Pop Culture / Speaking Out

#25YearsOfFriends: What Monica, Rachel and Phoebe taught us about motherhood and careers

. 13 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
#25YearsOfFriends: What Monica, Rachel and Phoebe taught us about motherhood and careers

We were welcomed into the real world by them. It still sucks. But we’ll always love them. Who knew that 6 over-caffeinated friends in their 2 apartments sipping on their doses daily in 1 coffee house would be as relevant 25 years later?

Amidst their enviable friendship, their inexplicable apartments’ affordability, the whirlpool of organised chaos that their relationships were; the message that somehow gets clouded was of the unconventionality of motherhood that the three ladies were shown to adopt.

The show – for a lot of its fostering stereotypes and problematic storylines hasn’t aged particularly well in 2019. But the one aspect because of which it still remains relevant for every new generation of teens and young adults that take to the show is its characterisation.

These iconic females may have set the bar for #GirlLove quite high, but it is their career journey and the way they approached motherhood that will forever be goals.

Monica Geller: “I know”

Perhaps the most integral friend of all, Monica Geller is the glue that helps sustain the six of them as the friends we’d all love to have.

Rachel is introduced as her high school best friend. We first know Ross as her brother. Phoebe is a part of the gang as her former roommate. Joey and Chandler were her neighbours. She is the only friend to have a direct unique bond with all the others.

She assumes this centrality in the show purely because of the intense compassion that drives her.

The necessary ingredients for success: Determination and resilience

The ‘hostess with the mostest’ she’s a chronic type A perfectionist. This tightly wound high strung attitude is inspiringly reflected in her career journey. Throughout her professional journey, Monica has faced several mishaps.

Being asked to leave her job as a chef. Being unemployed for almost a whole season. Dealing with stoned restaurant owners for a job interview. Working in a 50’s themed restaurant dressed up in costumes she was not comfortable with. Losing out on the chance to be a head chef simply because of her integrity. But she certainly knew how to keep her eyes on the prize.

It is this determination that is perhaps her strongest feature. She is resilient enough to endure several hardships to truly go after what she wants.

Working through one failure after another, being in nightmarish professional atmospheres, the only thing that kept her going was her big picture.

Right from the moment, we’re introduced to Monica, we see her as someone who knows exactly what she wants. A job as a head chef, a husband and kids. This picture has been constant for her right from the very beginning. And her perfectionist lens refuses to give up any ounce of hope of the picture coming true even during her darkest times.

The biggest instance of her resilience is when she decides to break up with Richard. Monica is head over heels in love with a man who is older than her and does not wish to have any more children. Despite their intense relationship, Monica chooses to break up with him and wait out for someone who’d want to have children. All because of the picture.

It is this very striving attitude that helps her through the worst of the jobs simply because she knows that someday she will have her picture. She is determined to work through jobs where no one seems to like her and puts herself through immense pressures to get where she eventually wants to.

Unlike Rachel, who on the surface seems to get what she wants without having to contend much –the job of her choice, a baby without even planning on one; Monica has to work very hard to get what she desires – the job of a head chef, a successful marriage and even children.

Towards the end, she finally becomes the head chef of a fancy restaurant – something that she’s always wanted. This fitted end to her long and arduous journey is something that gives us hope to not lose sight of our ambitions. She normalizes failure and treats it like a significant milestone in her path. She values her success because of these failures and teaches us that success without failures is a success not valued.

Monica draws strength from her inner self and sets an example for young girls everywhere to not lose hope in the face of adversity.

Motherhood is instinctive: You don’t need to be a mother to be maternal

Monica was a mother long before she had her surprise twins. She takes Rachel in. She feeds Joey. She is a shoulder for Ross to cry on. She teaches Chandler to let his guard down and is his first serious relationship. She is an instinctive mother hen.

Her intensity comes from a place of caring too much. Her immense affection and maternal love is at the heart of the friendship between the six characters.

Rachel’s entire character development would have been impossible without Monica. She is the one who “welcomes her into the real world.” Teaches her to be independent and “get one of those job things.” She teaches her to take care of herself both physically and financially and puts a roof over her head. She is an instinctive mother hen.

Having children was always an integral part of her picture. But like most other things in her life motherhood too did not come easily for her. In spite of having dreamt of being pregnant almost all her life, the moment she learns she isn’t capable of this she quickly adapts herself to the idea of adoption.

A rare phenomenon back in the ’90s, Monica helped normalise adoption as a viable option for motherhood. As an exemplary pop culture icon of the 90’s Monica Geller gave hope to women everywhere struggling with motherhood.

