It’s that time of year again that we celebrate the ladies who brought us into this world, raised us and inspired us to be the people we have become. It seems all the more significant during this time in which moms have been spending a lot more time with their kiddos.
It would be interesting to see how some of our favorite tv moms would have handled quarantine, or if some kids would actually be “safer at home” with some of these moms. It’s quite likely that if Malcolm and his brothers didn’t blow the house up out of sheer boredom, Lois’s screaming would have brought the place down. It’s doubtful that Marie Barone could have maintained social distancing, and not popped over to criticize Debra’s latest meal or endeavor while continuing to spoil Raymond. But then, the June Cleavers, Harriet Nelsons and Margaret Andersons would likely put us all to shame with their always immaculate homes and home-cooked meals.
Many of these moms are traditional women we grew up with, and some of these moms are more modern, relatable women we’re still getting to know. From the 1950s to now, here are some of television’s funniest, craziest and, in some cases, ruthless mothers we’ve come to know and love.
Tour our Mother’s Day photo gallery, which includes “The Brady Bunch,” “The Cosby Show,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Happy Days,” “The Golden Girls,” “Modern Family” and more.
Roseanne Barr as Roseanne Conner
She’s brash, blunt and controlling, but Roseanne loves her children and wants a better life for them. She and her husband work hard to provide for their family, and struggle to make ends meet sometimes, but Roseanne still makes time to have a strong presence in the lives of her children – often to their annoyance and embarrassment. But in the end, they love each other fiercely, and she provides a loving support system for them.
39. The Goldbergs
Wendi McLendon-Covey as Beverly Goldberg
As the “smother” of Erica, Barry and Adam, Beverly is overprotective and has a difficult time letting her children gain independence. Based on Adam F. Goldberg’s real mother, Beverly is over-the-top overbearing and gets her feelings hurt when her children aren’t appreciative. But the show was clearly created out of love, and the affection these kids have for their mom is evident, even when she embarrasses them.
38. All in the Family
Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker
Poor Edith has to constantly keep the peace in a house with an ultra-conservative, bigoted husband, a feminist daughter and a flaming-liberal son-in-law. Her naïveté often leads to funny situations, but it also gives her the heart that keeps this family together. She teaches her daughter that it’s okay to have opinions, but that it’s okay when the opinion of others differ. Edith offers sage, motherly advice in a humorous way that is still relevant today.
37. Father Knows Best
Jane Wyatt as Margaret Anderson
Warm and gracious, Margaret is the idealistic 1950s sitcom mom. However, even though this was more of a vehicle for Robert Young as the star, Wyatt has some shining moments as well. In one episode, she decides she wants an activity other than household duties, and learns fly-fishing in the hopes of entering a tournament. However, when she breaks her arm and can’t participate, her family gathers around her to let her know how many times she has helped them.
36. Married with Children
Katey Sagal as Peg Bundy
Peg is the antithesis of the ideal mom popularized in the 1950s sitcoms. She refuses to do housework (or work of any kind), squanders any money she gets her hands on, rarely has a meal ready and constantly bombards her husband with put-downs. However, like those ideal moms of yesteryear, she does take great care with her bouffant hairdo and walks around the house in high heels – and it is also very clear that she cares for her family.
35. Big Valley
Barbara Stanwyck as Victoria Barkley
One of the first “tough” ladies of the small screen, Victoria goes from refined lady of the manor to hardworking cowgirl after the death of her husband. Not only does she take over the management of the ranch, she is a strong and loving mother to four children, one of whom is her dead husband”s illegitimate son she treats as one of her own.
Barbara Bel Geddes as Ellie Ewing
It takes a heck of a woman to stay married for over 40 years to a man like Jock Ewing. It takes an even stronger one to raise three boys, who stay in constant conflict over the running of the family businesses, as well as accept her husband’s illegitimate son into the family. Miss Ellie is a strong, independent woman who keeps these men in line – quite a feat considering one is the ruthless J.R. And it is clear that they love and rely on her maternal guidance.
Nancy Walker as Ida Morgenstern
She is overbearing and the queen of laying guilt trips on her children. She will connive and conspire to find her two daughters suitable husbands. However, when they need her, she is there to provide a shoulder to cry on, and lets Rhoda move back into her childhood bedroom until she can get back on her feet; but she doesn’t allow them to wallow – she gives Rhoda a nudge to move on when it’s time.
