It’s the show that everyone is talking about – BBC’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Sublime. Captivating. Achingly good. Perfect. That’s just some of the words which have been exchanged on WhatsApp as my friends and I discuss this beauty of a boxset. The main characters, Marianne and Connell, come from very different backgrounds but they have one thing in common – they appear to be from single parent homes. Marianne’s dad never makes an appearance and her mum is more than a little flawed. But it’s Connell’s mum who is to be celebrated here. She truly is the underdog hero of Normal People. She is showing the world that single parents are normal people too.
Connell’s mum, Lorraine, is a cleaner at Marianne’s family home. It’s this obvious difference which builds one of the first layers of the complicated relationship between Marianne and Connell. Don’t worry, there’s no spoilers here. But, instead of being stigmatised as a working class single mum – the brush so many single mums are repeatedly tarnished with – she basks in the light of all that she is and all that she does.
Here’s some of my favourite signature Lorraine moments.
My favourite teenage mistake
In one of the episodes, Connell chats to his mum on the phone and Lorraine refers to how she fell pregnant with him when she was a teenager. This is obviously not new information to Connell, anything but given that his reaction is to laugh and smile. The underlying message that she has been honest with him about how he came to be is refreshingly positive – there’s nothing wrong with it so there’s no need to sugar coat it. The role of Lorraine, played by the amazing Sarah Greene, is also reasonably young to have an elder teenage son. This is also totally fine. It makes no difference. But it is the forthright honesty, candid approach and naked truth which makes this scene unforgettable for many, myself most definitely included.
I’ve just been out
In another episode, Connell comes back from time away from home to an empty house. Soon, his mum comes home having been out for the evening. It’s never directly said but the viewer could easily assume that Lorraine has been on a date. Instead of waiting at home for her son, she’s got her own life and is enjoying it too. Instead of being lambasted for that, it’s cool, natural and Connell hugs her almost straight away. This is a really lovely form of indirect acceptance. Parents can still be people and this is acknowledged in the most subtle and beautiful of ways.
Friends and family
OK, so this isn’t one moment as it’s something which the audience is treated to throughout the incredible series. The relationship between Lorraine and Connell is truly something special to witness. They are close, companionable and mutually caring. So they are basically all of the things which most parents can only dream of being with their teenage kids, myself most definitely included once again.
I know from my own limited experience over the last four and a half years that there’s a huge potential for a mum and son to have a really unique relationship. There’s just the two of them – just like there’s just the two of us with TJ and I. At his little age, TJ probably puts me on a pedestal. Even though I know that I regularly fuck things up, he’s often told me that I am his ‘favourite girl.’ Long may that continue … please. Of course, that won’t always work and it is not the reality for many families, regardless of their set-up. We see this with Marianne and her mum.
But sometimes, it does work. For me and my little man, it’s definitely a case of so far, so good. So, I can only hope that TJ and I will have a similar relationship when he grows up and that he will see me as both a mate and a mum.
One more thing …
I also can’t fail to mention that Lorraine doesn’t let Connell get away with how he treats Marianne early on in their relationship. In fact, she chastises her son’s behaviour. She takes Marianne’s side instead in a bid to comfort her when she’s distressed and to also teach Connell how to treat women correctly. Yes, this is amazing – Lorraine is an all-round decent human and this comes across in many ways. But it’s not a signature single parent move that got me reaching for my laptop.
For decades, single parents – particularly single mums – have been torn apart in films and TV. This covers everything from most of the mums in the 90’s classic About A Boy to that single mum who makes a brief appearance in an early episode of Friends when she thinks it’s acceptable to bring her kids to a NYE party Joey invited her to and then snogs someone else at Midnight.
So, when the world is talking about Normal People, I hope that this positive representation of a brilliant single mum is also normalised. More media should be doing this to reflect the diverse nature of the single parent community in 2020 – and also not alienate 1 in 4 of the population who are raising kids solo. If there were more positive representations out there, maybe I wouldn’t have felt the need to hide my naked left hand when I first became a single mum. It’s possible that I would have been as loud and proud about it then as I am about it now nearly three years later. Maybe I would have worn my ‘single and owning it’ t-shirt at soft play centres from day one instead.
We should all Be More Lorraine – single parent or otherwise. The world would be a better place if we just accepted unanimously that single parents are normal people too.
Pic credit- Stylist.