Like Mother, Like Daughter: Motherhood in Popular TV Shows

Rory and Lorelai. Jane and Xiomara. Blair and Eleanor. These iconic duos all have one thing in common: they feature a mother and her daughter.

The majority of us know what it’s like to have a mother that’s kind and caring, but also sometimes overbearing. We’ve fought with them a billion times, but we’ve also made up with them a billion times. When I was growing up, the mothers and daughters depicted in the TV shows that I watched often helped me to navigate my own relationship with my mom.

Take Rory and Lorelai from Gilmore Girls, for example: they watch TV together, they eat at Luke’s together everyday, and they even tell each other all the tea that’s happening in their lives (yes, even when Lorelai was dating Rory’s high school teacher). But when it was finally time for Rory to graduate from Yale, they were able to let each other go.

Rory at her college graduation party (source).

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean they never saw each other again, but after Rory left, they knew that things would never be the same. Rory wouldn’t be living with Lorelai anymore, and she would have her own career and family. So, even after having each other as companions for the better part of twenty one years, Lorelai spent her last weekend with Rory and said goodbye at her doorstep.

Responses from SAS students to the question: For you, what is the most important part of a mother-daughter relationship?

It may seem contradictory, but her ability to trust her daughter to thrive without her, even at the expense of her own feelings, defined the strength of their mother-daughter relationship. This trust that is glaring in the iconic relationship between Rory and Lorelai has also been explored in multiple research studies, especially because it is unique and acts as a sort of “goal” for many mothers and daughters (Brinkema). Self-help therapists even highlight that “Trust is essential to any good relationship, particularly those between mothers and daughters” (Mind is the Master). And they are not the only ones. In a poll of 30 SAS students, 100% of them agreed that trust is the most important part of a mother-daughter relationship.

What about Jane and Xiomara, you ask? These two are the stars of Jane the Virgin, a 5-season telenovela that follows a young woman, Jane, and her accidental pregnancy. Just one year after it aired on TV, the show was nominated for the “Best Television Series” and won “Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series” at the 2015 Golden Globes (IMDb).

The whole series is centered around her and her family, which consists of her mom, Xiomara, her abuela and her dad, a famous telenovela star. It’s hilarious and heartfelt, but if you look a little deeper, the lessons about family are integral to the storyline. Xiomara had Jane when she was just a teenager. Her own mother was undocumented as well as didn’t speak English; this immediate conflict and language barrier made it difficult for them to bond. But when Xiomara had Jane, her life changed.

Jane (with her son Mateo) and Xiomara in Jane the Virgin.

Like Rory and Lorelai, their mother-daughter relationship was more like a friendship; Jane would always call Xiomara whenever she needed help. When she was first accidentally artificially inseminated, her mom was the one to comfort her and tell her that she could be a mom, even if she never planned to be. Xiomara was receptive and encouraging; she was the opposite of dismissive, which is a well-known toxic pattern in mother-daughter relationships (Psychology Today). Several SAS students also value this type of relationship with their mothers; Kayla Entwistle, a junior at SAS, claims that “certain [TV shows] (I.e. Friends, How to Get Away With Murder) have emphasised to me how crucial a trustworthy relationship between mother and daughter truly is.”

“Trust is essential to any good relationship, particularly those between mothers and daughters.”

MIND IS THE MASTER

But, others are less influenced by the mother-daughter relationships depicted in these TV shows, and are primarily affected by their own cultures. Suhana Khiani, a junior, says: “being raised in an Indian household, we do not have the option of ‘going away from home after an argument’ or holding grudges with [our parents].”

On the other hand, some students aren’t necessarily conscious of the fact that these TV shows influence their familial relationships. In fact, Eunah Jo, another junior at SAS, says: “Television, by nature, is a socialization agent, which means viewers can learn about their social environment through watching TV. However, the reflexive thinking processes that accompany TV viewing aren’t always consciously recognized at first.” Similarly, Katherine Lander, a professor at DePaul University’s College of Communication, claims that the rise of popular TV shows have led to an “increasingly engaged, media literate, and participatory audience” (Lander).

For Eunah, this was most obvious when she watched Jane the Virgin. She found that “seeing the three generations of females be so head-strong reminded [her] of her working mom.” Essentially, because watching television allows audiences to reflect on their own lives, the effect this has on their own mother-daughter relationships are sometimes subconscious. But it’s important to realize that this doesn’t make these effects any less significant.

When it comes to Blair and Eleanor, the self-proclaimed queen of the MET steps and her mother, a famous designer in the Upper East Side, at first it seems like we shouldn’t be learning from their difficult relationship. People love to see the high-society parties and New York Fashion Week moments in their TV series Gossip Girl, but even if their lives seem uber glamorous, it also comes with numerous hardships, especially those that stem from social status. Blair herself is almost always scheming for the next opportunity to assert herself as “queen B.” Because of this, she often got into arguments with her mother.

A scene from Season 5 Episode 5 of Gossip Girl: The Fasting and the Furious (source).

Even then, by the end of the series, Eleanor accepted the person that Blair was; she finally understood that Blair was stubborn, knew what she wanted, and would do anything to get it. Eleanor decided to support Blair, rather than reprimand her, because she had faith in her daughter–just like how Lorelai trusted Rory with her future. It all comes down to trust: even if Eleanor sometimes didn’t agree with the way that Blair treated others, she approached Blair as someone who wanted to help, rather than someone who wanted to change her, because she trusted Blair to live up to the daughter that she had raised. We can all learn to accept our own family members for who they are, especially if we played a large role in shaping their unique personalities. According to Dr. Abigail Brenner from Psychology Today, this is the first step to building a stronger relationship.

“Television, by nature, is a socialization agent, which means viewers can learn about their social environment through watching TV.”

Eunah Jo, junior at sas

Right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost all of us are spending hours (and some of us, days) on Netflix–or on some other media-service provider. The next time you’re binge-watching that TV show, think about the relationships they depict and how they might be similar to the relationships that you have with others. When you’re frustrated with your parents after over a month in quarantine, or even just laying in bed and reflecting on past experiences with friends: you never know, maybe there are important lessons there that can ultimately aid us in navigating our own lives.

Author: Zi Hui Lim

Zi Hui Lim is currently a junior at SAS, and this is her first year working for The Eye. She is from Singapore and spent most of her childhood here, but she lived in London for two years before coming back to Singapore and attending SAS as a third grader. In her free time, she likes to drink bubble tea (but only from Each a Cup) and hang out with friends!! She can be reached at lim42384@sas.edu.sg.

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