Friends and Mothers

Friends and Mothers

Do you know the sitcom, Friends?  Probably, but if not, a quick sketch: Six twenty-somethings living, working, loving, and learning to be adults in 1990s New York City. Along with the show’s humor are the salient, poignant bits and bites that make a sitcom successful and applicable to real life. I watched Friends religiously with my college roommates every Thursday night.

Friends has made a resurgence. All three of my teenagers have watched the entire series at least once, and I’ve been watching with them sometimes.  I’m loving the humor in a whole new way, being far on the other side of twenty-something. But why are my kids so attracted to the show? It’s not quite old enough to be retro, so what’s the attraction for teenagers in 2019?  Probably the same as it was for teenagers in 1993. Six young “adults” trying to navigate real grown-up life, managing jobs and rent and relationships, determining what they really want in life and what the meaning of life is anyway.  These questions, navigated with iPhones and Siri, or landlines and maps, are really still the same.

In the later seasons of Friends, one of the monumental life issues explored is motherhood.  My thirteen-year-old daughter, our most ardent Friends devotee, related something she’d read about the three very different and non-traditional representations of motherhood among the show’s three main female characters, and I thought it was worth exploring.

Phoebe, the first character to become a mother, agrees to be a surrogate for her younger brother’s wife and, through in-vitro, ends up pregnant with triplets.  Phoebe isn’t married and has no personal interest in motherhood. Yet when the triplets are born, her whole world turns upside down. She can’t imagine that now she’ll have to give these babies up, even though that was the plan from the beginning.  Through so many funny and serious moments, Phoebe discovers how much motherly love she really has in her heart. I watched this progression from a mother’s perspective this time around. And I cried.

Rachel gets pregnant after a one-night stand. After the initial shock, she decides to keep and raise her baby as a single mom.  She didn’t plan or choose to become a mother but once Emma is born can’t imagine life any other way. Like Phoebe, Rachel’s arrival at motherhood is anything but planned and standard, but her feelings about new motherhood are very recognizable. I saw them all through a different lens than when I was twenty.  And I cried.

Monica is the last to become a mother, though she’s wanted it the most and longest.  She does everything in the right order and, as always, according to a plan. She gets married to Chandler, they try to start their family, and they fail. And fail. And fail again.  They decide to adopt, because life, to them, won’t be complete without babies, or at least a baby. Their adoption application is chosen by a prospective birth mother, and when they discover it’s been chosen by mistake, they go right along with the story that they are a different couple, a minister and doctor respectively. They go with it because their desperation to be parents swamps their honesty. Their lie is discovered.  The birth mother rescinds her offer. Monica is gut-wrenchingly heartbroken. Chandler follows the pregnant woman into the hallway as she’s leaving. He pleads his case. He knows what they did was wrong. They just so desperately want a baby. Chandler admits that he’s scared and worried and nervous about being a dad. But he loves his wife to the ends of the earth, and can get over his own trepidation, can sink to begging, to give her what she wants, what she needs to be complete.

And I cried.

To witness this level of desperate need, even on a sitcom, will make me cry every time  To have such a need to nurture another human being in whatever way makes that possible – birth, adoption, guardianship – and be denied would be such a completely different loss and challenge than so many others – a certain college, a certain job, a certain house. Becoming a mother has almost everything to do with luck and timing, genetics, and sometimes money.  It has very little to do with merit and hard work. Watching this Friends episode with Katie, I sat and cried for how abundantly blessed I am to have three people in the world who are forever connected to me and to each other.  There’s nothing more to it than that. I am abundantly blessed. And I’m crying right now.

About our Blogger:

Elizabeth Dougherty is a freelance writer in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Her blog, Plan Q, chronicles real, everyday experiences and viewpoints — funny, stressful, tearful, mundane — and how they all tie together to define our lives. She aims to make her readers laugh, cry, feel, think, and wonder.  That’s what writing and reading do for her, and if she can pass on any of that, then all the twists and turns that whip her right past Plans A through P and land her at Plan Q are more than worth it! Visit Plan Q at or connect with her on Facebook.

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