A radical notion of child rearing

Following in the footsteps of Dr. Spock, a Yale alumnus updates the classic guide for parents.

According to Robert D. Needlman, M.D. ’85, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care—which has found a place on the bookshelves of 50 million parents across three generations—is “subversive.”

Benjamin M. Spock, M.D., MED ’29, initiated a revolution, said Needlman, with the first words of his 25-cent book, published in 1946. “Trust yourself,” Spock told parents. “You know more than you think you do.”

“Those famous lines were subversive to the doctor as expert,” says Needlman, who revised and expanded the book for its eighth edition, the first revision since Spock died in 1998 at age 94. In Spock’s day, pediatricians dictated rigid schedules for sleeping and feeding and warned parents to resist the temptation to pick up fussy children for fear of spoiling them. Spock, in contrast, encouraged parents to discover what their children needed as individuals and to foster relationships of mutual affection and respect. This model of parenting is now so unexceptional that contemporary Americans may not appreciate how much of it originated with Spock. “We understand that it’s no longer optimal, or even appropriate, to dictate to people what to do,” said Needlman.

An associate professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Needlman incorporated his own insights in the new 992-page edition. He discusses gay and lesbian parents, how to stimulate a love of reading, how children respond to disaster and how young adults react when they leave home for college.

Needlman felt no qualms when he disagreed with Spock’s recommendations. “I changed them—it was easy,” he said with a laugh. For instance, he eliminated the suggestion that a woman with postpartum blues cheer herself up by buying a new outfit. Instead, he suggests exercise, renewed contact with friends, talking to one’s partner—and seeking medical help if the change of mood is severe.

The book combines the practical with the abstract, he said. “Some of it is very nuts-and-bolts: How do you change a diaper? A lot is philosophical: How do you raise children to be responsible citizens?” Needlman preserves Spock’s exact words in short passages labeled “Classic Spock,” such as Spock’s views on TV: “There seems to be very little similarity between the world the electronic babysitter is selling to our children and the world we would like to see.”

Raised in Chicago in a household with the 1958 edition of Spock’s book on the shelf, Needlman coincidentally followed Spock’s career path. Both majored in English at Yale College. Both attended medical school at Yale, although Spock transferred to Columbia. After training in pediatrics at Boston University, Needlman took a job at Case Western in the same clinic where Spock had worked.

Needlman has found his own experience of the parent-child relationship endlessly interesting. He has a 16-year-old daughter, Grace, with his wife, Carol F. Farver, M.D. ’85, a surgical pathologist he met on their first day at Yale medical school. As a father and a doctor, he has observed that children can be both predictable and surprising. “A wonderful mystery of parenting is that there are some qualities that show a lot of continuity. You can look at a child at two and then at 15 and say, ‘I recognize that.’ But there are a lot of things that you can’t recognize: the same kid who was unhinged at five can be amazing, interested, interesting and capable of handling things beautifully at 15.” Six months after its publication by Pocket Books in June 2004, the Spock-Needlman edition of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care had sold nearly 100,000 copies. Not bad for a subversive little book that’s been around since 1946.

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As the library enters cyberspace, patrons still arrive to read, write, research—and listen to music

Arthur E. Broadus, M.D., Ph.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine, hesitates to advertise his not-so-private sanctuary: Yale’s Medical Historical Library. He is hoping the crowds won’t catch on.

“I escape over here for about an hour a day when I can, because it’s peaceful and lovely and I can think and read, and sometimes write—and mostly get away from the din,” said Broadus, section chief in endocrinology.

Down the hall and past the rotunda, in the Information Room of the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library, medical student Tejaswini More is studying from Robbins Pathologic Basis of Disease while listening to Haydn through earphones. The library computers have a really good music program, says More, and she gets more done here than in her room.

Just a few years ago, ophthalmology resident Amir Ahmadi, M.D., would have been a more typical library visitor: he has come to look up an article. But now Ahmadi is the exception, because patterns of library use have changed radically. Where annual electronic visits number in the millions, those who walk in the door just top 500,000, a ratio of 18 remote users for every person who walks in. And yet, said Director R. Kenny Marone, M.L.S., “Come in here in the afternoon, and you can’t find a seat.”

Medical students come to use the conference rooms for study groups, to seek guidance from a reference librarian or to borrow a laptop. Residents and students bring their personal digital assistants to a workstation in the Information Room, where they install applications such as InfoPOEMs, eMedicine and Griffith’s 5-Minute Clinical Consult, which provide information about drugs and diagnoses. Students isolate themselves in carrels. Researchers read journals in the sun-drenched Morse Periodical Room. Downstairs, students click away in the Computer Resource Laboratory (CRL), night and day. “We used to have people leave at quarter of twelve, and they were unhappy,” says Marone. “So we decided to make the CRL a 24-hour facility.”

The library is also open to the general public. “They have access: It’s Yale’s way of giving back to the greater New Haven community,” said Marone. Sometimes patients or parents drop in to look up information after a visit to the doctor or hospital.

When library service assistant George Moore began working at the library in 1978, “the furniture was dark, very heavy, very male, and there were heavy drapes on the windows. It was really a very forbidding place. Now we have carpeting, comfortable furniture, plants and better lighting. It’s warm, it’s alive. It’s a very pleasant place to be—a livable space.”

Bookshelf focuses on books and authors at the School of Medicine.
Send suggestions to Cathy Shufro at

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