Just like in real life, mothers on television are flawed and complicated. But despite their imperfections and shortcomings, a lot of them have a soft spot for their children and will do everything they can for the welfare of their kids. Below are 30 of the greatest TV moms we’ve come to know and love.
Ann Romano (One Day at a Time, 1975-1984)
In the long-running sitcom One Day at a Time, Ann Roman (Bonnie Franklin) is introduced as a middle-aged Indianapolis divorcée who starts anew with her two teenage daughters: the rebellious Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) and the perky Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli).
Set in the era of feminism, the Norman Lear-developed sitcom sees Ann struggling as a mature woman in the dating world. But she always sets aside such personal problems to be a source of support for her daughters every time they’re going through something.
Beverly Goldberg (The Goldbergs, 2013-present)
Beverly Goldberg (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is the overbearing mother of Adam (Sean Giambrone), Barry (Troy Gentile), and Erica (Hayley Orrantia). Beverly shows lots of love to her family, often going way too far in her efforts to get her kids what they want.
An overprotective mom, Beverly has a difficult time letting her children gain independence. And though her feelings are easily hurt when her children aren’t appreciative of the things she does for them, the kids’ love for her is pretty evident even when she embarrasses them in front of other people.
Bonnie Plunkett (Mom, 2013-2021)
Bonnie Plunkett (Allison Janey) is a joyful yet cynical recovering addict who tries to regain the love and trust of her daughter Christy (Anna Faris), whom she was unable to properly nurture as a child.
Given up for adoption at a very young age, Bonnie was passed around from house to house until she ran off with Alvin Lester Biletnikoff (Kevin Pollak). Bonnie got pregnant and gave birth to Christy at age 17. After Alvin abandoned both of them, Bonnie thought of putting Christy up for adoption, but ultimately decided to raise her on her own.
Though Bonnie isn’t naturally nurturing, she genuinely cares about her daughter and tries to support her in any way she can while trying to remain sober.
Carol Brady (The Brady Bunch, 1969-1974)
After her first husband disappeared without an explanation, Carol Brady (Florence Henderson) is left to raise their three girls on her own. Carol later falls for a single dad named Mike Brady (Robert Reed), who has three boys of his own. Together, Carol and Mike form a family that becomes one of the most iconic in television history.
Carol treats her three stepsons as if they’re her own. She gives them room to make and learn from their mistakes but is always there for them whenever they need help. Although she chooses to be a stay-at-home mom, she isn’t a plain housewife. She’s a freelance writer, a sculptor, a political activist, and a singer. She’s also active in her community, organizing plays, PTA meetings, and other related events.
Caroline Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie, 1974-1983)
An adaptation of the bestselling book series Little House by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie is an American Western historical drama about a family living on a farm in Plum Creek near Walnut Grove, Minnesota, in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s. The family’s matriarch is Caroline Ingalls (Karen Grassle), a strong woman who is always up for any challenge.
Aside from raising her four girls, Caroline also takes good care of her three adopted children. She maintains the cleanliness and order of their sweet prairie and also prepares meals with gratitude. Though the family struggles with different problems, Caroline never complains and accomplishes everything that is expected of her.
Clair Huxtable (The Cosby Show, 1984-1992)
A hardworking career woman with strong feminist principles, Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad) is the wife of Cliff (Bill Cosby) and the mother of their five children. A lawyer by profession, Clair doesn’t put up with any nonsense and can easily find out if her kids are trying to get away with something. Despite her strictness, Claire is a loving and supportive mom.
Though we don’t see her in the courtroom, Clair’s quick wit, smarts, and cool demeanor suggest that she’s already won several cases.
Claire Dunphy (Modern Family, 2009-2020)
Before getting married to Phil (Ty Burrell), Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) was an account manager at Starcrest Hotels. She, however, gave up her career to become a full-time mom to Haley (Sarah Hyland), Alex (Ariel Winter), and Luke (Nolan Gould). In the fifth season of the series, Claire re-entered the workforce, first as an employee at her father’s Pritchett’s Closets & Blinds, and then as a Senior VP at her favorite organizing chain store, Organize ‘Em.
Claire was a wild teenager back in the day, so she was trying to protect her children from making the same mistakes that she made. Despite being a helicopter mom, Claire is so amazing as a parent that her brother Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and his husband Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet) often seek out her advice, as they raise their adoptive daughter Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons).
Donna Stone (The Donna Reed Show, 1958-1966)
Donna Stone (Donna Reed) is the wife of pediatrician Alex (Carl Betz) and the mom of teenage children Mary (Shelley Fabares) and Jeff (Paul Petersen) on the ABC sitcom The Donna Reed Show. Donna made it to our list of greatest TV moms because she doesn’t only manage her household and oversees her kids’ activities on a daily basis, but also has time to work as a nurse and volunteers in her community regularly.
