20 of Television’s Greatest Working Moms
12:20 pm, May 8th | by
Motherhood: the toughest job you’ll ever love (or is that the Army?). Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday, and we know that for us it’s a time to reflect on how much our mothers were able to do for us, while frequently working full time jobs outside the home, working from home, or raising other siblings. Some of us might even be the same age our mothers were when they had their first kid (and continued to work full time), and some of us might be feeling a little bit of awe and panic at how much more together our mom’s life was than ours is now.
In that spirit, we’ve put together a gallery of some of the most amazing working moms in TV, from mothers with full time careers apart from their families to mothers who made their families their careers, and everything in between. We hope reflecting on these depictions of mothers in pop culture highlights just how much we expect from women as parents and workers, and will maybe even inspire you to give your mom a call.
1.Ellen Talbot, Wishbone
Okay, fine, Ellen Talbot is mostly on this list so we can scream about WISHBOOOOOOONE, but she was an interesting character in her own right. How many single mothers raising teenage sons and adorably precocious dogs after being widowed did you see on TV when you were growing up? Just Ellen Talbot? We thought so.
2.Joan Holloway Harris, Mad Men
Sure Joan has had to go through (or get under…*shudder*) some icky things as of late, but through it all the dame has remained sharp, confident, and impeccably dressed. Joan isn't your typical '60s mother: even when that asshat Greg was still in the picture, she refused to be made into a submissive housewife, continuing to work and rise at SCDP. While divorcing ol' whats-his-name wasn't part of her plan, Joan didn't let being a single mother stop her from becoming the agency's first and only female partner or from keeping immaculate books. Joan works hard for her money and, in turn, her son. It's a shame she didn't have a daughter though; just imagine being able to share that closet!
3.Roseanne Conner, Roseanne
Okay, yes: Roseanne Conner was bossy, loud, and domineering; she loved to meddle in her children's lives and then didn't hesitate to mock and belittle them, usually right in front of their faces. But Roseanne was also an incredibly loving and present mother. She sacrificed and struggled in order to provide for her children and made an effort to be there for sports games, dances, and first dates. And how can you disapprove of a woman who went from being a lineworker in a plastics factory (where she combatted a misogynistic boss and led a walkout, by the by) to owning her own restaurant?! No one said motherhood had to be pretty — or quiet.
4.Lorelai Gilmore, Gilmore Girls
Lorelai Gilmore was THE BEST! Sure, she had somewhat questionable taste in men and was pretty nosy about her daughter's dating life, but she was also an example of a single mother who rejected aid from her parents in order to live an independent life and raise her daughter exactly as she saw fit. She was also a poster child for teen parents not being forced to get married, as her run-ins with her daughter's father proved over and over that they weren't right for each other at all. Plus, she had a great house, amazing clothes, and an extraordinarily permissive attitude toward junk food. What's not to love?
5.Pam Halpert, The Office
Calm, fun, a bit quirky, and (finally) assertive, Pam Halpert will be a fantastic mother. Just imagine all the crafting and finger painting skills she's bringing to the table with all those art classes under her belt! And all the cups of hot cocoa she'll prepare for her daughters while they are out playing in the snow! And her soft voice lulling you to sleep with a bedtime story! …Yeah, I think you get the point.
6.Aunt Becky, Full House
Becky Katsopolis, née Donaldson, was
the lady of the Full House — don't come at me with that Danny's second wifey hullabaloo, because SHE'S NOT MY MOM AND SHE NEVER WILL BE. [Doorslam] Aunt Becky was such a good mother that she was a mother before she was even a mother: who talked to D.J about her first broken heart? Aunt Becky. Who covered for D.J. when she bought a horse and then helped D.J. get ready for her first dance? Aunt Becky. Who dealt with Stephanie when she was doing classic Stephanie things and being terrible? Aunt Becky. Oh, and B.Kat leaned all the way in, even when she had her twins, Nicky and Alex; in fact, Becky was appointed producer of Wake Up, San Francisco over Danny and my oh my, was it a thang. But Aunt Becky didn't care about Danny's petty jealously — she just teased out her hair, put on a vest, fed her babies, got Jesse to stop singing Elvis songs for ONE GOSH DARN SECOND, and delivered the news because that's how Aunt Becky do.