This adaptability to be flexible fosters her determination towards her clear vision of the life she’s always wanted for herself. She poses a brilliant example to women everywhere to have respect for your ambitions. To not lose hope and attain the goals you’ve always wanted –even if it is not in the manner you would have preferred it to be in.

Monica may be a ferocious control freak but she knows how to adapt herself to the situation in ways that do not hamper what she values the most – her goals.

In the end, all her hardships and her tribulations did not go vain as we see her finally moving towards the life she always wanted to live. All because of her resilience.

She taught us to be the girl with the goals. The girl who doesn’t back down. The girl who knows enough to be a know-it-all but doesn’t behave like one.

Rachel Green: “I am a hat”

Perhaps the biggest transformation of the series – Rachel Green has the career graph (not to mention the clothes) that we’d all like to have. Rachel is our proxy into the show. We enter the lives of the six through her and for most of the first season, view the rest through her eyes.

She is almost like the metonymic character placed to help further the message of the show stick with your friends and they’d help you navigate through the difficulties of life in your twenties.

Career graph: Doing what scares you leads you to a more fulfilling life

She starts out as the vulnerable runaway bride that is making what is to be her most cataclysmic life choice. She chooses to shred the rich spoilt girl persona and move out of the bubble of privilege and security to live life on her own terms through Monica’s help.

Rachel embodies what is perhaps the central theme of every 20-something learning to adult – the value of experimenting and failing. While we wouldn’t exactly call her fearless, she has certainly had a rewarding journey both personally and professionally.

She makes the choice of stepping out of her cocoon and learning to live life on her own terms. Never having worked a day in her life before, she goes on to become a waitress taking orders from other people. Trust Rachel Green to make failure look fashionable. She is the poster child for learning from failures.

The lesson that one can emulate from her classic upward mobility aspiring journey is that of not being afraid to fail. Sure she is plenty scared and vulnerable but the plunge to cutting up her father’s credit cards is the courage we all need.

It is only when she is confident of her stability as a working girl that she decides to actually pursue something she likes – fashion. This willingness to experiment and being open to failure is the inspiration that Rachel postulated to an entire generation of young women confused in their career choices.

The best instance of this reclaiming of her agency as an independent woman is when Ross makes the pro/con list about Julie and Rachel when confused about whom to be with. Rachel’s attraction to Ross in itself a major leap for her character – the fact that she is no longer a shallow teen looking through the nerdy guy crushing on her. But when he chooses to list her incapabilities as reasons not to be with her, she is deeply hurt not over the act of making a list but instead on his lack of belief in her.

She is troubled over the fact that someone else besides her is insecure about the same shortcomings she is striving to battle against. She is hurt over him questioning her potential to survive on her own rather than something superficial about her.

In season three when she is finally able to quit the coffee house to pursue a career of her choice – she is met with yet another dead-end fashion job. It is not until the end of the third season when she finally makes what is perhaps one of her biggest initial defining moments choosing her job over being with Ross (of course Ross wins eventually in this game of Job Vs. Ross).

Up until this point, Rachel’s professional journey was completely ideal but this major setback in her personal life was a significant milestone in her professional journey as she chooses to prioritise her career over her boyfriend.

Rachel has had several unfortunate events and various failures like her inappropriate kissing during her interview, her department shutting down at Bloomingdale’s and being fired from Ralph Lauren due to her interview at Gucci. But she’s learnt invaluable lessons through all of them as we see her emerge into a savvy executive – unafraid to try new things.

Doing scary things. Letting go of the safety net. Thriving off of the fear of uncertainty. These are all lessons that Rachel’s professional arc bear testament to.

Motherhood a challenge: Rising to the occasion

Back in the first season if someone had asked us who could most likely manage to be a single mother – the most uncontested answer would have been Monica. But pop culture history as we know it says something different.

We could use a lot of adjectives for Rachel but for the longest time, strong was certainly not one of them. From inevitable feelings of self-doubt and underestimating herself constantly in the initial seasons, her biggest leap in claiming her independence is choosing to raise a baby all by herself.

Professionally being in a space where she always wanted to be and working towards personal growth and fulfilment, a pregnancy was far from Rachel’s plan. But there can be no better example of learning to be flexible and being accepting of your charted-out-course to factor in the sudden unpredictability.

Rachel’s rise to the occasion and the decision to be a mother irrespective of support from the father will forever be an inspiration to women everywhere.

One of the many things that friends helped lift the taboo off of and normalise, Rachel’s decision to be a single mother was a much radical character transformation. From a spoiled princess to a self-sufficient mother, Rachel fulfilled that journey to independence in the most extreme way possible.

