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Lauren Graham's Healthy Approach to Parenthood

The childless actress is once again playing a single mom in a hit TV show. How does she do it?

Growing Up Graham continued...

If the actress struggles with any residual bitterness about her mother's departure, she reveals no trace of it -- either that, or she's exceptionally talented at her craft. "I did see my mom -- I'd visit her once or twice a year -- and she was always a fascinating, interesting, gorgeous character to me. We weren't close" -- she died four years ago  -- "but I did appreciate her. In a strange way I understood her. She was trying to be a painter, a singer in a band, do something that made her feel fulfilled. Now, being an actor, I draw parallels with the women I play. It's the same struggle: Who am I? That was the path she was on," she reflects. 

"There were some difficult aspects," she admits. "You know, when there was a Mother-Daughter Day, or if I was doing a school play and they sent home a costume to be sewed. My dad always did his best or got his secretary to help. That's just the way it was."

Growing Up Without a Parent

The loss of any parent -- especially when that parent is alive and well, and living away from the family by choice -- is almost always damaging to some degree, says William Doherty, PhD, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities at St. Paul. 

"When children don't see a parent, they grapple with doubt and issues of self-esteem … and if it's the mother who's left, it's harder on kids because it goes against the cultural script," says Doherty, who is also a family therapist and author of Take Back Your Kids: Confident Parenting in Turbulent Times. "We see mothers as having the primary bond and, regrettably, give cultural permission for dad to move on. But if a mother leaves, our gut responds differently. As a society we ask: 'What happened there?'" 

Graham's character is dealing with a former spouse who's an absent dad. The actor can't help but bring her own experiences of being raised by a single (if truly attentive) father to her televised alter ego, which may explain why she's so very believable in the part. 

"When you're a single parent, you have to be mom and dad," says Graham. "So little stuff with my character, like her trying to find someone to toss a baseball with her son … I told the producers, 'No, she'd do it herself! She'd get out there and play catch because she has to. That's how it works.' And that found its way onto the show."

Mother-Daughter Drama

As a teenager being raised by a dad, of course, Graham didn't experience the mother-daughter drama Parenthood plays for maximum impact. "I'd go to my friends' houses and their mothers would be all over them: 'What about this? What about that?' they'd nag," she remembers. "But I had more freedom and independence, which worked well, I think, with my personality." 

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