Growing up in the late 80s/early 90s, I spent a lot of time watching television. Family oriented television still reigned supreme, and the sitcom was where it was at. I spent many hours watching not only the current sitcoms, but classic sitcoms as well. Nick at Nite was my best friend when I didn’t have to get up for school the next day. My favorite sitcom characters were almost always the TV moms; they were funny, loving, and had great relationships with their families. They were the kind of moms I wanted to be when I became a mom. Millennial moms like myself and many of my friends spent a lot of time with these sitcom moms. These were the moms we wish we had, or aspired to be like when our turn came. But there is no one size fits all mom. So there are plenty of sitcom moms to inspire us.
The inspiration came from so many different aspects of the lives these TV moms lived onscreen. Whether it was because we saw our own lives in them, or because we aspired to have the careers or lives they led, so many of us look to them for guidance. They also entertain us! These TV moms were funny, smart, and relatable. Plus, most of them kept it VERY real, which was a refreshing change of pace from the June Cleaver days. Not that there's anything wrong with the June Cleaver-type mom, of course. We just didn't see our own experiences in those shows the same we did with the moms on this list.
Clair Huxtable is the TV mom that most 80s and 90s kids wish they could be. Especially black women. She is the gold standard of TV moms. You simultaneously want to be her and have her take care of you. You can’t have a list like this without talking about her. She worked a full time job as a lawyer, mothered 5 children with the perfect mix of humor and discipline, and put up with her husband’s shenanigans. And she never had a hair out of place. She was superwoman, and she made it look so easy. Moms today look to Clair Huxtable for inspiration and encouragement on their own journeys.
While two actresses played Vivian Banks on the comedy, it is original actress Janet Hubert who gets the spot on the list. Her portrayal of Aunt Viv was firm, but incredibly loving for not only her husband and children, but her extended family. The way she always gave Will and her sisters that dose of tough love they all so desperately needed in that moment gave her a depth that the second actress never brought to the role. But more than that, Aunt Viv had FUN. She did things that made her happy, and she showed us how important it is to nurture yourself as well as your family.
Though Gilmore Girls isn’t a sitcom, Lorelai deserves a spot on this list. She is one of the best and most honest portrayals of a single mom on television. She wasn’t widowed, she wasn’t divorced, she was a teen mom, and she was allowed to be messy. Her life wasn’t perfect, and she wasn’t always the perfect mom, but she tried. As a single mom, she gives me someone to empathize with and point to as a source for inspiration. Watching her live her own dreams and succeed on her terms while raising a daughter and trying to run a business should be inspirational to everyone.
Image: TV Land Classic
Angela Bower was a force to be reckoned with and she did it all in an impeccably tailored power suit. Seriously, her shoulder pads gave us all fashion envy. She was in charge of her household; a strong example of a single, working mother who owned her own company, but still managed to give her son the attention that he needed. She also had a male housekeeper, and the role reversal of a powerful woman having a man cook and clean for her was refreshing. Angela Bower was probably one of the first TV moms we watched who showed us that traditional gender roles could be challenged and changed.
It was often wine o’clock for Kitty Foreman. But she was a working mom, and doting on her husband and children. She was also the mom to Eric’s entire group of friends, and was pretty cool about letting them always hang out in her basement. So she’s pretty awesome. But she was also frazzled and high-strung and lost her cool quite a bit, which is probably why we relate to her so much. TV moms often portray this calm, cool, and collected demeanor. Which is great for television, but not so common in real life. It was refreshing to see a mom tell her family to eff off every once in a while.
Claire is a direct influence, and likely the TV mom that many of us millennial moms see ourselves in most. She is determined to “have it all” and oftentimes is left a frazzled, neurotic mess. Trying to be a more present parent for her kids (even when they don’t want it), being the perfect wife, daughter and sister usually fails. But she’s plucky enough to keep trying, even if she drives everyone else nuts in the process. And it's when Claire's perfect facade cracks and we see her struggle that we relate to her most. We all try to have it all, but we can't, and that's OK, too.
It’s not easy being Bart’s mother. Marge may be animated, but she is one of the TV moms who saw most of us millennial moms through our own childhoods and now sees us through motherhood. She loves her husband and kids, even though they regularly wreak havoc on the city of Springfield. Her throaty, exasperated “Oh Homie!” will live in our hearts forever, probably because she muttered it so many times! Seriously, if any mom deserves a year-long tropical vacation away from her family, it's Marge Simpson. Between trying to put out Homer's fires (literally, he starts so many of them) and keeping her kids out of trouble, she works overtime in the mom department.