Though The Donna Reed Show is pretty similar to other family sitcoms during its time, it sets itself apart by making the wife and mother the center of the show. Throughout its eight-season run, Reed earned four Emmy nominations for her performance as Donna.
Dr. Rainbow Johnson (Black-ish, 2014-present)
A successful anesthesiologist, Dr. Rainbow “Bow” Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross) is the wife of Andre “Dre” Johnson Sr. (Anthony Anderson) and the mother of Zoey (Yara Shahdi), Junior (Marcus Scribner), Diane (Marsai Martin), Jack (Miles Brown), and Devante Johnson (Austin & Berlin Gross).
Though people pleaser and can be extremely vain at times, Bow is a hardworking mom who makes sure her kids have a better life than she did growing up. While her older children are quite independent for their ages, Bow tries her best to keep a nurturing presence in their lives. Compared to Dre, who has a totalitarian parenting style, Bow is more democratic and liberal in raising their kids, making her one of the greatest TV moms ever.
Elyse Keaton (Family Ties, 1982-1989)
One of the greatest TV moms from the ‘80s is architect Elyse Keaton (Meredith Baxter-Birney) of the NBC sitcom Family Ties. She’s the wife of Steven (Michael Gross) and the mother of Alex (Michael J. Fox), Mallory (Justine Bateman), Jennifer (Tina Yothers), and Andy (Brian Bonsall).
As a liberal and former hippie raising her kids in the Reagan era, Elyse, along with her husband, is often infuriated by the materialism and conservatism of their first three children. Though she doesn’t agree with them all the time, Elyse allows them to think for themselves and to make their own choices. And when those choices happen to be wrong, she’s always there to help them bounce back and move forward.
Endora (Bewitched, 1964-1972)
Bewitched follows a beautiful witch named Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) who meets and marries a mortal named Darrin Stephens (Dick York). While Samantha complies with Darrin’s wishes to become a normal suburban housewife, her magical family disapproves of the mixed marriage and frequently interferes in the couple’s lives.
For instance, Samantha’s mother, Endora (Agnes Moorehead), often casts farcical spells on Darrin for her own amusement. But despite all these pranks, Endora makes sure that nothing bad happens to her son-in-law. Aside from being a mother to Samantha and Darrin, Endora is also a doting grandmother to Tabitha and Adam.
Florida Evans (Good Times, 1974-1979)
One of the greatest TV moms from the ‘70s is Florida Evans (Esther Rolle) of the CBS sitcom Good Times. With her stern yet loving disposition, Florida does her best to give her often unemployed first husband James (John Amos) emotional support and be a good mother and role model to their three children.
Between the household chores, Florida often squeezes in a part-time job to her schedule to help stretch the family dollar. Despite their several financial troubles, Florida remains generous and doesn’t hesitate to offer whatever she has to those in need.
Harriet Nelson (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, 1952-1966)
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet is a sitcom based on the real life of spouses Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and their two sons, David and Ricky. With her sweet smile and calm demeanor, Harriet has easily become one of the most ideal mothers that ever graced the small screen.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet ran for 14 seasons on ABC from 1952 to 1966, making it the longest-running live-action sitcom in television history until FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia was renewed for a 15th season in May 2020.
Ida Morgenstern (Rhoda, 1974-1978)
Ida Morgenstern (Nancy Walker) is the mother of Rhoda (Valerie Harper) and Brenda (Julie Kavner) on the CBS sitcom Rhoda. Though Ida can be overbearing at times and often guilt trips her kids, she’s always there for them to provide a shoulder to cry on. During difficult times, Ida even allows Rhoda to move back into her childhood bedroom until she can get back on her feet. Ida, however, doesn’t let Rhoda wallow, giving her daughter a much-needed nudge when it’s already time to move on.
Walker first appeared as Ida on the CBS sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1970 before becoming a prominent recurring character in the spinoff series Rhoda four years later.
Jessica Huang (Fresh Off the Boat, 2015-2020)
Jessica Huang (Constance Wu) is the wife of Louis (Randall Park), and the mother of Eddie (Hudson Wang), Emery (Forrest Wheeler), and Evan (Ian Cheng) on the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. A no-nonsense, pragmatic, and highly competitive woman, Jessica believes in tough love, so she often pushes her sons to be the best they can be.
Jessica, however, isn’t a perfect mom. For instance, she’s opposed to creative career fields such as art, painting, and theatre, and favors academically vigorous fields such as law and medicine. In some episodes of the series, Jessica even pressures her sons not to follow their passion for acting.
