Are We Destined To Become Our Parents?

By Caitlin Murphy

Ahoy! There be spoilers ahead.

There are plenty of things to talk about regarding The Gilmore Girls reboot: the irksomely incorrect depiction of what the life of a journalist is like, the body shaming, the stigmatization of people with mental illnesses, racism, Rory’s inability to care about or even remember her attentive partner, the sarcastic use of “triggered!” and the general failure to be intersectional. (I could also likely write a feature-length complaint about how there wasn’t enough Jess present in the reboot, but I’d rather not have the Logan and Dean diehards throwing rocks at me, as they may already after reading some of what I have to say. #TeamJessForever.)

But one thing in particular is really sticking in my craw: the looming sense that Rory is fated to be just like her mother. Not only does the past lurk throughout the four episodes in the form of nostalgic and referential minutiae from the original series, it comes up repeatedly as a source of conflict among the leading ladies — serving as an echo chamber constantly reminding you that all three generations of Gilmore Girl are actually the same person.

This kind of writing is especially noticeable given the numerous parallels between the characters of the show and my own life. Since the show first aired in 2000, the similarities have been hard to ignore: I, like Rory, am the single child of a single parent (at least, I was until my mom married, inherited a stepdaughter, and gave birth to my half sister around my 11th year). And while my mother did not have rich parents to lean on in the way Lorelai did, she did drop out of college at age 22 when I was born, much in the same way Lorelai dropped out of high school when she had Rory at age 16. On top of this, I, like Rory, was the quiet kid who generally didn’t get into trouble; my mother, per the occasional story she told me, was “wild” — again, in much the same way Lorelai was.

For obvious reasons, then, the show has always been one I’ve related to — up to a point. Unlike Lorelai and Rory, my mother and I are not particularly close. As she was always working, we didn’t get much of a chance to emotionally bond when I was growing up. Today, we rarely see or talk with one another. We don’t dislike each other, but we also don’t really relate to one another. My mom and I just aren’t alike, and I was brought up believing that I should never under any circumstances make the same mistakes and decisions she did; she was always terrified I’d get pregnant before I was ready or while I was unmarried.

So while I’ve always taken issue with how unrealistic the original series’ depiction of single parenthood felt, the reboot bothered me on a much deeper level, bringing up a question I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember: Are children doomed to make the same mistakes as their parents?

These four mini-movies seem to answer with a resounding finality: “yes.” And while developmental psychology does not make this contention with the same certitude, there is some psychological basis for the ways children mirror their parents.

***

When The Gilmore Girls first hit TV screens, the show repeatedly and aggressively pointed out that Rory was nothing like her mother. She’s good at school, she’s organized, she excels in structured environments — all in contrast to what is presented as Lorelai’s irresponsibility and lackadaisical attitude. Lorelai was uninterested in school and considered to be the black sheep of the family; she partied, she hooked up, she got pregnant and ran away. Rory is her redemption, the proof that she’s not a complete fuckup: She produced a model child, and she strove to be the parent she had wanted but didn’t have.

While I object to the show’s inherent classism and don’t consider Lorelai to be a fuckup (see: her successfully raising an independent human being, rising up from being a hotel maid to actually owning and running her own inn), what’s important is that she does, and so do her parents (and possibly even Rory). Such a perception certainly informed her mothering, which is a pattern I understand from my own experiences.

In my own life, my mom’s “mistakes” — getting pregnant at 21 by a man who was unwilling to care for either of us, dropping out of college, running away without telling her parents, coming back months after my birth with nowhere else to go — were things I was simply not allowed to do. It wasn’t something that was explicitly imparted to me, but instead impressed upon me by her other words and actions.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to reposition my mother’s past not as moral failures, but as things that were hard for her. I took those difficulties, internalized them, and learned from them. I’ve also made my own, different mistakes — we’re all human, after all. But despite knowing the ways in which I’m different from my mother, I’m still left with this lurking anxiety that I will echo my mom’s mistakes; watching The Gilmore Girls reboot only served to heighten those fears as I saw that reality play out for Lorelai and Rory.

Such an anxiety, it turns out, has a psychological basis. Steve K. D. Eichel, Ph.D., ABPP — a psychologist with significant experience working with children, parents, and families — told me over text: “From a psychological point of view, the old saying ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ is actually quite true.”

He elaborated: “Our parent(s) is/are the first lens through which we contact the world. Not only their words, but their emotional relationship with the world gets funneled to us, mostly unconsciously, when we are very young. It’s unavoidable.”

Through my shuddering, I continued reading: “Especially when it comes to relationships . . . Much of our most basic assumptions about the world and other people come from our parents. Basic assumptions like: Is the world a safe place? Can I trust other people? Is love really permanent? Am I basically deserving of a respectful loving relationship?”

