'The Golden Bachelor' Gives a Much-Needed Look at the Emotional Experience of Mothering an Adult

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Motherhood doesn’t end when your child reaches adulthood, and this show depicts how moms still struggle to balance their kids’ needs with their own.

<p>Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images</p>

Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images

When someone announces a pregnancy or welcomes a baby, often people tell them that for the next 18 years, their lives will be completely changed. We refer to having a child as an "18-year commitment"—and yes, raising a child is a very different experience than being a parent to an adult, especially once that adult moves out of your home. It's no longer the same type of 24/7 responsibility, and parents do begin to get their time and freedom back as they become parents to adults or empty-nesters.

But they don't stop being parents. I've always wondered why we frame parenthood, especially motherhood, as this 18-year journey when the reality is, that it's a lifelong commitment (albeit one that evolves with time).

In my five years as a mom, I've seen how tough it can be to weigh the need to put your child first against the importance of taking care of yourself, and how the exact balance shifts subtly over time. It's an experience we see discussed a lot, but it's rare people continue that conversation to explore what the balance truly looks like as children continue to age.

Perhaps surprising to some, The Golden Bachelor has given us a glimpse into what it really looks like, and it's refreshing. The Golden Bachelor is a spinoff of The Bachelor franchise that focuses on seniors finding love, and that representation is really important. The show dares to explore the romantic lives of "older" people. But that’s not all it accomplishes. In watching the show, I realized that it wasn't just that its cast was allowed to be romantic or date. It's also the way the show depicts the evolution of motherhood.

What Does 'The Golden Bachelor' Have to do With Motherhood?

If you’re unfamiliar with The Bachelor franchise, here’s how this particular season works. One man, (in this season, a widower and grandfather, Gerry Turner), dates a group of women aged 60 and over. As he moves through the season, he eliminates women based on the strength of their romantic connections and eventually ends up with one of the women.

Unlike The Bachelor’s other shows — and almost every other dating show these days—which primarily feature people in their 20s, this spinoff focuses on people who have lived through great love and great loss, the type of people whose romantic lives and desires we often neglect to consider.

That alone makes it stand out among a sea of dating shows, but we also can’t ignore the representation of dating as a parent. We rarely see onscreen representation of what it truly looks like for parents to explore new relationships while balancing their commitment to their kids alongside their desires. Now, thanks to The Golden Bachelor, we finally get a glimpse of how complex it can be…even for people whose children have become adults.

The most powerful example of this came in the middle of the season when a contestant named Joan Vassos decided to bow out of the experience just as she and Turner seemed to be developing a really strong romantic connection.

The episode features a clip of Vassos explaining that her daughter had just welcomed a baby in what seemed to have been a traumatic delivery. After receiving a message from her daughter, Vassos quickly decided to leave the competition and go home to her family. “My family will always be first. Once you become a mom, you’re always a mom, even when your kids are older,” she says.

<p>John Fleenor/ABC via Getty Images</p>

John Fleenor/ABC via Getty Images

I’ve never navigated the experience of dating as a mom, but I do know how tough it can be to find that balance between doing what’s best for my kids, showing up for them every time they need me, and caring for myself. Watching this episode of The Golden Bachelor confirmed for me that for moms, this doesn’t end.

Parenting Your Children Into Adulthood

I know this isn’t true for every mom, but I find myself aligning with Vassos here: Motherhood isn't a fleeting season of life. I’m not “in my mom era” just because my kids are young—they will always be my main priority, even when they "can” fend for themselves, and I think this sentiment is more common than we acknowledge in public conversations.

When we talk about parenthood, we often center on those who are deep in the trenches, struggling with toddler tantrums, night wakings, and cluster feedings. We don’t often shine a light on how the experience evolves, or how the challenges shift.

We don’t often represent the commitment of motherhood that persists even after your last child has flown the nest. And we certainly never pull back the curtain on what this looks like for people who are trying to balance the lifelong commitment of parenthood alongside romantic relationships.

Parenthood Affects Major Life Choices

There isn’t always a single “right” decision when it comes to these matters. Another contestant on the show, Sandra Mason, famously missed her own daughter’s wedding for a chance at finding love on the show—and when audiences pushed back on this choice, she defended herself and said she didn’t regret the decision she made. “My daughter said, ‘Mom, I've got my guy. You go get yours,’” Mason told People. “So they practically shoved me out and said, ‘You got to do this.’”

On the flip side, another contestant, Faith Martin, a finalist on the show, spoke up about the role her own family may have played in her split with Turner. “We talked about how it would work out and those logistics,” Martin told Glamour. “I think that might be part of what he thought couldn’t work because I’m not a person that could see my kids twice a year. I need to be present there a lot.”

Of course, not every adult is lucky enough to have their parents in their lives, whether due to a loss or estrangement. There’s a range of experiences, but clearly, the decisions these women made have hit home for a lot of viewers of The Golden Bachelor.

For example, when Vassos posted about her decision to leave the show on her Instagram, fans voiced their support—many of them even called for her to become the first "Golden Bachelorette," which would allow her to lead her very own season of the spinoff and date a group of suitors in hopes of finding another love.

I’m here for this—truthfully, I’d be here for any of the women we met on The Golden Bachelor to lead a season, because it would give us a look at how, for many of us, motherhood plays a role in every choice we make through the duration of our lives, not just for those 18-ish years we spend raising children.

A Different Generation of Parents

On another episode of the show, a tell-all, we see Vassos reappear and provide an update on her family. “My daughter had a really serious case of postpartum depression and she needed me. She needed her mom,” she shares.

The moment felt like such a breakthrough. Millennials have normalized discussions of issues like postpartum depression, issues that were very much shrouded in shame and secrecy for our mothers. But in openly sharing her daughter’s struggle on national television, Vassos showed us how far we’ve come, and she also showed us how much we learn from our children and step outside of our comfort zones to care for them…and how we continue to do this long after they've reached adulthood.

Right now, there’s a lot of poking fun at, or even downright shaming of, “boomer moms.” While it’s important to explore the effects of their parenting choices on the next generation, sometimes I find myself wondering why we’re not offering generations of older mothers any grace. Maybe it’s because we stop seeing them as mothers once their children are grown—we fail to consider all they were up against as they entered motherhood, and we fail to view them as victims of a system that (still) does nothing to prioritize children or the people raising them.

We neglect to realize that they raised us without adequate resources, support, or even digital access to guidance on raising kids. We don’t recognize that they navigated major issues (postpartum depression being one of them) without the space to speak out or seek help. Finding that line between holding them accountable and recognizing that they, like all moms, are imperfect and bound to mess up, is so hard.

But by showcasing them on reality programming, by letting older mothers take center stage for once,  we’re finally able to start humanizing them. We can see the complexities of their choices, and begin to understand how they struggle to find the line between being moms and reclaiming themselves.

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