Dr. Spock has yielded a lot of ground to a new generation to child-rearing experts like the American pediatrician Bill Sears and the British psychologist Penelope Leach. But it’s hard to overstate the influence of his Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care on parents of baby boomers. First published in 1946, Spock’s guide helped to introduce to America the theories of Sigmund Freud, including that “infantile experiences” and “repressed sexual desires” led to unhappiness in adulthood.
Steve Gillon writes in Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest Generation Ever and How It Changed America (Free Press, 2004):
“Thanks to Benjamin Spock, Boomers – often called ‘Spock babies’ – had Freud mixed with their baby formula. ‘Benjamin Spock probably did more than any single individual to disseminate the theory of Sigmund Freud in America,’ observed the psychiatrist and Freudian critic E. Fuller Torrey. Spock, whose The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946) served as the bible for Boomer parents, had attended the New York Psychoanalytic Institute in the 1930s and was determined to bring Freud and his ideas to a mass audience. Spock rejected his own upbringing, which emphasized strict feeding schedules and unchanging routines, and insisted that parents respond to the needs and schedules of their children. ‘Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do,’ he reassured worried new parents. His ideas reflected the optimism of the age, reinforcing that personality was malleable only if parents developed the right skills. Along with practical advice about colic, toilet training, and temper tantrums, Spock offered parents sugar-coated doses of Freudian psychology. Since he believed that most adult problems began in childhood, Spock instructed parents about the concepts of ‘sibling rivalry’ and used Freud’s Oedipus complex to explain the behavior of 6-year-olds.”