Siena Stott discusses familial relationships and friendships through the lens of the Gilmore Girls.
Gilmore Girls. The show that encapsulates Autumn. Many of you may be finishing off your annual binge of the series (as you should - Spring isn’t here yet). I watched the show for the first time at the end of 2022 and, although slow at the beginning, it was addictive. And like all addictions, there is a measure of unhealthiness to it, much like the unhealthiness of what happens in the show.
Casual racism, disregard to eating disorders, and outdated stereotypes - the show has its flaws. Although society wasn’t as politically correct or informed at the turn of the millennium like it is now, there are still toxic elements present today. Especially when discussing boundaries in child-parent relationships like the Gilmore Girls: Rory and Lorelai.
I realised this power dichotomy between the women in the show when reading up on ‘The Mother Wound’. Having been in therapy on-and-off for a few years now learning how to identify the narcissists in my life and build boundaries with them, it becomes obvious that Rory and Lorelai’s relationship - although unconventional and fun to watch - is unhealthy. Rory experiences signs of the mother’s wound such as low self-esteem, lack of emotional awareness, inability to look after herself, and relationship difficulties. Lorelai also experiences this with her own mother, Emily, but Rory and Lorelai internalise this wound differently due to the difference in Emily and Lorelai’s parenting styles.
The fundamental difference is that Lorelai had Rory young at 16-years-old; some may argue that she stopped emotionally maturing at this point. She also had to (or rather chose to) raise Rory alone, playing both good and bad cop, and she prides herself on this decision as she is a fiercely independent character. Lorelai was raised by her married, traditionalist and wealthy parents Richard and Emily Gilmore. She rebelled from the privileged lifestyle and felt she had to escape from her suffocating parents, particularly her narcissistic mother. Because of Lorelai’s experiences with Emily, she crafts a ‘perfect’ relationship with Rory which is friendship based and codependent. Although she is a radical, free-spirited person and not seen to be controlling, Lorelai is still very interfering in Rory’s life. The narcissistic tendencies such as sulking and the silent treatment that she experienced with her own mother become more present as Rory grows up and tries to make her own path.
Many of my friends are extremely close with their mothers and often it’s not a problem, it’s healthy. But for some, the mother-daughter closeness caused detriment to their relationships, creating unhealthy attachment styles. They insisted on calling their mothers multiple times a day, sought out relationship advice from them, told them everything (even their friend’s secrets), and were incapable of looking after themselves. This is a perfect description of Rory’s behaviour too. She doesn’t know how to be without Lorelai because she’s never had to.
When Rory goes to Yale, she begs Lorelai to stay the first night with her, and adhering to her wishes, Lorelai does so. There is no attempt to make boundaries from either side, so later on in their relationship when Rory starts to make life-changing decisions such as dropping out of Yale, it always ends in arguments which wear this relationship down causing not just a parental relationship to fall apart, but a friendship.
When Lorelai’s life is a shipwreck she sees their relationship as “best friends first and mother and daughter second”, but when Rory goes through a rough patch this is thrown out of the window. A mother should not put their personal, romantic, or financial dramas on their child otherwise it stunts their ability to build independent relationships and simultaneously forces them to take on a mature, parental role. Resultant of being an emotional caretaker, Rory has no sense of self, to quote the show’s intro song: “I will follow”. Rory puts her mother on a pedestal and inevitably mirrors her and her lack of moral compass. Lorelai (and the show itself) romanticises affairs, yet when Rory and Dean sleep together she is the first to judge. She attempts to flip the dynamic and takes on a new mode of mother which seems vicious and results in Rory disappearing to Europe and the pair go no-contact, like Lorelai and Emily were many years before. Ethically, we must agree with Lorelai. No matter how invested we are in Rory and Dean, the affair with a married man is immoral. However, Lorelai’s parenting style fails as Rory has an affair again later in the series with her old flame, Logan.
She is her mother’s daughter, bread-crumbing and collecting people’s affections - whether that be their best-friends, Lane and Sookie, or the men that they flirtatiously keep around (Dean, Chris, Luke, and Marty to name a few). Their greediness is also seen in the consumption of food, shopping, gossip, and popular culture. Their need to consume in abundance is symbolic of the mass of emotions they experience and don’t know how to sit with.
For dramatisations sake, this close bond is needed for the show. But when analysing it deeply, Lorelai never gave Rory much room to make her own decisions. From giving her daughter the same name ‘Lorelai’ at birth, it is obvious that she is moulding a mini-me and trying to live her lost youth vicariously through Rory. That is why she cannot help but meddle in all aspects of her life. In her romantic relationships: inviting Dean over to their house and being present on their first date without Rory’s consent. In her school sphere: sleeping with her teacher, jilting him at the altar and showing little regard to how this would affect Rory’s academic environment. Friendships: having frequent lunches with Rory’s best-friend, Paris, behind her back. Academically: not trusting Rory’s decision in choosing Yale over Harvard, and later after Rory drops out of Yale she devises a plan to force her to change her mind. She is incapable of respecting her daughter’s wants and ignorant to her needs.
Gilmore Girls is a great representation of the fine line between motherhood and friendship, and also how codependency can manifest throughout generations of the maternal wound. If there’s anything to take from the show as children and potential future parents, it’s what not to do if you value boundaries, responsibility and independence.
If you feel this resonates with you and you’re wanting to heal, you need to prioritise and love yourself, grow your self-awareness, and most importantly learn to forgive. Nobody is a perfect parent, we can only try our best and learn from what we know.