Yesterday we took a tour of some of the small screen’s worst mothers, and today it’s time to celebrate the ladies who did it best. Ranging from traditional to terrifying, these mothers represent the kinds of moms we’d be honored to call our own. (Of course, I should mention that my own mother blows these fictional ladies out of the water – mean it, Ma!)
(in alpha order)
Morticia Addams (The Addams Family)
Goth icon Morticia (Carolyn Jones) belongs on this list because she didn’t give a rat’s damn about fitting into the mold of a modern wife and mother – she clearly loved her children dearly (also her garden of Deadly Nightshade), and the fact that she looked like Vampira from Plan 9 From Outer Space was nobody’s damned business. Steadfast in her loyalty to family and tradition, Morticia taught us all to let our freak flags fly with equal parts poise and poison.
Norma Bates (Bates Motel)
Okay, I know – Norma (Vera Farmiga) is also on our list of Worst TV Moms. But bear with me: In a show that’s all about duality, Norma is herself both a shifty, passive-aggressive, potentially psychotic mess AND one of the most devoted mothers ever. I mean, she cleans up after her son’s murders and will cut any bitch who messes with Norman (or, on a good day, Dylan). She will literally do anything for her sons, up to and including dying so that he can assume her personality whenever he pitches a tent. (Does Edible Arrangements have a melon bouquet for that?)
Virginia Slims Chance (Raising Hope)
A “making ends meet” mom in the tradition of Roseanne, Virginia (Martha Plimpton) is smart, witty, and devoted to her son, even when she is having a ball busting his babymakers. She was a young mother herself and does what she can to support her son as he raises his baby solo, exemplifying the “It Takes a Village” approach to child-rearing. She also steals from the rich, like a modern day Robin Hood named after a ladies’ cigarette.
Debbie Doonan (Beautiful People)
Debbie Doonan (Olivia Colman) from the fabulously camp British series Beautiful People is the take-no-bullshit mother of a precocious gay boy named Simon (upon whose riotous memoirs the show is based). Raising a gay child bears its own demands, and Debbie rises to the challenge with a giddy, fuck-all brand of enthusiasm that is impossible (or at least inadvisable, in many situations) to resist. This enthusiasm is likely exacerbated somewhat by the fact that Debbie – a barmaid – is a hard-drinking, heavy-smoking, oft-brawling firebrand who once threw a Cadbury Creme Egg at Margaret Thatcher. (She missed.) Fun fact: Colman would go on to play Thatcher’s devoted daughter in The Iron Lady.
Lorelai Gilmore (Gilmore Girls)
Probably the dream mom of pretty much every teenaged girl in the nineties (myself included), Lorelai (Lauren Graham) proved that “cool moms” don’t necessarily have to be cool at the expense of their devotion to their kids. A single mom juggling work, family, and romance, she treated her daughter Rory like an intelligent adult (even when she wasn’t) and embodied the best possible model of a “mom as best friend” relationship.
Clair Huxtable (The Cosby Show)
The ’80s were boom time for great sitcom moms. But Clair (Phylicia Rashad) stands out for breaking the mold in an essential way: she did not suffer any tomfoolery from her husband, Cliff (including his pathetic attempts at speaking Spanish – “Arrrrrrroz con pollo!”). Claire wasn’t afraid to get tough with her kids, either – making her well-earned smiles when the kids made the right choices all the more rewarding.
Debbie Novotny (Queer as Folk)
Debbie (Sharon Gless) is the most supportive mom a gay guy could ever have, even going so far as to refuse a marriage offer because her gay son did not have the right to marry. While at the worst of times Debbie came across like a one-woman Pride float, her dauntless fight for equal rights for all is something that can and should inspire all of us. Now, her wardrobe, on the other hand…
Shirley Renfrew Partridge (The Partridge Family)
While the leading lady of a certain TV Bunch might be the first mom from this era to come to mind, I was always more impressed by Ma Partridge’s “I’ll just pile all the kids in a van and we’ll be pop stars!” spirit. Rather than sit around her house a depressed widow and mother of five precocious (and lip-sync-ready) kids, Shirley (Shirley Jones) transformed herself into a music mogul, a brand pioneer, and the first “momager” while still keeping her house running as smoothly as any facility that ever held Danny Bonaduce.
Marge Simpson (The Simpsons)
Marge (voiced through throatfuls of Grape Nuts by the amazing Julie Kavner) is old-fashioned, and she takes her cues from the traditional nuclear family promoted in classic sitcoms like Ozzie and Harriet. But beneath the towering blue beehive ticks the mind of a modern woman with progressive ideas about home, family, and community. And if all else fails, there’s always “a big bowl of strawberry ice cream.”
Joyce Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Late, great Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) beautifully exemplifies a mother’s patience, and how tough – and yet rewarding – it can be to let your child break out of their mold and become their own person. At first, Joyce was a cardboard cutout of a clueless parental figure flimsily standing between undercover teen hero Buffy and her next vamp slay. But once Buffy’s true calling was out in the open, Joyce had some serious thinking to do – and she wound up fully embracing her daughter, blood-soaked warts and all. Most of us didn’t realize just how essential Joyce’s support had become for Buffy (and the rest of the Scooby Gang) until she was unexpectedly, quietly taken away from us. It hurt worse than a stake to the heart.
Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones)
Did any of the other women on this list actually hatch fossilized eggs in order to build their brood? I think not. So while she may technically be a Mother of Dragons, Daenerys “Stormborn” Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is a model mother for us all thanks to her progressive stance on human rights, her tireless work ethic, and her effortless warrior queen boho chic style. Granted, now that her scaly babies have hit the terrible toddler years, she may have a little more trouble keeping them in line – but we think the woman who liberated Slaver’s Bay is up to the challenge. (Helpful tip: Lots of naps.)
Nora Walker (Brothers & Sisters)
Ah, Nora (Sally Field). You somehow managed to remain a class act through season after season of paternity scandals, widow-loving con artists, and failed romances. You were utterly devoted to your children (and to some children who weren’t even yours), and for you, family always came first. Plus, you were Pasadena’s most elegant gay flypaper, providing unconditional support to gay son Kevin and to your own brother, Saul, when he came out unexpectedly late in life. Now that everyone else is taken care of, can you focus on you for a change? We’ll all be fine, seriously. Go get a massage or something.
Of course, this is just a small sampling of some of the best moms to grace the small screen. Which ladies would you invite to the tea party?