This essay originally appeared on skirt.com on May 22, 2018
Some of us weren’t given the best role models when it comes to being a mother. Some of us unfortunate ones have to look elsewhere for the right guides in motherhood. Even sometimes, to the most unlikely of places.
Even sometimes, to a fictional television series.
My teen years, particularly those early ones, were not happy. My parents had just divorced, and neither of them had the will nor the personality to soften its ever-emanating blow. My mom, who had always been cold and distant with me before the divorce, seemed to have grown in her resentment since. I felt very lonely and sad most of the time. But mainly, I had this depressing feeling that no one could understand how isolating it felt to feel so unloved by your own mother.
That is, until one rainy Thursday evening in the Fall of 2000, when a new show came on the air, called Gilmore Girls.
For those of you who have never seen what I’m doing to call the greatest show of the twenty-first century, it is about a single mother named Lorelai Gilmore and her relationship with her daughter Rory – who she gave birth to at age 16 – set in a fictional small Connecticut town that is filled with unique personalities. Throughout the show, this multi-generational comedy/drama often focuses on the difficult relationship between Lorelai and her high society parents – namely her mother, Emily.
I’m going to try to put into words what this show has meant to me, at that time then, and still now to this day. Gilmore Girls was like a massive breath of fresh air – and a long awaited exhale, all at the same time. I had never before seen such a strained mother-daughter relationship portrayed on television the way that it played out in the series. All that I had seen before on TV were loving, nurturing relationships between mother and daughter. This, I thought upon seeing the show for the first time, is something I can relate to. I saw Lorelai struggle to find common ground with her passive aggressive mother, and try to make peace with the rigid way in which her prideful parents raised her. And I watched in awe as she transformed that dysfunction into the loving, down-to-earth way she raised her own daughter Rory.
The comically laced, witty dialogue of the show is what had caught my attention. But it was the strained dynamic between Lorelai and her mother Emily that had me hooked.
So week after week, I tuned into the Gilmore Girls. I sang along to the beloved theme song by Carole King, and would nestle into the couch to watch the show, much like one might sink into the loving embrace of a parent. In a strange way, it gave me an incredible amount of relief and encouragement to know that I wasn’t alone in struggling to feel loved by my mother, even if it was a fictional show. It helped me to know at my young age that I wasn’t crazy or simply unlovable – but that some people are simply incapable of loving you the way you need to be loved. And that it isn’t your fault.
Lorelai Gilmore showed me the kind of mother I wanted to be: a mother who was strong and confident, yes – but also capable of tenderness, compassion, and understanding. Having been forced into the ill-fitting debutant role by her mother, she encouraged her own daughter to be everything she already was, not merely to be a clone of herself. She was willing to make mistakes, to be vulnerable to her daughter, and best of all, she knew when a night in of movie watching and junk food is sometimes just what the soul needs to set things right again. Ultimately, she gave me a roadmap for how to survive and channel my pain into cultivating my own community for myself, and into an outstanding childhood for a child of my own someday.
I’ve been blessed with an over-abundance of motherly role models since those early years of the Gilmore Girls who have shown me what mothering-done-right looks like from a variety of angles: my stepmother Alexis, my best friend’s mother Kathy, and the special mothers of two different ex-boyfriends of mine, Joyce, and Kathy.
These amazing women have helped shape my understanding of what motherhood is. They picked up where my own mother left off, filling in the blanks for the many questions yet to be answered.
Perhaps being a mother sometimes has nothing to do with biology, but rather everything to do with the ability to see a child in need of love, to relate, and to respond with unconditional love, encouragement and guidance.
And maybe, every once in a while, it has something to do with a Gilmore girl.