Apr 23, 2014

Dr. Spock: The Kids Are All Right

Parents of the Baby Boomer generation were the first in history to be almost universally aware of the existence of gay and lesbian people, and almost universally terrified of their kids "turning out" gay.

The problems were:
1. No one knew what "caused" gay identity.  Too much affection from Mom?  Too little from Dad?  Male friendships?  Female friendships?  Friends of the wrong age? Spanking?   Incorrect toilet training? Breast feeding?

2. You couldn't talk about it.  Even saying the word "homosexual" might turn a kid gay.

Enter Dr. Benjamin Spock (1903-1998), a pediatrician who published a "common sense" approach to Baby and Child Care in 1946.

Gone was the second-guessing, the wondering, the psychoanalytic anxiety.

1. Children are resilient.  No one act is going to have a huge impact, positive or negative.
2. Trust your instincts.  If you feel like hugging your child, do it.  If your child is crying, find out what's wrong.
3. Children aren't little computers waiting to be programmed with a set of rules.  They're little human beings with their own goals, desires, interests, and activities.  Respect them.

He didn't mention gay identity by name in early editions, but he alleviated parental worries about gender atypical activities.  Lots of boys are quiet, emotional, and nurturing.  Lots of girls are big, bold, and brash.  Not a problem (translation: doesn't mean your kid is gay).

What a relief!  Every parent in America bought a copy.  The one on my parents' nightstand eventually fell apart from constant use.  An entire generation of kids were raised by parents trusting their instincts.

They became the youth counterculture, anti-War, pro-drug, fighting for civil rights, women's rights, and eventually gay rights.

Of course, Dr. Spock was blamed (along with Timothy Leary).

A hardcore liberal and vocal anti-War advocate, he didn't mind.

New editions appeared regularly, incorporating the latest research on child development.  By the 1980s, gay and lesbian youth were being acknowledged.

Dr. Spock died in 1998, but his laid-back, "trust your instincts" advice lives on.  His website has an article on "Different Families, Different Challenges," acknowledging the fact that many kids are growing up in same-sex households.

Not a problem.