In the comfortable bubble of the classic black and white sitcom, Laura Petrie, played brilliantly by Mary Tyler Moore, was the next generation TV housewife. She still spent all of her time being a mom, but she did it in pants. For me as a kid, that was HUGE. Her high pitched giggle and “Oh Rob!” just made her lovely. She was sort of the "cool mom" before cool moms were a thing. Dancing and making jokes and sparring with her husband - it wasn't the behavior we'd come to expect from the traditional housewives back in the day, that's for sure.
Maggie Seaver is one of my personal favorite 80s TV moms. She was a reporter and a journalist who didn’t have to give her up her career (or her maiden name) when she got married and had a family. Maggie managed to keep up with Mike’s shenanigans, Carol’s neuroses, Ben’s impishness and then have another baby halfway through the series. And she even let a homeless boy come and live with them, and never ever compromised her job. She somehow did it all, and she did it with such grace and humor. She definitely inspired a new generation of working moms.
Lois is the quintessential boy mom. Malcolm, Dewey and Reese made her high strung, but she still loved them. She was a momma bear who would maul anyone who tried to hurt one of her cubs. That was her circus, and those were her monkeys, and she still managed to be composed sometimes. It's like no matter what those boys or her husband did, she just rolled with it and tried to clean up the mess as best she could. Which is impressive, given how many times they made messes! Plus, she was funny and trolled her kids on a regular basis, which we are 100% on board with now that we're moms ourselves.
Linda Belcher loves her family. Sometimes she loves them a little too much. Always quick with a quip or a song, she manages to keep the business going, keep Bob in check, and miraculously keep Louise out of juvie. And she does it all without spilling a single drop of her ever-present glass of wine. Linda is the mom who comes to your slumber party in matching pajamas and tries to get the girls to play Spin the Bottle. She's the mom who makes unintentional inappropriate jokes at PTA meetings. Linda is the mom who loudly asks how big your little boobies are in the bra section at the store. We love her.
Roseanne Conner is the anti-Clair Huxtable. Brash, loud, and unapologetically low class. She was real in a way many other TV moms weren’t. She had a string of low wage jobs, and her and Dan were always seconds away from losing their house, but she was still a decent (often well meaning, if not well executing) mom, wife and sister. Roseanne was the mom a lot of us could relate to the most growing up, because the show didn't back away from showing us how so many families struggled. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't easy, and that was so real. For middle class working families, the Conners were the family who spoke to us, more than any others.
Lucy Ricardo wasn’t the best 1950s housewife. She was mediocre in the kitchen, she was terrible with money, and she was pretty lax with housework. She had goals and aspirations bigger than her little Upper East Side apartment, even if she didn’t have the talent to back it up. But she was always up for a get rich quick scheme or an adventure. And she was a loving wife, friend and mother who supported her family and friends just as much as they supported her. It was always fun to see what sort of shenanigans Lucy was going to get into during each episode, but mostly we looked forward to watching her try her best at the hardest job in the world.
If we had to pick our favorite part of the show Black-ish, it would definitely be Tracee Ellis Ross as Rainbow Johnson. Rainbow holds it down as a talented anesthesiologist, supportive wife, involved mother, and outspoken advocate for her family. The current political climate is terrifying for so many families of color, and Rainbow deals with that very real fear in a way that so many people can relate to. She's a real mom, with flaws and imperfections, but she goes to bat for her five kids and husband every damn day. She is exactly the mom we all want to watch, and the kind that so many of us strive to be.
Ugh, it's so hard to focus on the positive parts of that show without thinking about all the ways it broke our heart and made us cry! While there were plenty of great parents on Parenthood, Kristina Braverman was the mom who stuck out to us the most. She really was the ultimate Supermom, you know? Life kept throwing her curve balls, and she consistently hit them out of the park. Watching her handle some really heavy and difficult stuff with grace and dignity showed us that there's nothing moms can't do. She was definitely the glue that held that family together.
There's just something so refreshingly honest about Mindy. She's an accomplished OBGYN and fertility specialist who didn't let motherhood derail her career or her dreams. But she also makes so many of the funny mistakes we all make from time to time. She showed us that being a mom doesn't necessarily come naturally, and that it's a constant learning experience. Honestly, who among us hasn't accidentally locked their kid in the house or forgotten that they had snack duty at preschool for the week? Mindy is all of us.