MILLIONS OF American GIs just back from World War II wasted little time in 1946 getting married, settling down and raising families -- a rush of new responsibilities that left the parents bewildered about the best way to handle child-rearing. That's why they eagerly embraced the common-sense teachings Dr. Benjamin M. Spock.
Indeed Dr. Spock, who died Sunday at 94, was both a household word and the proxy pediatrician for that huge bulge in the nation's population known as baby boomers -- the surge of children conceived by returning GIs. He gave young couples reassurance and sound guidance on child-rearing that became the bible to a generation of moms and dads.
Fifty million copies of his "Baby and Child Care," in 30 languages, have been sold. A seventh edition comes out in May. It can be argued that Dr. Spock, more than anyone, sparked a revolution in how children were raised, turning baby-boom parents away from the strict discipline and prudish standards of their own parents and grandparents in favor of a more flexible approach that stresses plenty of love, caring and attention for children.
Today, the Spock style of child-rearing remains very much in vogue. There was a period during the Vietnam War when Dr. Spock was blamed by conservatives for the rebelliousness of the baby boomers as exhibited in the hippie and anti-war movements. He was dubbed the "father of permissiveness" and denounced by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew.
But time has proved that judgment wrong. Baby boomers grew out of that restless phase, settled down and became responsible parents for another generation of children. Things worked out just fine.
Through it all, Dr. Spock's sage advice -- don't be afraid to show love for your kids, trust your judgment on how to cope with parenthood, respect your kids but give them firm leadership -- remained a mainstay. It is still a guiding light for young adults -- who are raising the grandchildren of those baby boomers. It would make Dr. Spock proud.
Pub Date: 3/17/98