From a young girl that was destined to marry rich, never work a day in her life and bear the children of the man she found unfulfilling; Rachel goes on to become a strong executive and raising a child all by herself (at least for a while) before it was cool.

Single motherhood is perhaps one of the strongest expressions of self-sufficiency and independence and Rachel gives women strength everywhere by making it look doable – and stylish.

Phoebe Buffay: “Oh I wish I could but I don’t want to”

Monica can get too caught up and overthink everything in her life. Rachel seems to perennially feel like she is under “fifty feet of crap”. But it is Phoebe who teaches us to take things as they come and be alright with not even having a “pla.

Like the wind in the face of adversity, being carefree and free-spirited Phoebe teaches us to not take anything too seriously.

Career: It’s not the end of the world

This kooky and flaky oddball seems to be living in her own world –a world she seems to prefer living in. A masseuse by profession, Phoebe like most things in her life does not take her job more seriously than what is required. What she does give utmost importance to, are her friends.

She pretends to be her twin to prevent Joey from a heartbreak. She is honest to her friends about their cheating boyfriends. She attempts to cleanse auras of her downtrodden friends. And most importantly, she values her friendships above everything else.

She may live in her own world but this street dwelling hippie is as levelheaded, mature and honest as they come. She is perhaps the most emotionally evolved friend in the group.

Her unorthodox dressing style, her affinity to new-age spiritualism and overall eccentricity convinced us all – if it is someone who could stand to give a lesson in emotional grounding over anyone, it would be her. She is confident in her unconventionality. She is strong enough to take risks without thinking too much of it.

Even career-wise, she is the most stable friend (maybe after Ross) as she doesn’t undergo any major career shift and is extremely happy with the cards that life has dealt her. Her only grouse stems from her troubled childhood. Her father’s identity is a constant source of annoyance and pain for her. And not to mention her mother’s suicide that came at a tender age for her.

But in spite of the baggage that childhood trauma can leave on a person’s psyche (Chandler’s infamous Thanksgiving), Phoebe’s carefully practiced nonchalance bleeds into not only her work life but also the manner with which she treats this baggage. Nothing is ever too big a problem for her. She can deal with things head-on without ever making anything too big of a deal unlike several of the other friends.

This carefully constructed indifference is perhaps the reason why Phoebe is one of the most sorted and emotionally stable characters. She goes after what she wants in the manner that she wants to.

The poster child for living life on her own terms, Phoebe did not even find the need to change her career path throughout the show’s run. Her journey – both personal and professional has a relatively straight graph as compared to the other female counterparts. And this lack of erratic character diversions or unpredictable plot lines is simply because she is that fulfilled within herself right from the beginning.

Phoebe is the friend who’d probably stop to smell the flowers or take a whiff of the rainy winds on her way to work. And this ability to simply stand still and find fulfilment wherever you are is something we can all learn a thing or two about from her.

Motherhood: No bigger joy than giving

While she doesn’t conventionally become a mother through the show’s run, the reason she chooses to be pregnant is a source of inspiration to us all.

Stemming once again from a seemingly frivolous decision, Phoebe’s decision to be a surrogate for her brother and his wife is perhaps her most striking character-defining moment.

While her work has a lackadaisical appeal, it is her friends and her loved ones that she chooses to define herself by. She is unapologetically fierce and impulsive in making decisions regarding her loved ones.

She will go to extreme lengths to make her loved ones happy – even if it is being in physical pain for a whole nine months. This was an almost whimsical storyline that grew into becoming one of the most emotional ones in the show. Phoebe’s impetuous decision to be a surrogate for her stepbrother embodies everything that she is as a person and everything that she stands for.

We’ve seen her have an innate lament at the loss of a family since childhood. She has always wanted to have a chance at having one. And when she finds that glimmer of hope in an estranged stepbrother she leaves no stone unturned in ensuring that this family stays. Her quick and strong attachment to people and the finality with which she sticks to her seemingly impulsive decision is a heart-warming marvel that pop culture has yet to emulate in the same intensity.

Surrogacy was yet another unexplored road to motherhood that Friends played a major role is popularising. Phoebe made it look cool and viable. A major leap for television back in the 90’s she provides hope to several expectant mothers everywhere. Just how she handles everything life has in store for her, motherhood too should not be that big a problem and just something that can be dealt with in any way one is comfortable with.

Phoebe is the friend we’d all love to have but she teaches us to be the friend everyone wishes they had.

So who’s journey do you think your most inspired by? And who is it that you most relate with? Monica, Rachel or Phoebe? Let us know in the comments section below!