I’m a single mom. (
*pause for you to throw me a tiny parade*) I’m a single mom with one kid, and while my child happens to be a dude-child, I was raised by a single mom who had 4 girls, so I figure between the gender of my offspring being different, and my mom’s number of kids being different from Lorelai’s, I still end up with a better-than-most understanding what a real-life Gilmore Girls situation feels like. And despite the fact that I’m a young-ish (29, take your time) brunette with blue eyes who talks too much and feels romantic stirrings for any man behind a counter who keeps me supplied with coffee, I’ve been disappointed to find that, so far, my life bears very little resemblance to that of Lorelai Gilmore, and my relationship with my kid doesn’t feel a whole lot like the one Lorelai has with Rory.
Gilmore Girls originally premiered, I was 14, the same age as Rory. As the sister who was generally considered to be closest to my mom growing up, and generally considered to be the one who was most like her, I immediately felt strongly attached to the characters of Lorelai and Rory, and felt my identity blissfully validated by how endearingly and awesomely they were portrayed on the show. It hasn’t been until lately — 15 years later, with a young kid of my own — that I’ve realized that despite the show still being unfailingly enjoyable to watch (will unapologetically binge watch anytime I have the flu and will love it every time, until the end of eternity), it’s also the absolute least accurate depiction of single parenthood ever.
Gilmore Girls also got a lot of things right about what it’s like to be a single mom, in terms of what feelings you go through at different times, how it affects various parts of your life, and what certain aspects of your relationship with your kid are like, but we’re not talking about those right now because I don’t want to, and you can’t make me because I was raised by a mom who was more concerned with being my friend than setting limits for me, so I’m not good at being told what to do, and now we all have to deal with it.)
To be clear, I get that going all “TV isn’t real!” isn’t exactly a revolutionary or particularly illuminating thing to do, but this show is a weird case where it feels more relevant. I’m sure that I’m not the only woman who, during her impressionable teenage years, internalized this incredibly alluring picture of what parent/child relationships could be, and what being a single mom could look like, and decided that we would grow up to develop relationships with our kids that closely mirrored what we saw on
this show. And now that we’re here, I hate the idea that there might be people out there who feel disappointed, or like failures, for not being able to recreate a Gilmoresque existence for themselves and their children, especially if not reaching the aspirational ideal set forth by the WB all those years ago results in people feeling bummed out about differences between the Gilmores’ lives and their own (differences which are, most likely, indicative of way healthier family dynamics and parenting strategies).
So in the spirit of “don’t be sad; you’re probably just being a better parent than Lorelai,” here are the key ways in which the Gilmores’ lives were aggressively unrealistic and different from the ways single moms actually operate:
We Discipline Our Kids Consistently
The thing is, I really like (and try to replicate) the basic premise of Lorelai’s parenting strategy with Rory: Respect your kid as an equal human being, make them feel like an active participant in the decision-making process about things that concern them, and be super supportive as you try to empower them to steer their own ship. I’m onboard with all of it, completely. That said, you still have to set actual limits, and maintain them consistently, because doing so — even when it infringes on your child’s ideas about what they want in isolated moments — provides a kind of security that is vital to healthy emotional development. Like, rules are actually good for kids, and not just in a “keeping them from dying or being an a**hole” kind of way.
