Dr. Benjamin Spock is not played by Leonard Nimoy. I know this. Yet, when I first saw his photo on a book jacket, I was shocked to see a white-haired gentleman. I guess I still expected pointy ears and jet-black hair.
Dr. Spock’s sixty-year-old tome, Baby and Child Care, sat on my bedside table for months before I dove in. The 1950s seemed like the dark ages to me. I pictured his world in black-and-white. Plus, for some reason I had thought that Dr. Benjamin Spock was a bad dude. A villain in the genre of holistic parenting. I associated him with hitting kids. I think this came from a Woody Woodpecker cartoon from my youth. The cartoon, as I remember it, showed a mother opening a parenting book that contained not pages full of advice but instead a compartment holding a hairbrush with which to spank kids. For some reason I remember the book title being something like A Parent’s Guide to Discipline, by Dr. Spock.
But I must be remembering incorrectly, because it turns out that Dr. Spock was a righteous dude. The message of his book is to honor children, to listen to them, and to treat them as individuals. As mentioned earlier, Spock’s main message to parents, especially to mothers, was, “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” He was all about empowering them! And this was in the 1950s, when people were totally repressed. I’ve seen Mad Men. I know all about these folks.
Spock himself was an ardent political activist, later protesting the Vietnam War. He was arrested numerous times for civil disobedience. Not only that, but at points in his life he meditated twice daily, ate a macrobiotic diet, and practiced yoga. I love this man!
Apparently Spock’s stance on Vietnam was unpopular with supporters of the war, so they attacked and attempted to defame him. This might explain the Woody Woodpecker reference. And apparently their campaign was successful. In fact, the only other thing I remember hearing about Spock is that his own son committed suicide — a fact that was supposed to unequivocally invalidate Spock’s work. But the fact is that Spock’s son did not commit suicide. His two sons are alive and well.
The Spock story gets better and better. He was slated to be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vice presidential running mate in the 1968 election. And he actually ran for president in the 1972 election under the People’s Party. His platform: free medical care, the immediate withdrawal of all American troops from foreign countries, a guaranteed minimum income for families, and the legalization of abortion, homosexuality, and marijuana! Amazing!
Spock’s parenting mission was to counter the prevailing behaviorist notions of the day. Parents believed that babies should not be held or coddled, since doing so would breed needy, spoiled individuals, unable to deal with the harsh world. So Spock was basically the foil to Holt’s 1896 Cry It Out.
If Spock were here today, he’d be a full-on attachment parenter. He’d be wearing Prana-brand yoga pants and hanging out with Rodney Yee. He and Alfie Kohn would be mixing it up at tea shops, and he’d be playing in the mud with Larry Cohen. He’d be traveling the Attachment Parenting speaking circuit and offering workshops at Kripalu, Omega, and Esalen. His kids would be breastfed, coslept, uncircumcised, sleeping on sheepskin, and wearing organic wool, and Spock himself would be following his parenting intuition.
In Spock’s own words, “The more people have studied different methods of bringing up children, the more they have come to the conclusion that what good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is the best after all.”
This is similar to Dr. Sears’s message, and I feel sure it must be true. If not, if we have lost this instinctive ability that all animals have to care for their young, then bring on the glaciers and comets, because our epoch is done.
Like that of Dr. Sears, Spock’s message frees me up. It invites me to relax, get conscious, and follow my own parenting instincts. It calms my anxiety and reminds me that if I go inward to find answers, and if I try my best, even when I’m overwhelmed and unsure, I’m probably doing just fine.
Brian Leaf is the author of Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi: Cloth Diapers, Cosleeping, and My (Sometimes Successful) Quest for Conscious Parenting and Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, as well as the owner and director of the holistic New Leaf Learning Center in western Massachusetts. He has studied, practiced, and taught yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda for twenty-three years. Visit him online.