32. The Sopranos
Nancy Marchand as Livia Soprano
It takes a special kind of narcissistic woman to raise a son to become Tony Soprano. She has spewed her hate onto her three children their entire lives, seemingly resentful they even exist. It’s no wonder that Tony puts her in a nursing home, leading her to manipulate a hit on her own son. Tough mobster Tony spends hours in therapy dealing with his “mommy issues,” which remain unresolved at her death. She’s not your cuddly 1950s-sitcom-mom; but she is one of the most memorable mothers ever portrayed on the small screen.
Agnes Moorehead as Endora
This witch hates that her daughter has married a mortal, and shows clear contempt for her son-in-law, by refusing to say his name properly and by occasionally using witchcraft to cause mayhem in his life for her own amusement. However, despite her interference in Samantha’s marriage, she makes sure nothing bad happens to Darrin (or “Derwood,” “Dum-Dum,” “Darwin”), and becomes a doting grandmother to Tabitha and Adam.
Allison Janney as Bonnie Plunkett
After a difficult life of growing up in foster homes, becoming a teenage mom and addiction, Bonnie is now sober and trying to reconnect with her estranged daughter. Bonnie has developed a tough exterior and isn’t naturally nurturing, but she genuinely cares about Christy. Together, they struggle to remain sober, and with humor and grit, support each other as they try to rebuild their lives.
29. The Simpsons
Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson
Her husband is a goofball, one child is a troublemaker, another can be too smart for her own good and the third is a baby who she may mother a little too much. Although she is sometimes embarrassed by her family’s antics, it’s clear that she adores Homer, understands Bart’s special “spark,” shares a strong bond with the strong-willed Lisa and loves mothering baby Maggie. She is the glue that holds this crazy family together.
Tracee Ellis Ross as Dr. Rainbow Johnson
She’s not only a successful anesthesiologist, she’s mom to five kids – six if you count her husband, who can stir up all sorts of craziness. Rainbow works hard to make sure her kids have a better life than she did growing up, and maintains a steady and nurturing presence for her very independent children.
27. The Addams Family
Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams
She may be creepy and kooky, and somewhat mysterious and spooky, but she is also poised and stylishly goth. She has a wide variety of hobbies, and encourages her children to be the most macabre and unique individuals they can be. And don’t threaten her family – she’s fiercely protective of her family and when she does play around, it’s usually with axes.
26. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet
Harriet Nelson as Harriet Nelson
Long before the days of reality television, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson helmed a sitcom based on their real lives with their two sons, David and Ricky. The portrait of a picture-perfect family, with the lines of fiction and non-fiction often blurred, created what is still the longest-running sitcom centering on a nuclear family. With her pretty smile and calm demeanor, Harriet became one of the most popular and idealistic mothers in the history of television.
25. The Carol Burnett Show and Mama’s Family
Vicki Lawrence as Thelma Harper
Mama is a widowed Southern woman with a quick tongue and disagreeable nature. Despite her often harsh criticism of her three children, she provides them a place to live during difficult times (albeit begrudgingly), and cleans and cooks for them. Beginning as the basis for a skit on the now-classic “Carol Burnett Show,” the popular character eventually received two separate incarnations as a sitcom, and her very aggressive character evolved, mellowing over the years.
24. Arrested Development
Jessica Walter as Lucille Bluth
She won’t win any “Mother of the Year” awards. In between sips of her ever-present cocktail, she manipulates her children, sometimes pitting them against each other. She constantly insults her children, mishandles the family business, sleeps with her husband’s twin brother and has turned her youngest son into a needy, dependent man-child. So why is she on this list? Because she’s funny and entertaining as heck.
23. Fresh Off the Boat
Constance Wu as Jessica Huang
“It’s just like chess. Children are the pawns and you are the queen.” Strong and outspoken, Jessica pushes her children to be the best they can be and teaches them to be proud of their Taiwanese heritage. She’s frugal and smart, running her household with a firm hand, and clearly loves her family and only wants them to succeed.
22. The Donna Reed Show
Donna Reed as Donna Stone
Although in many ways similar to family sitcoms of the day, “The Donna Reed Show” set itself apart by making the wife and mother the center of the show. Donna is a strong woman, who not only manages her household and oversees her children’s activities, she also sometimes works as a nurse and volunteers in her community.