His words are very much underscored in The Gilmore Girls reboot, which was particularly heavy-handed in the way it affirms that Rory is obviously echoing — and will continue to echo — her mother’s relationship and life choices. The mini-series seemingly says, “Rory can’t help but be just like her mom. She does have her eyes!”

The original series certainly made a small show of Rory making mistakes and becoming less responsible — getting drunk, hooking up with her ex before his wedding, taking time off from Yale (gasp) — actions that the show sometimes relayed as massive mistakes (just take her grandparents’ reception of her time off from Yale). But for the most part, her decisions are excusable, constituting mistakes that humanize her to audiences.

However, while the characters were known to be occasionally unlikable — almost always bad at (all forms of) relationships and frequently making missteps — the reboot turns this up to 11, with Lorelai and Rory both seeming directionless and hurting the people around them with their uncertainty. They both do terrible things that they’re either not held accountable for (Rory’s mistreatment of Paul and her fling with Logan), or forgiven for (Lorelai’s lack of consideration for Luke and sudden disappearance).

Perhaps most notably, the reboot emphasizes the ways in which Rory is destined to follow in her mother’s romantic footsteps.

In the case of Rory, there’s her continued association with Logan. Somehow, almost a decade after dating — and two years into a relationship with Paul that she keeps forgetting she’s in — Rory has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” set-up with her former boyfriend, Logan Huntzberger, a veritable carbon-copy of her father. Logan represents everything Lorelai tried to run away from in her parents’ life: ostentatious wealth, ridiculous privilege, and the no-holds-barred and often questionably legal “fun” that comes along with that.

Rory lets a perfectly fine relationship whither while pursuing this dream from the past, much in the way her mother did when she left her fiancé Max for her high school boyfriend — Rory’s father Christopher. While, Rory, at least, didn’t marry Logan in the reboot, you get the sense she would have if given the chance. And based on what we can all surmise from the much talked about “last four words” (except by my count, it was only three? Unless you count the sigh preceding?), she did the next best thing and is now carrying his child. He is, after all, very much like Christopher: a rich bad-boy with commitment issues.

Meanwhile, after Lorelai has a breakdown when all of her selfishness in how she treats her relationship is made apparent to her, Luke points out to Lorelai how he’d waited for her. It was always her, he says, even when she was with other people, even when he was with other people, even when both of them were married to other people. It was always her.

Mirroring this, ex-love interest Jess appears out of the blue and provides the support Rory needs in a time where she lacks direction. As Rory slowly unravels under the weight of a life without a goal, he recognizes it, and without judging provides a solution and a direction. No questions asked, no reciprocation required, no expectations.

I always liked Jess as someone who seemed to really understand and support Rory, even if he had communication issues. He never seemed to have let go of what they had, which is supported in his last appearance in the reboot. Standing on Luke and Lorelai’s porch on the night before their wedding, we see Luke asking Jess if there are still any feelings there, which he emphatically denies. Immediately after this denial, we see him wistfully looking through a window at Rory: a clunky and obvious admission of that lie.

Jess is Rory’s Luke, and I don’t say this simply because it’s what I want: I say it because that’s what the plot, the characters, and all the less-than-subtle hints from the show indicate. If Logan is symbolically Christopher, Jess is symbolically Luke. I could likely guess many of the details of how Rory’s life will move forward after the ending of the reboot.

Such predictability is a sad confirmation of the poor writing behind the show. Dr. Eichel assured me, however, that we aren’t actually all stuck in an infinite loop where we’re nothing more than the sequels of our parents:

“No, we’re not fated to do the exact same thing as our parents; we are not the exact same person. However, we often wind up unconsciously mimicking our parents’ behaviors, although with our own twist. Kind of like a songwriter who unconsciously copies a song theme she heard but doesn’t even remember. She doesn’t exactly duplicate the song theme, but others recognize it.”

The takeaway is that it’s both unlikely and unrealistic that we’ll become carbon-copies of our parents in the way Rory seems destined to. We do, however, internalize much of how we view the world based on how our parents view and interact with the world, and we act on that in similar but different ways. Dr. Eichel gave the example of a father who is a radical right-winger whose son rebels, becoming a radical left-winger: They’re both, in the end, radical — if at opposite ends of the political spectrum. I’m not fated to be just like my mom; it’s much, much more complex than that.

Dr. Eichel ended our conversation on what was for me a high note: “Children often believe, feel, and behave in ways that are on some level analogous to their parents’ beliefs, feelings, and behavior, but they rarely imitate them exactly.”

Which is to say, we’re not stuck in the same timeline as our parents — as much as that would make for a convenient script.

***

Lead image: Gilmore Girls Facebook

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