Single mothers do their best, but life without a father hurts.
For the past month, I’ve been binge-watching my favorite TV show Gilmore Girls along with millions of other fans. I’ve been a Gilmore Girls groupie since the show’s debut in 2000 on the WB, and I was thrilled when I heard the entire series would be available on Netflix beginning this October. For the uninitiated, Gilmore Girls stars Lauren Graham (now in Parenthood) and Alexis Bledel (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) as the inseparable single mother-daughter duo known for their witty banter and coffee and junk food addictions.
Yet while I adore the show, I’ve always been bothered by how it glamorized single motherhood. Gilmore Girls made life with a single mom look mostly fun, while completely ignoring the negative effects of growing up without a father, and portraying dads as basically unnecessary extras. As a woman who grew up with a single mom, I can’t get through an episode of the show without comparing my radically different reality to Rory’s idyllic life on Gilmore Girls.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying single moms can’t make it on their own and even beat the odds. My mom raised three kids by herself, ran a successful business for 20 years, and put me through private schools. In fact, she is one of the strongest women I know, and she proved time and again that a woman can raise kids alone when life demands it. But that doesn’t mean that life with a single mom is anything like Gilmore Girls.
A recent Daily Dot article noted, Gilmore Girls “led the charge for alternative families on TV,” presenting “a mother and daughter who are more like friends than family, an important representation of a changing America.” Gilmore Girls represented the reality in America back then and today of more single women raising children. In the years since the show aired, births to unmarried women have soared and now account for more than 40 percent of all births, causing researchers to dub unwed childbearing the “new norm.” Gilmore Girls was on the cutting edge of this new normal, but the show missed a golden opportunity to present an honest picture of single motherhood from Lorelai’s perspective, and of life without a father from Rory’s.
In fact, Gilmore Girls’ depiction of single motherhood is lacking in three distinct ways that I believe are important to acknowledge.
1. Single motherhood is hard.
There are times when women and children are better off away from the child’s father, such as in cases of domestic violence or child abuse, but I am not addressing those situations here. For most people, single motherhood is a “make the best of it” experience, particularly for children. My mom did the best she could with limited resources. But the message of Gilmore Girls is more “we are better off on our own.”
When the show opens, Lorelai and Rory share an idyllic mother-daughter friendship in picture-perfect Stars Hollow, where neighbors look out for one another. When they need help, someone is always there to lend a hand — mainly Luke, who owns the local diner and not only feeds the Gilmore girls but helps out around the house, loves Lorelai, and serves as a fill-in father to Rory.
We never witness much of the early years, but Lorelai’s backstory is dramatic: a 16-year-old runaway and teenage mom who raises a child with no help from the child’s father or her own parents until Rory is a teenager. We learn that Lorelai earned her GED and worked her way up from maid to manager at a local inn. While there are hints of past hardship, the early years are so romanticized that any sense of Lorelai’s struggle as a single mom gets lost in the translation.
Most single moms, including my own, would admit that, while rewarding, raising children alone is extremely difficult. Single moms are forced to do the job of two parents and are often overworked and stressed. I remember times when my mom was so worried about how to support us she just curled up in a ball on the bed, sobbing. Never one to stay down long, she always managed to find a way, but nothing about raising three kids alone was easy.