21. Little House on the Prairie
Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls
It’s hard being a mom in the modern world, with all of its conveniences, but to be a mom on the frontier, with some of the harshest weather conditions? It had to take a special type of woman, and Caroline is always up to the challenge, maintaining her sweet prairie home, always providing a good meal and raising her four girls, as well as three adopted children. She does all this with gratitude for her blessings and never complains, no matter the struggles the family has along the way.
20. The Partridge Family
Shirley Jones as Shirley Partridge
How many moms would not only allow her five kids to record a song in her garage, but also do the singing? And then buy an old school bus, paint it in a really groovy way and then go on tour with them? That’s exactly what this widowed mom does, and it’s a wonder she doesn’t go crazy on the road with five very independent children, especially the precocious Danny, who always seems to create some sort of mayhem.
19. I Love Lucy
Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo
Lucy was one of the first pregnant characters on television, although she wasn’t allowed to say she was pregnant – she was “expecting.” BShe also has one of the sweetest scenes ever: when Lucy tells Ricky that she is expecting, they dance and sing “We’re having a baby,” with Lucy tearing up and Ricky clearly overcome at the news. Like all new moms, Lucy has doubts about her abilities and hilariously struggles with things like bathing a baby and what to name her son or daughter. But, she is determined to make a good life for Little Ricky, and encourages the arts and pets to enrich his upbringing.
18. Family Ties
Meredith Baxter as Elyse Keaton
As liberals and former hippies raising their children in the Reagan-era ’80s, Elyse and her husband Steven are often exasperated by the materialism and conservatism of Alex, Mallory and Jennifer. However, even though she doesn’t agree with them, Elyse raises her children to think for themselves and to make their own choices. And when those choices sometimes prove to be the wrong ones, or have unforeseen consequences, she is always there to provide love and support.
17. Friday Night Lights
Connie Britton as Tami Taylor
As wife to a successful high school football coach, Tami is often the main caregiver to their two daughters, while also maintaining a career as the high school guidance counselor and, later, principal. She is a huge support system for her husband, who often seeks and follows her advice, and she carries this role over to her work life. The students often turn to her for words of wisdom, and she becomes caregiver and surrogate mom to all the students.
16. One Day at a Time
Bonnie Franklin Ann Romano
Freshly divorced Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin) starts anew with her teenage daughters, rebellious Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) and perky Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli). Ann struggles with her roles as mother to two daughters in the era of feminism, as the head of the household and as a mature woman in the dating world, but she is always there when her daughters are going through one of life’s crises.
15. Leave It to Beaver
Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver
June is the epitome of the ideal mom of 1950s sitcom television. She bakes, she sews, she knits, she’s an excellent party hostess and she keeps an immaculate house. No matter what’s she’s cooking, or what hijinks her two boys get up to, her kitchen remains spotless. She is consistently poised, not a hair out of place, makeup flawlessly applied and a string of pearls delicately draped around her neck. Unflappable, June is able to keep her boys in line without having to raise her voice.
14. One Day at a Time
Justina Machado as Penelope Alvarez
Sandwiched between a feisty but traditional Cuban mother and her feminist teenage daughter and popularity-seeking teenage son, Penelope is, as she likes to say, a “badass.” After serving in Afghanistan in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, Penelope is now a single mom working as a nurse for a private practitioner and struggling with PTSD and depression. Despite her own personal conflicts, this sassy Latina stops to listen to her children, and is sure to make time to have fun with them as well.
13. This Is Us
Mandy Moore as Rebecca Pearson
I can’t imagine having triplets, and I especially can’t imagine losing a child. Rebecca goes through both of these difficult situations, and in her grief, agrees to raise an abandoned child, who is African American, along with her two surviving children. Rebecca doesn’t always get it right with the “Big Three,” but she loves her children and stays strong through many struggles, including hard financial times and her husband’s battle with alcoholism. She becomes a single mom after her husband’s sudden death, guiding her teenage children into adulthood while coping with her own unimaginable grief.
12. That 70’s Show
Debra Jo Rupp as Kitty Forman
She’s a biological mother to Eric and Laurie, and takes in Hyde and Fez at various points, becoming a surrogate mom to them as well as a second mom to all the kids who hang out at her house. As a nurse, she is always there to treat them when they get hurt, and when appropriate, is up for some fun with her infectious giggle and occasional indulgence in the spirits.
