It’s spring, which means many of us have finished rewatching Gilmore Girls over the past winter months. If you’re anything like me, you finish up another season having learned or felt something new. Perhaps a cultural reference that once went over your head made you laugh for the first time. Maybe you took a new side in an argument. Or maybe, thanks to social media, you’ve realized that you’re not the only one who’s not a fan of Rory Gilmore. Possibly, like me, you’ve started to better understand one of the characters, someone who used to frustrate you to no end.

I thought I knew Lorelai Gilmore—her regretful parenting choices and selfishness—but something stood out to me that never had before: her life was a sacrifice for her daughter. I wonder if we’ve focused so much on her parenting decisions—decisions that she might one day regret herself—that we’ve missed an important detail about motherhood in the midst of the criticism: she was learning, too.

She was learning that motherhood is a great decentering.

Motherhood Transforms Moments

We see this decentering in some of Lorelai’s most celebrated moments.

With Lorelai set to graduate from business school, she’s unsure she wants to attend her graduation until Rory insists and she concedes. Rory invites her grandparents, who comically bring expansive camera equipment to document the moment, proving they’re proud. When Lorelai walks across the stage and looks out at the sea of attendees, she sees her parents with tears in their eyes, delighted by their daughter.

When Lorelai handed the Gilmore Girls manuscript back to Rory, it symbolized her own giving up of her life’s story for Rory’s sake, the heart of the entire series.

Still, noticeably absent is Rory. Stuck on a bus in the middle of traffic, she’d skipped school to head to New York City and missed the graduation ceremony. Lorelai feels crushed, but when Rory finally arrives and spills her story, the focus shifts from mom to daughter, from celebration to concern. She’ll spend the rest of the night releasing her daughter from self-imposed guilt for missing the graduation. Lorelai’s graduation night never belonged to her alone.

Later, when Lorelai and her best friend Sookie set out to open an inn, they schedule a test run. They know that the whole town and their loved ones have supported this endeavor, so they invite them to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Flowers and tablecloths decorate each table, guests arrive to the beautiful inn, and compliments enfold every moment of the evening. Lorelai and Sookie couldn’t be happier.

Lorelai rushes home to check on Rory, excitedly updating her on the opening night, when Rory stumbles out of her room with an ex-boyfriend who is now married to someone else. Lorelai’s night of victory abruptly stops as she realizes what her daughter has done. Lorelai’s moment of glory isn’t ruined, but it’s shaped by her daughter’s actions.

There’s another more definitive moment that opens up the writer’s thoughts on motherhood. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, the final season written by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, promised closure for fans, and the last episode’s final minutes seem to promise that closure. Lorelai and Rory sit in the fairy-lighted gazebo ensconced with pink flowers, ready for Luke and Lorelai’s wedding. “How does it feel?” Rory asks. Her mom responds, “It feels… right.” The love story that started in the beloved coffee shop is now finished in the town square. This is how Lorelai’s story ends, right? Happily ever after with her committed Luke, maybe walking down the aisle or celebrating at her reception?

The series doesn’t end with Luke and Lorelai’s wedding—the series ends with Rory’s four words that promise to steal the focus from Lorelai’s day.

“Mom?”
“Yeah?”
“I’m pregnant.”

By ending on these four words, we see that the boyfriends, breakups, and marriages were never really the focus of the show at all. The focus was really the Gilmore Girls, their friendship, motherhood, and daughterhood. Rory, now the age that Lorelai was when the series first started, will embark on single motherhood just as Lorelai did at sixteen years old. Their stories are not identical but inseparable. We would never have one without the other. It makes sense for Rory to follow in the footsteps of her mother. 

Motherhood doesn’t ruin moments—but it does transform them. Those picture-perfect moments that should center mom are widened to include those nurtured little bodies.

We’ve widened the center of our stories.

Motherhood Transforms Our Stories

During the final episodes of A Year in the Life, Rory once again becomes listless, wanting to write but having a hard time defining her purpose. Watching her life proves painful. Her trips to London, moving boxes scattered around family and friends’ homes, and uncertainty of the future contrast the certainty she firmly held in the back pocket of her favorite high school jeans.

When a friend suggests she write a book about her and her mom, she discovers renewed passion and purpose. As she and her mom place white roses on her grandfather’s grave, Rory finally tells her of the memoir. She asks her mom permission to use their story, but Lorelai says no. “Please, give me this,” Rory begs. “I can’t. Not this time,” Lorelai responds emphatically.

Lorelai has given Rory everything she could possibly give—her teenage years and young adult life, the future she never had, understanding, and endless care. But she can’t give her this. She can’t give Rory her life story for everyone to feed on. Rory doesn’t understand—but we do.

At her grandfather’s desk, Rory writes the first few chapters of the memoir anyway. She hands them to her mom and asks her to read it, but she doesn’t. Lorelai simply returns the manuscript with her blessing to finish writing. Lorelai has nothing left to give Rory—everything she has is now shared.

In the end, that’s what motherhood is. A symbolic handing over of our life’s story, the giving up of ourselves for the ones who need us. We’ll have our regrets. We’ll have those moments we look back on that are tinged with sadness and loss and contrition. But we still handed over the pages of our life’s story for a time—in a big chunk of our stories, we’re not the main characters.

Motherhood Lays It All Down

In May, just like Lorelai, I’ll have my own graduation. During seven years of seminary, we’ve grown from a family of three to a family of six. We haven’t been without our ups and downs—but it would be strange to walk across the stage without my kids watching. Yes, I wrote the essays, but they shaped me in their own ways.

Sally Clarkson, a Christian who writes often of family, once mused about motherhood: “I always wanted to be a hero—to sacrifice my life in a big way one time—and yet, God has required my sacrifice to be thousands of days, over many years, with one more kiss, one more story, one more meal.” Motherhood evidences the greater love Jesus spoke about before his death, the kind that mirrors Jesus’s own love for us (John 15:12)—a love that lays down one’s life for another just as a mother lays down a favorite blanket over a little one at bedtime. A love that lays down one’s life for another just as Christ laid down his life for ours. A love that covers, protects, and honors the dignity of the children in our care, even if imperfectly.

I wonder if we’re so quick to criticize unhealthy parenting strategies in Gilmore Girls that we miss something that unites us, something worth celebrating. There are many things the show gets wrong, but this is something they got right: motherhood is a great decentering. It doesn’t necessarily take us away from the center of our stories as much as it brings others in. Motherhood widens the lens, expands the cast of characters, makes each written line of our lives less about ourselves. Motherhood is the great laying down of our own lives for the sake of another, a commitment that lasts until our final breaths (John 15:13).

When Lorelai handed the Gilmore Girls manuscript back to Rory, it symbolized her own giving up of her life’s story for Rory’s sake, the heart of the entire series. I wonder if we can relate. Like Lorelai, we might lay the manuscript of our lives on the hands of our children with tears in our eyes. Even still—we’ve laid it down.