7.Miranda Hobbes, Sex and the City
She may not have been the most stylish of the
Sex and the City ladies ( exhibit A) and having a child certainly wasn't in her five year plan, but Miranda Hobbes managed to be both a high-powered lawyer and an awesome single (albeit briefly) mom. Miranda never curbed her career aspirations after having a child; she pushed a stroller and read over briefs, asked for help when she needed it, and (in SATC 2) (yes, I saw that weapon of mass destruction) found a new law firm when she felt she was being taken advantage of and overlooked. While I don't doubt that she is a dedicated and loving mother, I will say that I am glad that the SATC franchise didn't stick around long enough to see Miranda channel all her type A tendencies into making her child learn how to play the violin, the cello, and the piano while translating The Illiad.
8.Murphy Brown, Murphy Brown
Murphy Brown was the O.G working mother on TV. The sharp-tongued and hard as nails reporter was the quintessential career woman, breaking through glass ceilings and toughing it with the boys; then, in the early '90s, she discovered she was pregnant with her ex-husband's baby. Despite both her ex and her current boyfriend offering to take care of her and her child, Brown was an independent womyn through and through and decided to raise the child alone. It was evident that the show's writers did something right and really shook things up when then-Vice President Dan Quayle talked about Brown's decision and "the importance of fathers" at a speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Unyielding, ambitious, and uncompromising to the end, Murphy Brown set the stage for career women to come.
9.Lois, Malcolm In The Middle
Lois got exasperated. She scolded, she screamed, and ooh lawd, did she ever embarrass her children; but she was stable, consistent, and always willing to fight for her family. The
Malcolm in the Middle Wikia shares this little anecdote to describe Lois' parenting style: "When infant Francis almost burned himself, she was able to scare the boy back into his highchair while holding his stuffed bear over an open flame regardless to any burns she would suffer." She scarified her own skin to ensure her child's safety! Remember that scene in Garden State (don't judge me) when Zach Braff's character says love is his mother telling him to blow his runny nose into her sleeve? Well Lois' story is like that, except WITH FIRE.
10.Nancy Botwin, Weeds
Let's just focus on the humble beginnings of
Weeds, before the show jumped the shark and the Botwin family left the suburban paradise of Agrestic and went on the run: in those first few seasons, Nancy Botwin was the ultimate momma wolf, becoming a marijuana dealer in order to keep her family afloat. Nancy was always willing to scrap for her kids and sure, she made mistakes (insane, unrealistic Tijuana drug boss mistakes), but she was always concerned about her children, willing to go to any lengths to ensure their safety. I mean, she did a three-year stint in prison in order to protect her son — that has to win her back some mom points, right?
11.Vivian Banks, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Man, I love Vivian Banks — and I am talking CLASSIC Vivian Banks. Janet Hubert's Vivian Banks. The feisty, fiery, joke-cracking Vivian Banks who didn't just sit at home all day, watching her stories while Geoffrey fetched her fruit cups. The Vivian Banks who was a strong and ambitious career woman with a PhD from UCLA, her husband's equal in every way. (Okay, let's admit it: her husband's better.) Do you remember when Vivian taught that Black History unit at Will and Cartlon's upscale preparatory high school and she just slayed it? Aunt Vivian Prime was beautiful, powerful, and brimming with confidence and
style. Oh, and she could — and not in that snapping, side-stepping, let's-all-shimmy-in-a-circle-while-holding-our-Pinot-in-one-hand-at the Bat Mitzvah way that dance your mom does.
12.Patty Chase, My So-Called Life
So I have to admit that while watching
My So-Called Life as an emotional, angsty pre-teen, I couldn't stand Patty Chase: she was uptight and controlling and she never truly accepted Rayanne Graff, my spirit animal. But looking back, Patty had to put up with a lot of bologna — her daughter's unending ennui, her husband's inability to stand up to their children, the tension of being the household's primary breadwinner and a woman — and she saved aforementioned Rayanne from a pretty terrible case of alcohol poisoning. Patty was a warm, loving caretaker who just wanted her family to be happy. You can't fault her for that.
13.Tami Taylor, Friday Night Lights
What do you even say about Tami Taylor, besides that she was the best wife/guidance/counselor/principal/mom/coiffed TV character ever to grace our screens before or since?
Friday Night Lights had many charms, but one of the chief draws of the show was how kind Mrs. Coach was to her family and her community, how sassy she was to people who stood in her way, and what an amazing partner she was to Coach Taylor. When he agreed to relocate so that her career could take precedence after 18 years of being overshadowed by football, we all cried. If you say you didn't you are lying.