11. Modern Family
Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy
Like many modern-day moms, Julie gave up her career to become a full-time mom, then re-enters the workforce once her kids are older. She was also a wild teenager, and tries to protect her kids from making the same mistakes that she made, which makes her the epitome of the helicopter mom. Despite her freak-outs and compulsions, Claire is such a loving mother that her brother and his husband often seek out her advice as they raise their daughter.
10. Downton Abbey
Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham
With her quick wit, Violet never hesitates to speak her mind or meddle in the lives of her children or grandchildren if she feels it’s in their best interest. She’s very set in her traditional ways of doing things, causing her to clash with her more progressive-thinking daughter-in-law Cora and her nemesis-turned-friend Isobel, but she always has the best interest of her family at heart and is a strong role model, and is especially close to her granddaughter Mary.
9. The Waltons
Michael Learned as Olivia Walton
Olivia raises seven children during the Depression and World War II, sometimes struggling to make ends meet and often worrying over the fates of her loved ones. A religious, loving woman, Olivia is always willing to open her home to a neighbor, and kindly teaches her children the values of discipline and charity.
8. Malcolm in the Middle
Jane Kaczmarek as Lois
As a middle-class working mom to four rambunctious boys, Lois doesn’t have the time nor the inclination to pussyfoot around. She and her boys are constantly in battle, but everything she does is out of love and to provide a better life for them. Brash and outspoken, Lois says and does what we all often wish we could in reality – oh, and despite working, maintaining a house and wrangling four boys, she still has time to show her passion for her husband – resulting in more babies down the road.
7. Good Times
Esther Rolle as Florida Evans
It can be difficult to be an upbeat mom in the best of situations; Florida manages to do it in the projects, with a husband who is sometimes out of work and the couple not always sure where the next rent money will come from. However, Florida remains positive even in the most challenging of times, and is an inspiration to her three children, even after the death of her husband. With her support, they all eventually find success and work their ways up out of the projects.
6. Everybody Loves Raymond
Doris Roberts as Marie Barone
She’s overly critical, especially of her daughter-in-law Debra, whose down-to-earth demeanor clashes with Marie’s need to be the best at all domestic chores. However, Marie’s love for her sons is obvious, as she still enjoys treating them like little boys instead of grown men – even though she is at times merely trying to manipulate them into doing what she wants.
5. Happy Days
Marion Ross as Marion Cunningham
“Mrs. C” is mother to Richie, Joanie and Chuck (who disappeared mysteriously and hasn’t been heard from since Season One) and a second mom to all their friends. Although sometimes she feels unwanted or unappreciated, leading her to seek work outside the home, she is ultimately reminded of how much this crew relies on her for mothering. And she is the only one who can get away with calling Fonzie by his real name “Arthur,” and she treats him as another son.
4. Golden Girls
Estelle Getty as Sophia
It’s easy to see where Dorothy gets her sarcastic side from, because Sophia is always ready with a zinger. But despite her frequent subtle digs, it’s clear that Sophia shares a special bond with her daughter, as well as Rose and Blanche, who often seek Sophia’s words of wisdom – otherwise they wouldn’t hesitate to ship her back to Shady Pines.
3. Gilmore Girls
Lauren Graham as Lorelai Gilmore
As a teen mom, Loralei has sacrificed to make a good life for her now-teen-aged daughter, but being so young herself, she doesn’t always make the most mature decisions or offer the wisest advice. However Loralei shares a unique bond with her daughter and her down-to-earth banter with Rory makes her one of the coolest and funniest moms on television.
2. The Cosby Show
Phylicia Rashad as Clair Huxtable
She’s an attorney, a mother of five and wife to a doctor. We don’t see Clair in the courtroom, but with her quick wit, smarts and cool demeanor, there’s no doubt she has put opposing counsel in his place a time or two. No matter what the Huxtable kids try to get away with, they learn quickly that mothers know everything going on, and, even though she is a loving and supporting mom, she doesn’t put up with any nonsense.
1. The Brady Bunch
Florence Henderson as Carol Brady
This lovely lady who is bringing up three girls on her own meets a man named Brady who is busy with three boys of his own, and together they form a family that becomes one of the most iconic in television history. She treats her three stepsons as if they’re her own, is always there with words of wisdom, is active in her community and is a partner to her husband. She allows her children room to make and learn from their mistakes, but is always there with a shoulder to cry on. With her sunny smile and groovy wardrobe, Mama Brady continues to be everybody’s favorite mom 50 years later.