Gilmore Girls, this is how discipline and parentally enforced limits work: They don’t exist at all, except in extremely rare moments where Lorelai suddenly has a strong opinion about a choice Rory is making (usually a response rooted in Lorelai projecting her own hangups onto her child's life), at which point she attempts to enact parental authority over a child who’s never had to learn how to deal with that. Rory then freaks out and runs away to her grandparents’ house, where they do the only actual parenting we see on the show. Lorelai is essentially just Rory’s older, cooler sister, whom she sometimes fights with, and over the show’s run, we basically see both of them being parented by Richard and Emily from afar until they both end up vaguely functional young adults by the end. We Don't Usually Share Clothes With Our Kids
Going into my mom’s closet without asking (spoiler: even if I
did ask, there was undoubtedly a hasty “no” coming my way) was basically punishable by death, and besides, it’s not like we were exactly the same size, mostly because she was too busy to eat and I spent my teen years filling the hole left by my father’s absence with Pringles. (JK, I can’t blame him for that; Pringles are just amazing.) Maybe when my kid is a teenager, he'll be interested in my closet full of worn-out Zara, but only time will tell on that front. Absentee Fathers Are Not Beloved Occasional Guest Stars
So, let me get this straight: Christopher, Rory’s father, is rarely mentioned (and even more seldom actually seen) in the early seasons, but when he does start popping up, his presence is met with totally benevolent glee by the child he basically abandoned and the mother who was left to parent alone? That’s what we’re saying here? Oh, and then he later gets remarried and Lorelai —the mother of his first, abandoned child —
throws a baby shower for the new wife and mother of the baby he’s fully present and devoted to? And throughout all the moments when we’re reminded of how much Lorelai’s parents adore Christopher, and when he and Lorelai actually get back together, and when they reminisce about what ~bad~ teens they were together… where is the moment where anyone real-talks him, like, “Hey bro, can we talk about how monstrous and selfish and shi**y it is that you straight-up are not really a part of your child’s life, except when you come back to hook up with her mom and get her hopes up that you’ll stick around and play house with them for good, which you won’t?” Why doesn’t that moment ever happen? Why is Christopher portrayed as a lovable character instead of a deadbeat dad? Cool story, Gilmore Girls. We Don’t All Have Incredible Support Systems
While the show itself doesn’t pick up until Rory is in high school,
Gilmore Girls often alludes to her younger years wherein her fellow townspeople were more significant parts of Lorelai’s life, often assisting in her childcare and general life guidance. The idea we’re supposed to have is that Lorelai’s ability to be a single mom was greatly helped by the fact that the people in her super cute little town dearly loved and thus helped the spunky, dark-haired coffee addicts. *Sigh* It’s all charming as sh*t.
Here’s the part where I remind you that Star’s Hollow is not a real town, and most single parents, wherever they live, consider it a remarkable day when someone helps them carry their stroller down the subway steps, or even holds a door for them and their kid. I’m sure there do exist small towns where everyone knows each other, and you really do trust your kid to run around by herself, and your neighbors maybe do play a somewhat influential role in the upbringing of local children… but I’m having a hard time picturing it
if it even happens, which I’m guessing is very, very rarely. The rest of us are praying the people in our building don’t try to make small talk with us when we check our mail; we avoid eye contact if we see anyone even remotely familiar-looking at the grocery store; and the most personal knowledge we have of our neighbors is who among them showed up on the sex offender registry we checked when we moved into the area with our kids. We Don’t All Have Rich Parents
OK, can we all please keep in mind that Lorelai was rich? No, it doesn’t matter that she rejected her parents’ money because that kind of “I’m making it on my own!” self-satisfaction is the kind of luxury afforded to rich kids who are so used to not having to worry about money that they actually see it as a problem to have too much.
Gilmore Girls is essentially a tale about how being a “single mom making it on your own; just you and your kid against the world” is super easy and adorable… when you have your wealthy parents down the street literally begging you to take their money to help you raise your kid (and trying to set you up with hot, intelligent, rich guys along the way, those monsters).
I’m not saying that I don’t applaud Lorelai’s desire to escape the overbearing environment of her parents’ home where she felt that her very important quirkiness was being stifled, or that I don’t find it commendable that she endeavored to raise a kid who would turn out to be not be a sucky snob. Those are all great things. I’m just saying that her life is not even remotely representative of the lives of most single moms. Lorelai might’ve prefered to find a way to pay for her daughter’s fancy private school (and even fancier college) herself, but there was always the underlying awareness that
if she failed to figure out how to do that, her daughter was still going to go to those schools. Rory’s access to everything she could ever need or want — adequate housing, and food, the ability to receive an exceptional education, and to travel the world — was never, ever in question. The “struggle” of Lorelai’s life wasn’t whether she would be able to give her kid a good life — it was whether or not she would have to suffer the ego hit of letting her rich, generous parents pay for it instead of her.
