Back in the day, the only mothers that women could see portrayed on TV were of the stay at home variety. Women were expected to take care of the kids and the household a la June Cleaver. However, in the 1970s a new wave came to television which showed women working outside the household. TV is supposed to be representative of real people and in this case, the shift in women’s representation was groundbreaking.
Clair Huxtable: Iconic Mother Challenging Women’s Roles
Clair Huxtable was one of the quintessential moms shown on TV in the 1980s. Clair was the matriarch of The Cosby Show and was played by Phylicia Rashad. The character was both a mother and an attorney who places importance on both child-rearing and having an amazing career. Clair is notable for being a feminist icon and she showcases her power in regard to her career and as a mother. Some of Clair’s notable moments include dealing with her male chauvinist son-in-law named Elvin. One such TV moment was so popular that it was immediately featured on news programs and referred to as a “feminist rant”. The Cosby Show was groundbreaking in numerous aspects and Phylicia individually won two NAACP Image Awards for her role and was also twice-nominated for an Emmy Award.
Maggie Seaver: Leaving Dad At Home
One the longest-running sitcoms, Growing Pains showcased the fantastic mother that was the character of Maggie Seaver. Maggie was played by actress Joanna Kerns, and Maggie was married to Dr. Jason Seaver played by the late Allen Thicke. Maggie was not only a wife and mother but she was also a reporter. The show was notable for making Maggie as the one who left the house to provide for her family, while her husband decides to run his psychology practice from home. Dr. Seaver takes on the responsibility of looking after the kids, Mike, Carol Anne, and Ben, in their day to day hijinks. Seeing a role reversal of stay-at-home dad, while mom ventures out into the workforce was definitely a noteworthy moment in TV history.
Rachel Green: Co-parenting At Its Finest
Rachel Green is probably one of the most famous and loved characters in TV history. Rachel, played by Jennifer Aniston, was in an on-off relationship with her boyfriend Ross Gellar, played by David Schwimmer. The fictional love story was a favorite among fans and the two ultimately had a child together towards the end of the series. Rachel had worked her way up to become an executive at Ralph Lauren and she decides to continue her career, despite becoming a mother. Rachel and Ross also end up breaking up and the show follows the tricky road that is co-parenting, which was a dialogue not often portrayed on the TV screen.
Dr. Miranda Bailey: Dealing With Infertility
On the show Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Miranda Bailey is the general surgeon at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. Dr. Bailey, played by Chandra Wilson, is known for guiding the younger doctors with her trademark balance of toughness and compassion. At the beginning of the series, she is married to Tucker Jones and the two have attempted to have a child together for seven years before they successfully conceive. Although the show did not delve heavily into the issue of infertility, it was implied, which was meaningful to many women facing similar struggles around the world. Even after giving birth to her son, Dr. Bailey prioritizes her work which ends up causing issues in her marriage. The character’s experience of having a demanding job and attempting to balance motherhood is a struggle that is common to many.
Jill Taylor: Challenging Her Macho Husband
Jill Taylor was the matriarch of the 1990s show Home Improvement. Although married to the decidedly macho Tim the “Tool Man”, she was a strong woman in her own right. Jill was played by Patricia Richardson, who apparently urged the writers to ensure that she wasn’t a “perfect” character because even mothers have flaws. She was a mom of three boys who originally struggled to find a job and regularly argued with her rather conservative husband about women’s roles in the household. Ultimately, she goes back to school and earns a psychology degree, showing that a woman’s place is wherever they want it to be.
Joan Harris: A 1960s Working Mom Breaking Taboos
Joan Harris is an interesting character because she exists as a working mother in the 1960s. While working mothers have always existed in some way or another, they were not often portrayed on TV, especially in the time period that is portrayed on Mad Men. Joan is played by actress Christina Hendricks and she becomes a mother during the show after having an illicit affair. Joan ends up raising her son, Kevin, alone. Like many women, her child drives her for more success to ensure his future. At the end of the series, Joan is on the road to finding her own success as a business owner and a single mom, a beautiful break from the typical presentation of women from the time.
Vivian Banks: Highly Educated
Vivian Banks is the beloved mother of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She was played by two different women over the course of the show, first Janet Hubert and later Daphne Maxwell Reid. Vivian has taken her nephew and main character, Will, into her home in order to keep him from getting in trouble back in Philadelphia. In addition to being a guiding force for Will, she also guides her own kids Carlton and Ashley. Although she is not often seen working on the show, it is proclaimed that she has retired from her career as a doctor and is also said to be studying for another Ph.D. Later, she shows up as a substitute teacher at the kids’ school, the ritzy Bel Air Academy. Like The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was groundbreaking in many ways, including a strong portrayal of an extremely successful African American mom.
