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United front

Laura Zegel counsels girls and women. She knows well the pain that can accompany adolescence and the pitfalls that can plague mother-daughter relationships. So when Zegel, a licensed clinical social worker in Rockland, Maine, and mother of a 3-year-old daughter, saw a flier promoting the Maine Mother-Daughter Project, she was thrilled.

The Maine Mother-Daughter Project strives to bring together mothers and daughters to form a community that supports them and their relationships.

“I want to do what I can to have the best relationship I can with my daughter and do the best that I can by her,” Zegel says. “I’m grateful for this framework to get together. Parenting is hard.”

It’s a lot easier, she says, with the support of trusted friends and mothers.

Kimberly Huisman, a University of Maine associate professor of sociology, introduced the Maine Mother-Daughter Project last summer after reading about the program SuEllen Hamkins, Renee Schultz and several other mothers launched in western Massachusetts in 1997. Introduction of the Maine project was made possible by a grant from the Maine Humanities Council.

Huisman, who also is the mother of a 7-year-old daughter, is a proponent of public sociology — bringing academic resources into communities to promote dialogue, enrich understanding of social issues and expose people to more critical, sociological understandings of the world.

The Maine Mother-Daughter Project does just that, says Huisman, providing opportunities for people to connect their individual lives and experiences with larger historical and cultural forces.

“I’m thrilled to live in a community where this type of project is accepted with such open arms,” Joy says. “Most exciting to me is that other women will help nurture our girls.” Elizabeth Joy

The mothers in Massachusetts developed the project using feminist research, community building and postmodern psychotherapies.

They wanted moms to know that they were not expected to be perfect and that it was OK to put their needs first. They didn’t believe that teen girls were inherently rebellious or that growing up had to mean growing apart.

Participants supported each other as women and mothers, and they buoyed and celebrated their daughters as they approached milestones and navigated their teen years.

“I think there’s a growing appreciation that what makes healthy humans is the ability to connect with other people,” says Hamkins, a psychiatrist who focuses on women’s mental health.

The Massachusetts moms were proactive. Through activities and role-playing, they prepared their daughters for a myriad of life events — from their first menstrual cycle to their first date.

Participants flourished, Hamkins says, and in 2007, she and Schultz, a family and marriage therapist, wrote The Mother-Daughter Project: How Mothers and Daughters Can Band Together, Beat the Odds, and Thrive Through Adolescence to share their successes and strategies.

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The Arts
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
A Member of the University of Maine System