Another note about the significance of Lorelai’s access to seemingly endless money, held back only by her petulant rebellion against her lame parents: It probably made her a better mom even when she wasn’t spending it. Even during the years when Lorelai wasn’t speaking to her parents, and didn’t take a dime of their money; even when she was “poor,” Lorelai knew, somewhere in the back of her mind, that the money—and safety, and support of her parents—was there if she ever needed it. She had the net in case she fell. And that awareness changes the context of
every struggle she had. I’m betting she didn’t spend many nights unable to sleep because she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to pay rent and that her and Rory would be homeless; she was probably never so stressed about bills and tuition and being fried and overworked trying to cover all of it that she didn’t have time for movie nights and homemade costumes. She probably rarely yelled at Rory over something small because she had been so stressed about money for so long that she no longer lacked the ability to be the cheeky, cool-ass mom she wanted to be.
The fact is, Lorelai wasn’t the cool, fun mom-pal she was because she was mysteriously able to rise above the stress that weighs down most real-life single-parent households — she was able to be a cool, fun mom-pal because she was only ever playing dress-up as someone who struggled. Her independence was something she chose, not something she had no choice but to live up to, and the knowledge that a huge, eager-to-help safety net lived right down the street is absolutely crucial and unavoidable when understanding Lorelai’s parenting identity.
(Yes, I'm aware that
I could've just posted this video in this section and been done with it.) We Can’t Eat That Much Junk Food, And We Don’t Give Our Kids That Much Coffee
Listen, the way Lorelai and Rory consumed nauseating quantities of every kind of junk food under sun was obviously meant to convey their lack of regard for the food shame and self-denial culturally encouraged in young women, and their accurate awareness that all of that sh*t is incredibly delicious. That said, they were basically binge eaters. Anytime something stressful happened in either of their lives, the solution was always ordering, like, 8 pizzas, or everything from the Chinese takeout menu. It’s one thing to indulge in less-than-healthy treats sometimes, and it’s even cooler to get to bond with your kid over a mutually enjoyed departure from the tenets of the food pyramid, but it’s a whole other thing when a cornerstone of your family culture is an aversion to green vegetables.
In reality, if Lorelai and Rory were real people eating that way, they’d both be riddled with health problems, and there’s no way in hell that Rory’s sugar-atrophied brain would’ve gotten into Yale. Also, let’s remember that the Gilmores’ shameless affinity for junk food is only considered an adorable, quirky personality trait because they’re skinny white girls with shiny hair, perfect teeth, and glowing skin. If Rory had suffered from childhood obesity, you can be certain that everyone in town would’ve been judging the hell out of Lorelai’s every pizza order.
Also, it’s not OK for a child to drink that much coffee. It’s not OK for an elephant to drink that much coffee. This show is basically a grotesque parody of coffee culture where we spend 6 seasons seeing how many increasingly colorful ways Lorelai and Rory can convey their ever-escalating, desperate need to feed their caffeine dependency, an addiction so consuming that Lorelai married their dealer because he did such a thorough job of keeping them high all the time. The show would’ve been so much better if the last episode had leaned into the natural apex of the series: The Gilmore girls running into Luke’s every 10 minutes, and then every 5, demanding coffee loudly, more rapidly until they were just running in and out every 30 seconds screaming “PAUL ANKA!” over and over like rabid beasts, knocking over tables, eating the faces of the patrons, with Luke throwing an entire pot of hot coffee onto each of their faces every time they reached the counter, until in the last moment of the show, the entire town of Star’s Hollow explodes. Fade to black.
This show is a beautiful lie, and I love it. But it shouldn’t be regarded as a documentary of single motherhood. Goodnight, Connecticut.
Images: WB; Giphy(10)