Dr. Benjamin Spock

Over the course of his lifetime, Benjamin Spock wrote several books, although many of them covered very similar material. s publications and television appearances changed many popular child-rearing practices and made Dr. Spock a world wide phenomenon.

At the time of his death, his first book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, had sold over 50 million copies and had been translated into 42 languages.

It is second in international sales only to the Bible, and continues to be one of the most popular parenting manuals available today.

Baby and Child Care (1946)

First published as The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, this book has seen nine revisions and is now sold as Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care.

Depending on the volume, different topics may be addressed such as divorce, single parenting, and modern fathering, but the basics remain the same.

This parenting manual is filled with practical advice about feeding, nutrition, illness, child care, discipline, media, bonding, sleeping, and both social and physical development.

While all of Dr. Spock's books resonate the same message, this is the one that started it all.

Baby and Child Care introduced the world to revolutionary ideas such as:

  • Trust yourself and your child

  • Follow your intuition

  • Treat children as individuals

  • Parenting should be enjoyable for both the parent and the child

Feeding Your Baby and Child (1955)

This book was intended to be a companion to Baby and Child Care and was written in consultation with Miriam E. Lowenbery, who was the head of the department of Food and Nutrition at Pennsylvania State University.

It covers such topics as:

  •  Diet during pregnancy

  • Nursing

  • Weaning

  • Formulas

  • Introducing solid foods

  • Feeding problems

  • Illness

  • Making food fun and interesting

  • Catering to preferences and influencing attitudes toward food

Dr. Spock Talks With Mothers (1961)

Although this book contains some original material, it is largely comprised of articles that Dr. Spock wrote for the Ladies Home Journal.

For the most part, it answers commonly asked questions that many parents have, including topics such as:

  •  Physical fitness

  • Birth order

  • Sibling rivalry

  • Quarelling

  • Obedience/punishment/discipline

  • Bedwetting

  • Sleep and bedtime problems

  • Aggression in children

  • Whining

  • Issues and concerns faced during teenage years

The purpose of this book is to offer basic guidance to mothers and help them achieve parenting methods that will benefit both parent and child.

Raising Children in a Difficult Time (1974)

As mentioned, Dr. Spock recognized societal changes and tried to address new parenting concerns as they arose.

This book deals with some of the difficult topics not thoroughly covered in any of his previous writings such as:

  •  Drug use

  • Contraception

  • Sex and disease

  • Morality

  • Increased responsibility for children

  • Discrimination

  • Altruism

  • Relationships between parents and children in teen years and early adulthood

Spock on Parenting (1988)

Again, this book provides a relevant and current approach to other issues discussed in previous books including two job families, single parenthood, role of the modern father, religion and God, sexual equality, healthy gender attitudes, and developing your child's potential.

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