What 'Gilmore Girls' Most Tearjerking Scene Teaches Us About Parenting

There will be a time when your child will come to you in pain and you will have to choose your reaction.

While Netflix’s “Gilmore Girls” revival had its flaws, heading back to Stars Hollow, particularly at such a unstable moment in history, felt to me like slipping into a pair of Lorelai’s cozy puppy pajamas.

I was particularly moved by the last two episodes, in which the show’s creators let the women of each Gilmore generation hit their own emotional bottoms, reinforcing the idea that life, and especially family, necessarily comes with a side of heartbreak, if only the pain of mortality. The loss of Richard ― Emily’s husband of 50 years and Lorelai’s father ― is central to the emotion behind the episodes.

And it wouldn’t be “Gilmore Girls” without fraught parent-child dynamics. The scenes where Emily and Lorelai attempt to begin the process of restoring their shattered mother-daughter relationship in therapy are some of the most devastating, and Rory and Lorelai’s codependent enmeshment again results in an explosive disagreement followed by radio silence.

But it’s Lorelai’s attempt to grieve her troubled relationship with her late father Richard that is most affecting.

I cried my eyes out at least six times during “Summer” and “Fall,” including once just when Melissa McCarthy showed up, but my hardest blubbering came during the scene when Lorelai, after viewing a majestic vista on her thwarted “Wild” trip, calls Emily to finally recount her favorite memory of Richard.

She tells a story about being broken up with and teased by a boy at school on her 13th birthday, who calls her weird and loud and questions if she’s even a Gilmore. She flees school in tears and goes to the mall, where she by chance encounters her father, Richard, even though he “never goes to the mall.” When he demands to know why his troublemaking daughter isn’t in school, she simply bursts into tears.

And then, she tells Emily: “I got up enough courage to look up at him. And he was standing there with a pretzel. A giant pretzel, covered with mustard. And he handed it to me and he said, ‘Let’s go.’ And he took me to the movies.”

They see “Grease” and “An Unmarried Woman” (which, incidentally, Kelly Bishop was in) and Lorelai tearfully describes it as the “best birthday she ever had.”

When I was a teenager, I confessed a youthful wrongdoing to my mother after weeks of fretting over it. It was something she was going to find out eventually, but I was terrified to tell her. And like Lorelai, I have never forgotten the feeling of relief and acceptance I felt when she greeted my confession with love and comfort instead of reprisal.

In some ways, the Lorelai-Rory relationship is the funhouse mirror version of every parents’ fantasy: your child never stops liking you, always wants to hang out with you, never truly leaves the nest. In practice, of course, we don’t really want this fantasy to come true because we know that if we’re doing our jobs right, we’re preparing our children to live without us.

The relationship between Lorelai and her parents is more like a parental nightmare ― that you do your best, but drive your child away before they’re ready. That you choose wrongly in a moment you didn’t know was a test, and that they never forget.

When Lorelai came to Emily and Richard as a pregnant teenager, despite the best intentions that most parents have, their reaction, combined with Lorelai’s headstrong nature, fractured that relationship nearly irrevocably.

But the beauty of that phone call is that despite the damaged relationship Lorelai had with her father, she also held on to the fierce love of that moment.

And that moment, that memory, is to me what parenting is all about. Because there will come a time when your child will come to you in pain ― maybe over something seemingly silly, maybe in real trouble, maybe having done something you consider to be wrong ― and you will have to choose your reaction.

Sometimes, just sometimes, choose to take them to the movies.

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