14.Christine Nelson, Degrassi
Christine "Spike" Nelson was always the cool mom on
Degrassi — young, pretty, and utterly understanding, Spike was the kind of mom that you wished you had which made you feel really gross and guilty and so, because of Spike, you have given your own mother a lot of unexplained hugs in your time. As if working as a beautician while being a single mother wasn't hard enough, Spike has had to deal with some kooky stuff: her daughter Emma almost getting raped and kidnapped by an Internet stalker; being attacked by her ex-boyfriend and Emma's father Shane who has extensive brain damage; her husband getting diagnosed with leukemia; her daughter being caught in a school shooting; her husband cheating on her with the school principal; her daughter developing an eating disorder; her husband being accused of molesting a student; and being the town's resident expert on teen pregnancies. (Wow…typing that all out really put stuff into perspective; you go, Spike!) Through it all, Spike remained supportive, loving, and totally cute.
15.Millicent Torkelson, The Torkelsons/Almost Home
CERTAIN Jane Dough writers might not remember Mrs. Torkelson, from the short-lived Disney channel show The Torkelsons about a down-home Oklahoma family consisting of a single mother and her five (!!!) children. Other Jane Dough writers remembered Millicent Torkelson, and her penchant for saying something wise and then staring at her airhead daughter significantly, instantly. She is a treasure.
16.Maggie Seaver, Growing Pains
A working mother and a stay-at-home father on the TV box? Can it be? Oh yes, yes it can be and it was, on the late '80s sitcom
Growing Pains. After years of staying home and raising her children, Maggie Seaver ventured back into the workforce and landed a job as a TV reporter. Did she struggle with her decision? Everyday; but that was what made her so realistic and relatable. Maggie was an incredibly tender and soft-spoken parent (I bet she smelled like soap and clouds), tolerating her troublemaker sons the way only a doting mother could.
17.Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife
While Alicia Florrick may not be a good wife anymore, she is certainly a good mom and a good lawyer. After her politician husband's sex tape leaked to the press, Alicia's number one concern was to protect her children from the ensuing chaos. Having left her high-powered law career thirteen years prior, her husband's imprisonment lead Alicia to return to the courtroom in order to provide for her family. In some magical way, Alicia manages to balance her home life and her professional life, sidestepping her husband's scandal with grace and strength.
18.Janet Darling, Clarissa Explains It All
Do you know another working mom who manages to cook her family an organic, vegan, macrobiotic, fair trade meal every night, participate in environmentalist protests, and still finds time to make various DIY hand puppets for her lessons at the children's museum? No, no you don't.
19.Marilla Cuthbert, Anne of Green Gables
This was another controversial choice, as
certain Jane Dough writers had to be reminded that Anne of Green Gables was adapted from the books into a TV series on PBS. Marilla Cuthbert was not a cuddly parental figure, or particularly fond of Anne Shirley when she first showed up on her doorstep (Marilla and her brother Matthew had been hoping to get a boy to help out around the farm they ran together). But after spending more time with Anne (and Matthew's death), Marilla underwent a softening that allowed her to be a good parent to Anne and open herself up to a deeper relationship with her. Pretty transformative stuff for a children's book set on a tiny Canadian island.
20.Daenerys Targaryen, Game of Thrones
DAENERYS IS THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS; IT TOTALLY COUNTS. HOW ABOUT YOU TRY TO FORM AN ARMY AND PLAN A VENGEFUL AND RIGHTEOUS TAKEOVER WHILE RAISING THREE BABY DRAGONS! NOT SO EASY, IS IT?
21.Clair Huxtable, The Cosby Show
All of the other TV moms aspire to be Clair Olivia Huxtable: she was a skilled partner in her law firm; she was a dedicated and attentive parent; she was flawlessly elegant, effortlessly sexy, and independently successful; she could make men quiver or crumble with just the raise of an eyebrow; and she could throw down a
feminist gauntlet in a matter of seconds. Clair Huxtable shattered racial stereotypes; she was a strong, educated Black woman who doted on her family and commanded a courtroom. She is everything a man wants and a woman wants to be. Clair Huxtable, we are not worthy.
Seriously though: Clair Huxtable, amirite?
Woman, Mother, Lawyer, Queen...
Eloquent, beautiful, and proof that being a mother doesn't mean sacrificing one's sexual selfhood...
Clair Huxtable is TV's ultimate professional mother, CASE CLOSED.