This Mother's Day we're celebrating the fictional moms in our lives by highlighting some of the greatest matriarchs to ever grace the small screen. These women helped teach us the meaning of family, love, compassion and the importance of having a strong female role model in life. Whether she was a lawyer, a doctor, a stay-at-home mom or a woman running her own closet business, each of these TV moms is one of our picks for the greatest of all time.
She was a lovely lady bringing up three very lovely girls and making it look effortless. Carol Brady (Florence Henderson) became a television icon when The Brady Bunch first premiered in 1969. She was a modern stay-at-home mom and the glue that held this blended family together. Not only was she an empowered single mother, she also became a loving step-mom to three rambunctious young boys. Throughout the show she navigated sibling rivalries, arguments and family crises with apparent ease, supported her husband and found time to pursue the things she was passionate about.
Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad) taught us all what a strong female role model looked like when she graced our TV screens on The Cosby Show. Elegant, intimidatingly intelligent and confident in herself, Clair was an inspiration. A partner at a law firm and a mother of five, Clair balanced her responsibilities at work and her duty to her family with ease. She also knew how to have fun and let loose. She could be counted on for sage advice, a shoulder to cry on and a good laugh, usually at her husband’s expense.
Caroline Ingalls (Karen Grassle) showed us the kind of grit and determination it took to be a wife and mother on the homestead. Little House on the Prairie followed the Ingalls family as the journeyed across the Midwest before settling in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Throughout it all – bad harvests, sickness, tragic accidents, loss, love, marriage and children – Caroline Ingalls was there to guide her family with love, kindness and faith. She was protective of her children, supportive of her husband and always willing to go the extra mile for her family.
When The Gilmore Girls debuted ten years ago, everyone wanted a mom like Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham). Free-spirited, feisty and full of witty comebacks, Lorelai had an enviably close relationship with her teenage daughter Rory. The two were best friends, shared a love of caffeine and junk food and championed each other through tough times. Lorelai showed us the kind of strength it takes to be a single mother, caring for her daughter while running her own business. She was fearless, kindhearted and always good for a laugh.
June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley) is often thought of as the archetypal suburban mom. She was always immaculately dressed, had dinner on the table when her husband came home, did housework cheerfully and cared for her two troublesome boys. But June Cleaver was much more than just the perfect housewife on Leave It to Beaver. Not only did she constantly bridge the gap between her strict husband and her children, she also ran her home and her family with a firm hand. A smart, capable, witty and compassionate woman, June was a doting mother, a loving wife and one of the most beloved moms to ever grace our TV screens.
Phil Dunphy gets a lot of love from fans of Modern Family for being the fun, easy-going kind of dad we all wished we had as kids, but the matriarch of the Dunphy clan is pretty great too. Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) is known for being a perfectionist, bossy and a bit uptight but she’s also a loving, understanding if not hard-nosed mom who puts her kids and her family before herself. She taught us how to balance being a mother to three very different children while also running a successful business and maintaining a loving relationship with her clown of a husband.
Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) was the wise-cracking, sarcastic and brazen mother of Dorothy Zbornak on The Golden Girls. She also invented the phrase “tough love.” Throughout her time on the show, Sophia proved herself to be stubborn, full of humor and capable of dishing out some harsh but needed life advice to her daughter and their two roommates, Rose and Blanche. Despite her thorny manner and constant jabs at her daughter’s love life, Sophia loved Dorothy, Rose and Blanche fiercely and she was often the one they turned to in times of distress.
Olivia Walton (Michael Learned) had the tough job of raising seven unruly children in a rural, mountain community in Virginia. Even as her family struggled with money problems, faced terrible illness, loss and war, Olivia remained cheerful, patient, loving and committed to her husband and her large brood. She was the kind of mother that would sew your pants while battling Polio, bake applesauce cake for any occasion and set you right if she thought you were on the wrong path. Her tough love, faith and loyalty to her family inspired audiences for years and earns her a spot on this list.
Vivian Banks (as played by Janet Hubert-Whitten in the first three seasons of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) was a smart, no-nonsense woman and the matriarch of the Banks family. Mother to four children and aunt to Will Smith’s character, Vivian was a career-minded woman who worked hard for her status in life and dedicated herself to teaching her children right from wrong.
Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) became known as the capable, steadfast and quick-witted wife of football coach Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights. While her husband’s life revolved around football, Tami focused on helping others, like her teenage daughter Julie and the kids at Dillion High School – she was first a counselor, then a principal. She was the backbone of the Taylor family, a sounding board for her husband and a staunch advocate for education and building a life beyond football, something that often made her enemies in her small Texas town. Through it all, Tami remained dedicated to her family, supportive of her husband and a proud fan of the students she helped during her academic career.
Black-ish has become one of ABC’s stand-out comedies. The show has made headlines for depicting real-life issues faced by African American families, tackling everything from politics to racism and representation. The show is also really funny, thanks in part to Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross), an anesthesiologist raised by hippies who tries to balance her demanding career with raising five trouble-making children. Bow, as she’s known on the show, is intelligent, funny, free-spirited and accepting, a direct contrast to her husband and overbearing mother-in-law. Her positivity and willingness to meet any challenge with enthusiasm, and her love for her family make her a TV mom we look up to.
In contrast to her gruff, overbearing and bigoted husband, Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton) was a kind, loving and accepting woman, loyal to her family and compassionate to everyone she met. She might have been known as the shrill-voiced, often flighty matriarch on All in the Family, but Edith was also an able, wise and liberal-minded mother and wife who stood up to her husband’s outdated beliefs and fought on behalf of those she loved.
We may have only known the Pearson family for one season on This Is Us, but its matriarch has left her mark. Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore) made us cry as mother to the Big Three – Randall, Kate and Kevin. She experienced loss when one of the couple’s children was stillborn but found room in her heart to love their adopted son, Randall. Her nurturing nature, love for her husband and family and her ability to handle the stress of raising triplets made us fall in love with her.
Roseanne Barr broke down barriers when she signed on for her own TV show, playing the working mother of a blue-collar family. Loud, in your face and full of wit, Roseanne was the central character of the show. She struggled from job to job, trying to make ends meet for her family, as did her husband, while also caring for her three children. She confronted important issues, like abuse, abortion, alcoholism and racism on the show, and though she was often snarky and rash, her love for her children and her family always shined through.
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