Despite the claims from piles of parenting books, there is no fool-proof “mom manual.” Every child is unique, as is every mom. And sometimes being a good mom means thinking outside the box.
From creative debating, to tough love, to trying and trying again, these TV moms are wowing us with spirit, family values, and their ability to help their families navigate even the toughest times with a smile.
1. Rainbow Johnson, Black-ish
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Black-ish follows Andre (Dre) and Rainbow (Bow) Johnson as they raise their four kids in the suburbs. The show consistently engages fans with tough topics like racism and sexism, and dealing with tough questions is when Dre and Bow shine. A nurturing and optimistic woman, Bow strives to communicate openly with her kids. She also tries to find the silver lining in bad situations. In one show, a prominent police brutality trial challenges Bow’s worldview. She struggles with the decision to either let her kids stay kids a little longer or inform them about how the world sometimes works. After a family talk, Bow unites the family by suggesting they join a local protest about the trial’s result. Because, as she puts it, “something’s got to change.”
2. Linda Belcher from Bob’s Burgers
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Parents Bob and Linda Belcher balance running a modest burger joint with raising three independent children. Linda is exuberant, feisty, and always has a song in her heart. Her creative problem-solving and ability to roll with the punches often save the day. In one episode, Linda helps her daughter Tina handle teen-girl blackmail. She encourages Tina to be proud of her creative writing and read it aloud at school before mean girl Tammy gets her way. Linda plays to her strengths and is a great role model for teaching her kids to embrace what makes them special.
3. Jessica Huang from Fresh Off the Boat
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Set in the mid-1990s, Fresh Off the Boat follows the Huang family as they move from Washington, D.C. to Orlando, Fla. to open a restaurant. Based on eldest son Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name, the show humorously recounts the experiences of Taiwanese parents Louis and Jessica. Jessica is an ambitious woman who wants her kids to be the best at everything they do. She also wants the best for her family, even when that comes at the expense of her pride. As the mom of three young boys, she sometimes has to get creative to get her point across. Like in one episode, she reinvented Santa Claus as a Chinese woman to reinforce the values of kindness, intelligence, and cultural heritage.
4. Marge Simpson from The Simpsons
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The matriarch of one of TV’s longest-running comedic families, Marge Simpson is a truly epic mom. Though she gets a bit of a bad rap as a nag, Marge always stands up for what she believes in. And whether she’s fighting sugar companies or apologizing to the nation of Australia for a prank phone call, her family is always at the heart of her efforts. Better yet, Marge knows when she’s made a mistake and takes accountability for her actions. After giving 8-year-old daughter Lisa some bad advice on dealing with a case of the blues, she apologizes. She says: “Always be yourself. If you want to be sad, honey, be sad. We’ll ride it out with you. And when you get finished feeling sad, we’ll still be there.” We should all be so lucky to have a Marge in our life.
5. Penelope Alvarez from One Day at a Time
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This reboot of a 1970s sitcom follows army veteran Penelope Alvarez as she readjusts to civilian life, working as a nurse, and living with her two kids and mother Lydia. Family tensions arise as Penelope strives to balance her family’s Cuban heritage with American living, but her ability to put herself in her children’s shoes often wins the day. For instance, daughter Elena doesn’t want to have a quinceañera because she thinks it’s misogynistic. So Penelope and Elena stage a Lincoln-Douglas debate and argue each other’s side. Their debate helps the mother-daughter pair be honest with and listen to each other. Ultimately, Penelope’s advice rings true, “Life can be tough, so when it gives you something to celebrate, you take it.”
6. Jane Chapman from Big Little Lies
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This drama focuses on a small group of wealthy Monterey, Calif. moms, connected by their kids’ school. They navigate social minefields and grapple with ugly realities like abuse, bullies, and sexual assault. Although the show capitalizes on over-the-top situations, some of its most grounded moments involve Jane and her son, Ziggy. When the school accuses Ziggy of harming another student, Jane listens to and stands up for her son. She tells his teacher, “If my son says he didn’t do it, I believe him.” The trust between Jane and Ziggy is clear and makes walking the line between parent and confidant a little bit easier.
7. Beverly Goldberg from The Goldbergs
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Informed by producer Adam F. Goldberg’s experiences growing up in the 1980s, The Goldbergs tracks the eponymous family as they live and learn together. Matriarch Beverly Goldberg is supportive of her children to a fault, like she can cross the line into meddling. One time she infiltrates a high school Halloween party in costume to talk up her son to his crush. Nevertheless, Beverly goes to great lengths to support her kids.
8. Christy Plunkett from Mom
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CBS’s Mom follows Christy Plunkett’s life with teenage daughter Violet and crass, straight-talking mother Bonnie. This multigenerational household has shared some bumps in the road. Many of them are because both Christy and Bonnie are recovering alcoholics. Plus, all three women experienced teen pregnancy. In tandem, Christy and Bonnie are models of persistence, showing the reality that recovery often isn’t a straight path. Through Alcoholics Anonymous, Christy learns to take responsibility for her actions and works to right the wrongs she made with her daughter, Violet. Humility, empathy, and a try-again mindset make Christy a mom to watch.
9. Claire Dunphy from Modern Family
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With eight seasons under its belt, Modern Family is the ultimate parenting comedy on TV right now. Claire is a multi-tasking mom of three trying to keep everything under control. She sets boundaries and balances toughness with sweetness, even if chaos sometimes gets the better of her. When daughter Haley gets arrested and expelled from college, Claire and husband Phil are of course disappointed. But after Haley take responsibility in her hearing, Claire (and Phil) praises her maturity and helps her plan a fresh start. Knowing that kids become more distant as they grow up, Claire relishes the chance to be friends with her daughter.
10. and 11. Grace and Frankie from Grace and Frankie
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Being a mom doesn’t end when the kids turn 18, as 70-somethings Grace and Frankie demonstrate. They help their kids—and each other—figure out how to cope with divorce and other big life changes. Parenting comes full circle when the kids apply the lessons they learned from their parents to helping their moms feel better. Free-spirited Frankie’s boys Bud and Coyote repeat the supportive maxims of their youth. And all-business Grace’s girls Mallory and Briana know where mom keeps her Valium (no judgment). The point is, if you’re doing something right as a parent, it may not seem like you’re doing anything at all…until it comes back to you.
Being a good mom isn’t an exact science, and mistakes are inevitable. Taking a tip from these moms, however, reminds us that it’s never too late to try again. There’s a silver lining to every cloud, and (to paraphrase Penelope Alvarez), “parenting can be tough, so when it gives you something to celebrate, you take it.”