Once upon a time, there was just one voice of authority on how to raise children, and his name was Dr. Benjamin Spock.
Those days are gone.
Starting in 1946, a whole generation of baby boomers were raised on advice from the avuncular pediatrician, whose book “Baby and Child Care” sold nearly 750,000 copies the first year alone — without advertising. But ask Jonah Davenport, father of a 2-year old, if he’s ever read Dr. Spock, and the Washington, D.C., resident can scarcely stifle a guffaw.
“Naah,” says Mr. Davenport, 38, an early childhood education teacher.
He is seconded, somewhat, by Tricia Flock, 36, of McCandless.
“I’ve heard of him,” the mother of a 2-year-old and a 4-month-old says of Dr. Spock, “but I didn’t think he was for me. He sounded as though he’d be somewhat outdated.”
What about Penelope Leach and T. Berry Brazelton, the popular parenting authorities of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s? “I’m afraid not,” she said.
All three still have books in print — a revised edition of Dr. Spock’s tome is coming out in 2011, and his legacy lives on in The Dr. Spock Co. and its Web site, Drspock.com. But his influence, and that of Drs. Leach and Brazelton, has clearly faded as a new generation of parents grapples with the age-old questions of how to soothe a baby’s crying, whether to bottle feed or breast-feed and how to handle tantrums.
If anything, it’s the era of Too Much Information, a lot of it conflicting — and not just from the hundreds of books, Web sites and even cell phone applications that distract restless toddlers. A recent New York Times piece highlighted the burgeoning popularity among parents of dog trainer Cesar Millan, a.k.a. “the dog whisperer” — use dog training concepts to raise your kid — and Time magazine’s Nov. 20 cover story focused on “The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting” with the pendulum swinging toward “slow parenting” and other less fraught ways of bringing up baby.
“Some days I think I’m doing everything right, and some days I have no clue,” said Ms. Flock, who notes that at a bimonthly gathering of preschool mothers at Northway Community Church, “we talk a lot about what we should or should not be doing. Should you do baby sign language or