June Cleaver (Leave It to Beaver, 1957-1963)
The epitome of the ideal mom during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley) bakes, sews, and knits. And no matter what hijinks her two boys, Wally (Tony Dow) and Beaver (Jerry Mathers) are up to, June manages to keep their entire house immaculate at all times.
Calm and unflustered, June is able to keep her kids in line without having to raise her voice. She’s always consistently poised. With a string of pearls often draped around her neck, June doesn’t fail to mesmerize her husband Ward (Hugh Beaumont) with her flawlessly applied makeup and neatly fixed hair.
Kitty Forman (That ‘70s Show, 1998-2006)
Aside from being the biological mother of Eric (Topher Grace) and Laurie (Lisa Robin Kelly/Christina Moore), Kitty Forman (Debra Jo Rupp) also serves as a surrogate mom to Eric’s best friend Hyde (Danny Masterson) and foreign exchange student, Fez (Wilmer Valderrama).
A cheerful and doting mother with an infectious giggle, Kitty is up for some fun from time to time. She, however, can also be assertive and authoritarian when pushed to her limit. A nurse by profession, Kitty is always there to treat her children as well as their friends when they get hurt.
Lois (Malcolm in the Middle, 2000-2006)
Lois (Jane Kaczmarek) is a middle-class mom to four disorderly boys. Though she and her kids are in constant battle, everything she does is out of love. Despite being wildly hot-headed and stubborn at times, Lois is motherly and will fiercely defend her family, especially against neighbors and other people who look down on them.
Aside from wrangling four boys and maintaining the household, Lois also works as a staff member at a Lucky Aide drugstore, helping her husband Hal (Bryan Canton) earn money for the family.
Lorelai Gilmore (Gilmore Girls, 2000-2007)
Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) is the single mother of teenager Rory (Alexis Bledel). After running away as a teen to raise Rory on her own, Lorelai has a strained relationship with her wealthy parents. But after a long time of no communication, Lorelai swallows her pride and reaches out to her parents for help with paying Rory’s tuition.
Though Lorelai doesn’t always make the right decisions or offer the best advice, she’s still considered by many as one of the greatest TV moms, thanks to her unique and very open bond with her daughter.
Marge Simpson (The Simpsons, 1989-present)
The matriarch of the Simpson family, Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner) is the wife of Homer (Dan Castellaneta) and the mother of Bart (Nancy Cartwright), Lisa (Yeardley Smith), and Maggie. Generally depicted as a stereotypical sitcom mother, Marge plays the “long-suffering wife” who puts up with the antics of her goofball husband and eccentric children.
Although occasionally embarrassed by her family’s hijinks, Marge’s love for each one of them is pretty apparent. She’s the glue that holds the family together and often provides a grounding voice in the midst of all the shenanigans in and out of the Simpson household.
Marie Barone (Everybody Loves Raymond, 1996-2005)
Marie Barone (Doris Roberts) is the intrusive, controlling, and over-nurturing mother of Raymond (Ray Romano) and Roberts (Brad Garrett). But despite her manipulative nature, Marie’s love for her sons is obvious, as she still enjoys treating them like little boys instead of grown men.
However, as someone who excels in cooking, cleaning, and other household chores, Marie could be very critical of her daughter-in-law Debra (Patricia Heaton), whose down-to-earth demeanor clashes with Marie’s passion to be the best at all domestic chores.
Marion Cunningham (Happy Days, 1974-1984)
Marion Cunningham (Marion Ross) is the mother of Richie (Ron Howard), Joanie (Erin Moran), and Chuck (Gavan O’Herlihy/Randolph Roberts) and the wife of Howard (Tom Bosley) on the long-running ABC sitcom Happy Days.
Aside from raising her three children, she also becomes some sort of a mother figure to all of their friends, including Fonzie (Henry Winkler). In fact, Marion is the only one who can get away with calling Fonzie by his real name Arthur. Though there are times when Marion feels unwanted and unappreciated, it doesn’t take long before she’s reminded of how much her children and their pals rely on her for mothering.
Morticia Addams (The Addams Family, 1964-1966)
The wife of Gomez Addams (John Astin) and the mom of Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax) and Wednesday Addams (Lisa Loring), Morticia Addams (Carolyn Jones) is the calm center of the chaotic events in the Addams household. Though a cultivated woman who knits, dabbles in art and plays the shamisen, Morticia can be very violent, usually with axes, when it comes to protecting her family and kids.
Morticia has a wide variety of hobbies, but she doesn’t impose any of these to her children. Instead, she encourages them to be the most unique individuals they can be.
Olivia Walton (The Waltons, 1972-1981)
Olivia Walton (Michael Learned) is a mother to a total of seven children but loses three of her kids, including an unborn baby, during the Great Depression and World War II. Though she sometimes struggles to make ends meet, Olivia is always ready to do anything for her family and home.
