Take a trip to any parenting section in a bookstore or do a quick Google search and you’ll find no lack of parenting books.
My hunch is that most parents are calling upon a multitude of resources to help inform their parenting styles, from their own experiences and instincts, books and articles, friends, and even Instagram and TikTok.
Regardless of how you parent, what theories guide you, and what parenting style you ultimately gravitate to, it’s always helpful to learn about a multitude of approaches. It’s likely that you’ll find something helpful to add to your repertoire.
Parenting doesn’t come with a manual. It doesn’t really come with anything except for a brand new baby and, if you’re like most parents, a heaping amount of advice from well-meaning family members. So it’s no surprise that many new parents are eager to know as much as they can about all the parenting styles out there.
One such parenting style is called proximal parenting. The term proximal comes from the word proximity, meaning nearness or closeness. Thus, proximal parenting describes a type of parenting where there is close physical and face-to-face contact between the baby and caregiver, typically the mother.
In this article, we’ll explore proximal parenting and what its positive and negative effects can be on a child.
What Is Proximal Parenting?
Proximal parenting is when the baby is in constant contact with the caregiver, typically the mother, and is prevalent in farming communities and more rural cultures. While proximal parenting is a term more closely related to more rural communities, parents in more urban communities might better recognize the term attachment parenting.
First coined by the famous US pediatrician Dr. Sears, the term attachment parenting is the idea of the mother carrying her baby as often as possible, bedding close to the child, and staying in close proximity to maximize touching and physical contact. While proximal parenting is more of a cultural response to child-rearing, attachment parenting is a conscious choice. But the outcome is very similar.
Proximal and distal parenting are two alternative parenting strategies that typically describe parenting within a different cultural context. Cultures differ in how they respond and raise their children and these two parenting styles illustrate those differences. It might be helpful to better understand proximal parenting better when it’s compared to its counterpart, distal parenting.
Distal parenting describes a parenting style that encourages independence, eye contact, face-to-face interaction, and the inclusion of other caretakers. Distal parenting is more common among urban, higher-educated, western societies.
Most western parents will adopt some combination of the two as they seek to meet the needs of their children. They will likely adopt aspects of proximal parenting when their babies are young and lean toward distal parenting as they get older.
Pros of Proximal Parenting
There are many pros to proximal parenting, including:
- Physical warmth: Close bodily contact associated with the proximal parenting style keeps the child physically warm and can help ward off some cold-related illnesses.
- Healthy emotional development: Being in constant physical contact with their mother, babies feel a close bond and a sense of belonging from infancy on. Developing a strong sense of emotional warmth helps promote a child’s emotional intelligence, which can be especially beneficial to modern society’s stresses.
- Better communication: When mothers use this parenting strategy, they are better able to understand the needs of their babies as they adapt to their signals. The constant closeness enhances communication between mother and babe while keeping the child deeply involved in a variety of social interactions.
- Self-recognition: When babies are raised with a feeling of constant, physical maternal love, they inherently know their worth. This results in the early development of self-recognition and a strong sense of self and assertiveness.
- Self-regulation: Similarly, children who grow up in a proximal parenting environment are better able to regulate their own emotions. This early development of self-regulation allows them to be more self-aware.
- Less fuss: Children raised this way tend to be in a state of quiet alertness, they are less fussy, and tend to be less clingy.
Cons of Proximal Parenting
There are some cons to proximal parenting to consider, including:
- Less exploration and freedom: Babies raised with the proximal parenting style have less time and freedom to explore their space independently. It’s important for both parent and child to have a little “space” to themselves and proximity parenting doesn’t encourage this.
- Can create dependence: When the baby is so closely attached to their mother, it can create too much dependence on the mom as well as discourage attachments and bonding with other caregivers. Parents who never truly move from this style might find themselves easily slipping into becoming “helicopter parents”.
- Could limit skill development: Parents who practice proximity parenting might find that their children are lagging behind in skills. They may find that they transition too easily into doing things for their child, inhibiting the child’s natural curiosity and need to explore and try things for themselves.
- Discipline problems: Some parents will sacrifice the need for setting boundaries and following through with consequences for the relationship that they’ve created with their child.
- The threat of proximal abandonment: Although extreme in nature, it’s worth pointing out. Proximal abandonment is when the parent is physically present, meeting the child’s basic needs like food and shelter, but is unable to meet their emotional needs.
When implemented with careful balance and even some common sense, most of these possible pitfalls can be avoided. These describe situations when the idea of proximal parenting is carried beyond the ways in which it is meant to be beneficial.
How Proximal Parenting Differs from Other Parenting Styles
In the 1960s, the psychologist Diana Baumrind identified and described 3 primary parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive:
Authoritarian Parenting Style
The authoritarian parenting style is a parent-driven style with one-way communication, where the parent makes the rules, which are often strict. Punishments are typically severe to enforce compliance and obedience, with little thought to the child’s social or emotional needs.
Proximal parenting has very little in common with this parenting style. Children raised physically close and bonded to their parents have a deep sense of care and love, while parents in authoritarian households will likely not receive the same level of affection and support.
Authoritative Parenting Style
An authoritative parenting style is at play when parents and children solve problems together, there is open communication and natural consequences. Parents set clear boundaries, rules, and expectations and model the behavior they’re encouraging in their kids.
Being a parent who adopts proximal parenting will find that it blends beautifully with the authoritative parenting style. Both parents have a deep sense of care for the child, want what’s best for them, and develop strong bonds.
Where these styles will diverge is when the authoritative parent sets boundaries and encourages independence.
Permissive Parenting Style
Finally, the permissive parenting style describes an environment where children are in control, there are few rules that are rarely enforced, and parents routinely overindulge children as a way to avoid conflict.
Because there are so few guidelines for the permissive parenting style, it can easily be incorporated into the proximal parenting model.
Final Verdict: Determining If This Parenting Style Is Right for Your Child
Like so many parenting styles, proximal parenting is likely something that you’ll adapt to fit your needs when and how it suits you and your family. There are many beautiful advantages to incorporating proximal parenting into how you raise your children. But like anything, when taken too far, it can be limiting to you and your baby.
Since proximal parenting is a style of parenting typically seen in more rural communities, developed out of necessity, it’s okay to adjust and conform to fit your family’s own values and culture.