While raising their broods, quintessential moms Carol Brady, Marion Cunningham and June Cleaver remained upbeat, sometimes crossing over into downright perky. But that might be owed only partially to solid maternal instincts and more to a lack of those instincts being seriously tested. I mean, was the insincere Eddie Haskell all that bad when compared with the drug-and-sex-pushing peers today’s TV teens contend with? And sure, Carol Brady had a large family, but she also had help from housekeeper Alice. Plus, it’s not like Cindy ever slapped Greg or spit in Peter’s oatmeal. So which TV moms deal with modern challenges but still qualify for a “World’s Best Mom” mug?
FIVE GOOD MOMS:
Alicia Florrick on “The Good Wife”: The title of the series could easily be “The Good Mom.” Husband Peter’s high-profile dalliances shattered Alicia’s world, what with his prison stint, her family’s move, her forced return to the workforce, and her marital troubles constantly being dissected in the media. Still, she doesn’t let any bitterness creep into her conversations with her children. Sure she works long hours, but as she told her boss in a recent episode: She’s not going to stop being a mom for the sake of her career. She even let her meddlesome mother-in-law into her home because it was best for the kids, although she did finally ban Jackie when the other woman went too far. (Son Zach probably welcomed that anyway – he got a car out of it.)
Clair Huxtable of “The Cosby Show”: Like Alicia, Clair worked as an attorney, but despite the demanding job, she still managed to find time for her family. Despite the fact the show was one of the most popular comedies of the ‘80s and ‘90s, it also dealt with the occasional serious subject, like teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug addiction and son Theo’s dyslexia.
Tami Taylor on “Friday Night Lights”: Unlike Alicia, Tami’s marriage to football coach Eric is solid, and also refreshingly real. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had her share of challenges. It can’t be easy to be married to Coach Taylor, who is alternately exalted and vilified, depending on his team’s record at that moment. Tami followed her husband across the country, putting her own career plans on hold – but while she’s willing to sacrifice for her family, she’s also willing to fight for what she believes in, whether it be her own dream job or for the sake of the children, either hers or someone else’s. The fact she speaks her mind makes Tami an excellent role model for her two daughters. Plus, when eldest daughter Julie returned from college intent on dropping out after some particularly bad choices, Tami drove hours to pick up Julie’s books so she could study, and when the time came, Tami lovingly but firmly pushed her daughter back out of the nest.
Lorelai Gilmore of “The Gilmore Girls”: Talk about challenges – getting pregnant as a teenager and deciding to keep the baby wasn’t an easy path for Lorelai, especially with her own mom, Emily, judging and attempting to control her. Still, Lorelai managed to raise a smart and well-adjusted daughter and become a successful businesswoman – and repair her relationship with her own mom along the way. Plus, she was often very funny, and isn’t humor a healthy way to deal with stressful situations?
Madeline Westen of “Burn Notice”: Madeline wasn’t always able to protect her sons from an alcoholic father when they were younger, but now that her son, Michael, is grown, she’s always willing to help, whether it’s gathering intel or stowing at-risk individuals in her garage. Maybe Madeline smokes so much to calm her nerves; it can’t be easy to have a burned spy as a son. Also, another mom might have questioned her son’s judgment if he was shacking up with a trigger-happy ex-member of the IRA, but Madeline knows Fiona is good for Michael. Plus, Madeline provides a moral compass for her son. Since she’s willing to forgive little things like, say, having her house destroyed, Michael knows he’s gone too far if Mom gets upset.
Runner-up: Marge Simpson of “The Simpsons”: Since 1989, this blue-haired mom has had to contend with a husband whose good intentions always go awry, a son who spends more time on pranks than homework, and a tot who rarely speaks and still hasn’t kicked her pacifier habit. Well done, Marge.
While the above TV moms deal with parental challenges with heart, patience and often wit, the moms below are more than a little self-absorbed. (While I’d like to include reality “stars” like Kate Gosselin and any mom on “Toddlers and Tiaras,” to keep the list to five, I’ll stick to fictional characters.)
FIVE BAD MOMS:
Constance Langdon of “American Horror Story”: In recent episodes, she shared a tearful goodbye with her ghost child, who had been born deformed, and mourned the death of another child, Addie, who had Down syndrome. Seeing those scenes by themselves, you might buy into those tears – until you remembered her near-constant reminders to Addie that she was a burden. When an upset Addie tried to get her attention in one episode, she locked the crying young woman in a closet so as not to interrupt Constance’s tryst. And the ghost child she was mourning wouldn’t have been a ghost at all if Constance hadn’t seduced a man into killing him. In one episode, she does try to stick up for Addie when she feels a neighbor has crossed a line – by putting laxatives in brownies intended for the neighbor’s teen daughter. For Constance, it seems, abusing her own children isn’t enough, and she must abuse the neighbor’s children, too.
De’Londa Brice of “The Wire”: De’Londa thinks her son Namond should be just like his father – Wee-Bey, a drug dealer and killer. When money is tight, De’Londa even arranges a job for him within the drug crew. (Have you ever heard of the classifieds to find your own job, De’Londa?) When she goes to visit Wee-Bey in prison, he tells her to stop pushing his son to be a “soldier.” Tip: If even a murderous drug dealer tells you you’re being a bad mom, it’s probably a good idea to re-evaluate your parenting choices.
Nancy Botwin on “Weeds”: It’s a safe bet that if you’re running a pot business, you aren’t likely to win any Mother of the Year awards. In the beginning, Nancy may have justified dealing drugs out of her home as a way to support her children, but how does she justify taking her kids on the run? She not only puts her children second (or third or fourth), but she also puts them in dangerous situations. (Maybe she should share that classified section with De’Londa.)
Betty Draper on “Mad Men”: Does Betty even like her children? It’s a rhetorical question – of course she doesn’t. Cold and distant, it doesn’t matter to Betty if she’s sending her children upstairs or off to watch TV … it only matters that they are anywhere but near her. She has no qualms about telling little Bobby to go bang his head against the wall or saying that little Sally looks fat. Maybe she should spend less money on booze and cigarettes and start saving for her children’s future therapy.
Gillian Darmody on “Boardwalk Empire”: Gillian slept with her grown son. I think further examples are unnecessary.
Runner-ups: Cersei Lannister of “The Game of Thrones”: Lena Headey is mesmerizing in the role of the former queen who bedded her twin to reproduce an heir to the throne. But any doubt what terrible life choices she has made will be erased by watching the actions of her spawn, Joffrey. The rotten apple didn’t fall far from that family tree. Other bad mom runner-ups: Ellis Grey on “Grey’s Anatomy,” whose daughter, Meredith is still dealing with the baggage of never being good enough, and the manipulative Victoria Grayson of “Revenge,” whose evil acts spawned the whole premise of the series.
Anyone I left off? Did any of the bad moms I mentioned above redeem themselves in an episode I missed? Share your thoughts.
– Heather Chavez