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New parenting relationships research lab opens at UMaine’s Merrill Hall

On Wednesday, Nov. 6, the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development held a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony to welcome the Parenting Relationships Research Lab. The lab is located on the second floor of Merrill Hall, which houses the Child Development Learning Center. This is a resource for students and faculty conducting research and learning about young children to interact face-to-face with kids and gain real-life experience that can inform their classwork and research. 

The Parenting Relationships Research Lab is part of a cooperative effort between Assistant Professor of family studies Daniel Puhlman, and Kids First, a Scarborough-based organization that focuses on providing co-parenting resources to help raise healthy, happy kids. The lab itself was created by Puhlman, whose primary research focuses on co-parenting and fathering. 

The lab, Puhlman noted, will focus on the interactions between parents and their kids and social structures that affect parenting relationships. The research will also be using research data that encompasses extended family members and community members that act as caregivers to children to help Puhlman better understand the dynamics of the inter-family relationships. 

The goal of the Parenting Relationships Research Lab is to produce research data that will help people in both the local and global community have healthy relationships with their co-parent and other caregivers that will help to bring up happy kids. 

“We’re trying to look at (parenting) relationships, look at how they’re successful, and learning how to navigate the challenges in those relationships,” Puhlman said.

Puhlman is a father of three, and so parenting research is a topic that is close to his heart. He hopes that through his research, he will be able to make the world a better place for new generations.

“I was really just thinking about how I can go beyond just doing research. I think a lab, for me, is a way for me to present myself to others and the community that allows for connections and outreach,” Puhlman said about the inception of the lab. “A big part of what we do is not just to generate research, but to provide opportunities for parents and professionals and people that do this work, resources. They can come to us, and we can consult with them and work with them. Such an important part of it, for me, is bridging that gap between research and practice.” 

Puhlman sees the lab becoming a much more interactive community resource than the traditional research lab in the future. One of the focuses of the lab is on conflict and how conflict within the family structure can affect children in the household. While conflict can’t be totally avoided, it can be reduced through understanding and education. He hopes to see the lab travel around the state to be at fairs and events to provide parents with support and educational opportunities to help them deal with conflict. 

Working at the lab with Puhlman are two graduate assistants, as well as six undergraduate research assistants. All of the student workers are part of the education and human development programs at UMaine and are dedicated to the work at the Parenting Relationships Research Lab. 

Hadley Porreca, a third-year child development and family relations student, and Taylor Corey, a fourth-year child development and family relations student are both undergraduate research assistants for the lab. They work to catalog data and transcribe interviews, and help brainstorm ideas for data collection and interpretation. Both students are very passionate about the work that they do and want to see their research help people raise healthy, happy children.

The Parenting Relationships Research Lab is one of the only research labs in Maine that focuses on human interactions on the family level and is looking to lead the field by examining more complex aspects of familial relationships, such generational shifts and cultural differences in the future. For now, Puhlman hopes that the lab can spark interest and dialogue about parenting relationships to normalize the discussions about the challenges of parenting to help people help others.


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