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In “Grey’s Anatomy,” Where Are Everyone’s Parents?

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Ever wonder why the characters on Grey’s Anatomy (2015) are all so close with each other? Who has drinks with their colleagues every week, anyway? One of the key drivers of the show’s dramatic magnetism is that the better part of the show’s characters lack a parental support network.

The title character, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), had a brilliant surgeon mother who died tragically of Alzheimer’s. Her father left her mother when Meredith was very young. Torres’ dad is around, but her mother is estranged from her since she married a woman. Karev’s mother is a schizophrenic and his father is a junkie. Dr. Wilson is an orphan, as is Grey’s half sister Dr. Pierce, whose biological father is Dr. Webber, but they’re not close (yet). Amelia Shephard’s father died in a robbery, although her mother and sisters are around. Bailey has parents, but they barely get a speaking part in her wedding episode. Webber’s parents appear to be dead, and Jackson Avery’s mother is Katherine Avery, so she’s more of his boss than his support system. Robbins and Kepner have parents, so there’s that.

In fact, though, the norm at Grey Sloan Memorial is that work comes first. Shonda Rhimes, the show’s creator, said in a 2006 interview with Jet magazine, “I really wanted to do a show about people who spend so much time at work that their personal life plays out there, in front of people who they are also trying to impress and they’re competing against.”

The doctors live at the hospital and possibly for the hospital. They feed off of the rush of saving lives and look to each other for mentorship, validation, comfort, and guidance in their professional and personal challenges. When two doctors are in a conflict over hurt feelings, they butt heads professionally. When the work relationship between two doctors is copasetic, their bond is often strengthened over having a common enemy or because both are going through a break-up or some other personal challenge. If they were calling home to mom about their problems, the show would not be nearly as compelling.

When parents do make guest appearances on the show, usually at a couple’s wedding—such as Kali and Arizona’s wedding in “White Wedding” (Season 7, Episode 20)—there is a conflict, and the “hospital family” ends up coming to the rescue and providing needed support. Such is the case when Kali’s mom calls her wedding an abomination and spurs Kali to call it off. Dr. Bailey convinces Kali to go through with the wedding, which is mainly attended by hospital staff as opposed to plentiful relatives.

As viewers, we admire the relationships the characters on Grey’s have forged with one another. It’s beautiful to work alongside trusted colleagues and genuine friends—enviable even. Most of the show’s viewers care more that the doctors are saving each other’s lives than they ensure their patients’ survival, and that is only possible if the doctors themselves, to some extent, need saving. Let’s just hope for the characters’ sake that nobody changes jobs.