Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

Trust and Dr. Spock

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | Dec 14, 2012 8:40 AM

"Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do." (Benjamin Spock)

When I was growing up, my mother had a well-worn copy of "Dr. Spock," as she called it. First published in 1946, Dr. Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care was the go-to guide for many families - a portable pediatrician, if you will - that predated the explosion of parenting information we have today.

Think for a moment about the amazing power of those words: trust yourself. When new parents bring their newborn home from the hospital, that concept of trust in themselves is completely foreign - and terrifying. Even as our kids grow and we gain that sense of trust in our own instincts, parenting crises can knock us off-balance, and we find ourselves re-thinking that sense of trust. Do we really know what we're doing?

Spock believed that we do. Others feel differently. Consider this alternate perspective on Dr. Spock, taken from Reb Bradley's article "How Dr. Spock Destroyed America":

Instead of stressing the importance of teaching self-denial and respect for authority, Spock discouraged directive training and emphasized accommodating children’s feelings and catering to their preferences. No longer did children learn they could endure Brussels sprouts and suffer through daily chores. Using Spock’s approach, parents began to feed self-indulgence instead of instilling self-control – homes were becoming child-centered. As parents elevated children’s “freedom of expression” and natural cravings, children became more outspoken, defiant and demanding of gratification. In fact, they came to view gratification as a right....Raising children to adulthood with a defiant attitude toward authority was apparently one of his goals.

Bradley goes on to blame Spock and the permissive parenting he allegedly inspired for the decline in Western civilization, further stating that "it is a simple matter to trace the dominant hedonism of our culture back to Spock’s influence" - just before he concludes by plugging his own book.

Psychologists have long debated the merits of various parenting styles, which are typically classified into four categories: authoritarian (my way or the highway), authoritative (democratic), permissive (child-centered) and uninvolved (detached). The parenting style we choose - either by intention or by default - is determined by our own personalities and upbringing, our children's personalities and, over time, the interactions between us and our kids. As a former school counselor (and a adult raised by parents influenced by Dr. Spock), I lean toward authoritative parenting. I believe that it teaches respect, fosters independent thinking, problem-solving and the ability to think for oneself.

The easiest way to define authoritative parenting is by description/comparison. An authoritative approach has expectations of respect for authority inherent in authoritarian parenting with the "wiggle room," if you will, that's a part of permissive parenting.

Although authoritarian parenting sounds great from a rule-following perspective, I wonder what happens to kids raised in these households when there are no rules to follow. If a child is raised to always do as he or she is told, how does s/he learn what to do when no one is telling her what to do, or when someone in authority is telling him to do something he feels is clearly wrong? Blind obedience not rooted in values can be more damaging than ill-advised rebellion.

Which brings me back to Spock (who had a rebellious streak of his own) and his advice to trust yourself. We all have an internal compass when it comes to parenting; one particular style of parenting probably resonates with you more than another. Before you had kids, you might have given some thought to how you would raise them (as my husband and I did in our grocery store game) and how similar to (or different from) the way your parents raised you that might be. And chances are that once you had kids, you did some things just as you expected you would, while other choices deviated from what you'd planned.

The experts you seek out will also resonate with you - or not. For every Dr. Spock, there's a Mr. Bradley, advocating an entirely different approach, and when you read their work, it will (or won't) ring true for you. Though the temptation to toss the dissonant book aside is compelling, before you do so, ask yourself why you want to discard this information. Within this answer lies your parenting truths - the kernel of instinct that Dr. Spock is telling you to trust, the lighthouse that will guide you to an answer when the questions are overwhelming - your own philosophy of parenting.

Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.


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