Though sweet and compassionate, Olivia believes in manners and is not afraid to scold, or even punish her children for misbehaving. As a religious woman, she can quote directly from the Bible and never misses the local church’s Sunday service. But more admirable than those is her willingness to open her home to a neighbor and her commitment to teaching her children the values of discipline and charity.
Penelope Alvarez (One Day at a Time, 2017-2020)
A U.S. Army Nurse Corps veteran, Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) is a single mom raising her feminist teenage daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez) and popularity-seeking teenage son Alex (Marcel Ruiz), while trying to look for new love.
Though struggling with PTSD, depression, and various matters of the heart, Penelope quickly puts all of these aside every time her children ask for her help to overcome their own problems.
Rebecca Pearson (This Is Us, 2016-present)
Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore) of NBC’s drama series This Is Us is undoubtedly one of the emotionally strongest moms on TV today. After losing one of her triplets, Rebecca adopts and raises an abandoned African American child, along with her two surviving children.
Though not a perfect mother, Rebecca loves her kids so much that she tries her very best to stay strong through many struggles like financial hardships and her husband’s (Milo Ventimiglia) battle with alcoholism. After her husband’s sudden death, Rebecca becomes a single parent to her teenage children, vigilantly guiding them into adulthood while coping with grief.
Shirley Partridge (The Partridge Family, 1970-1974)
Shirley Partridge (Shirley Jones) is the mother of Keith (David Cassidy), Laurie (Susan Dey), Danny (Danny Bonaduce), Chris (Jeremy Gelbwacks/Brian Foster), and Tracy (Suzanne Crough) on the ABC musical sitcom The Partridge Family. After the sudden death of the family’s patriarch, Shirley raises all her five kids on her own while embarking on a musical career with them.
In the show’s first season, Shirley records a pop song with her five children in their garage. After the song makes it to the Top 40 hit, Shirley agrees to go on a tour with the whole family, prompting them to buy an old school bus which they use for their first-ever live gig at Caesars Palace.
Sophia Petrillo (The Golden Girls, 1985-1992)
Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) is Dorothy Zbornak’s (Beatrice Arthur) mother who also becomes a surrogate mom to her friends and housemates Rose Nylund (Betty White) and Blanche Devereaux (Rue Mclanahan)
Best known for her wisecracks, put-downs, and brazen remarks, Sophia often comments on Dorothy’s unmarried life, Blanche’s promiscuity, and Rose’s cluelessness. But despite her sharp criticisms of the trio, Sophia loves and cares deeply about them. When sought out for advice, Sophia shares parables that often end with a moral. Like her daughter, Sophia is liberal in her beliefs and is suspected to be a Democrat. She supports same-sex marriage and even told Dorothy once that if she had a gay child, she would not love them any less.
Tami Taylor (Friday Night Lights, 2006-2011)
On the NBC sports drama Friday Night Lights, Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) is the wife of the successful high school football coach Eric (Kyle Chandler) and the mother of Julie (Aimee Teegarden) and Gracie (Madilyn Landry). Tami is a huge support system for her husband and kids, but as a high school guidance counselor and, later, principal, she also serves as a mother figure to other children.
Called by many as “Mrs. Coach,” Tami provides words of wisdom to students who seek out her help, making her a surrogate mom of some sort.
Thelma Harper (Mama’s Family, 1983-1984, 1986-1990)
Mama’s Family revolves around the wacky misadventures of the Harper family, along with their friends and neighbors. At the center of all the mischiefs is the head and matriarch of the clan Thelma Harper (Vicki Lawrence), a 65-year-old widow known for her quick-tempered, abrasive, and brash personality. But in spite of her derogatory attitude and sarcasm, Thelma, aka Mama, is nurturing at heart, welcoming her home to her kids, family members, and friends who don’t have a place to live.
Lawrence originated the Mama character in The Family sketches on CBS’ The Carol Burnett Show back in 1974. She then reprised the role on ABC’s Carol Burnett & Company (1979); in the made-for-TV movie Eunice (1982); and on Mama’s Family (first on NBC 1983–84, then syndication 1986–90). Lawrence is still playing the role in the ongoing Vicki Lawrence & Mama: A Two-Woman Show.
Violet Crawley (Downton Abbey, 2010-2015)
Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), the Dowager Countess of Grantham, may be blunt and straightforward, but her habit of speaking her mind and meddling in the lives of her children and grandchildren make her one of the greatest TV moms to date.
Because of her traditional outlook in life, Violet often clashes with her progressive-thinking daughter-in-law Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and her enemy-turned-friend Isobel (Penelope Wilton). Though Violet doesn’t see eye to eye with her kids and grandkids sometimes, she always has the best interest of her family at heart.