Roseanne O’Connor: Blue Collar Motherhood
There is no one way to be a mom and if any TV mother is representative of that it’s Roseanne O’Connor. The O’Connor family were a blue-collar American family in which both parents worked. Roseanne, played by comedienne actress Roseanne Barr, brought her spunky and outspoken attitude to the screen. Although off-screen, Roseanne has become known for her more conservative views, back on the TV show she was known for the opposite. In fact, Roseanne Barr was said to be the driving force behind getting the creators to include gay characters on the show. The classic ’90s sitcom will soon bring a reboot to the air with many of the original characters playing their original roles. Roseanne has promised to tackle both sides of a political spectrum, so it should definitely be interesting to watch.
Angela Bower: The Boss Lady At Home And Work
The 1980s saw working moms begin to start taking on the business world by storm. One such character was Angela Bower from Who’s the Boss? Angela, played by Judith Light, was seen opening her own advertising agency on the show. Also groundbreaking for the time is that while Angela took charge in the business world she hired a male nanny and housekeeper played by Tony Danza. Another notable facet of the character is that it showed a single mother who was not widowed but rather divorced. Angela was a character who showed the reality for many single working moms who were fighting to be taken seriously in what had previously been a world for men only.
Harriette Winslow: Sacrificing A Career For Her Kids
Harriette Winslow is the matriarch seen on the hit 1990s sitcom on TGIF’s Family Matters. Harriette, played by Jo Marie Payton, is a security guard and also later becomes a saleswoman. She is a wife to husband Carl Winslow, a police officer, and they are parents to three kids. Not to mention, she is also always dealing with their nerdy teenage neighbor, Steve, who constantly comes to their house. It is revealed that Harriette went to the police academy alongside Carl, although she decided to leave the force upon the birth of her first son Eddie. The show’s decision to face the idea of quitting a career in order to raise children is one common to mothers around the world. Harriette is also shown attempting to re-enter the job force. Ultimately, Harriette’s tenacity again drives her to the top and her success is evident as she becomes the Vice President of Sales.
Murphy Brown: Making Her Own Family Values
Murphy Brown, played by Candice Bergen, is one of the most classic of all TV moms. The 1990s show faces a plethora of common issues including divorce and single parenthood. Murphy falls pregnant by her ex-husband who tells her he does not want to be a father. Rather than face dejection, Murphy triumphantly decides to parent her son on her own. At the time, the plot was considered controversial and conservative politician Dan Quayle even said that it showed “lack of respect” for family values. However, we’d venture to say that the situation is one that many women have faced regardless of their values or morals.
Lorelai Gilmore: Discussing Teen Motherhood
Gilmore Girls’ Lorelai Gilmore, is a single working mom to daughter Rory. The show is totally fixed around the relationship between mother and daughter. The two are exceptionally close, and for good reason. Lorelai, played by Lauren Graham, was a teen mother. Although she comes from a wealthy family, she has decided to forge her own way in life. Her dreams revolve around opening and running her own Inn which she ultimately succeeds in doing with the Dragonfly Inn, a bed and breakfast. Teen motherhood is not an oft-discussed topic, particularly in TV sitcoms. It’s particularly heartwarming to show a successful teen mother who has not only raised her daughter but also achieved her own success in life.
Miranda Hobbes: The Single Mom Choice
Sex and the City was one of the hottest shows on TV in the early 2000s. The show has been praised as being groundbreaking for women in a number of ways, primarily in the realm of owning one’s sexuality. The show tackled a number of women’s issues including aging, marriage, careers, and parenthood. Although at this point, divorce was more often portrayed on the screen, other variants of single mothers had not yet been tackled. The character Miranda Hobbes, played by Cynthia Nixon, was one of the first. Miranda had a great job as a Harvard Law grad and ended up pregnant. Rather than rush to tie the knot, Miranda decides to co-parent instead. She also is shown having a great relationship with the father of her son, Steve. Although (much to the audience’s delight) Steve and Miranda ended up together, Miranda is another great example of a highly successful working single mom
Pam Beesly: Moving Up In Motherhood And Work
Fans of the show The Office waited for years to see the culmination of the on-screen romance between Pam and Jim. While the show focused heavily on their love story, other details are often overlooked like Pam’s career trajectory. Pam begins the series as a receptionist but manages to continue exploring her career throughout the series. By the end, she becomes an office administrator. In addition to her growing career, Pam’s confidence in her skills and ability to move up in the business world also grows. She also becomes a mom while continuing her career. Pam is arguably one of the most loving and compassionate characters we have seen on-screen in a long time so her transition into motherhood was a flawless choice.
Leslie Knope: Managing Motherhood and Politics
Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation is a character totally devoted to a career of public service in the government. She begins with the Parks and Recreation Department, working as the deputy director before transitioning into politics. She also finds love with Ben, a fellow political nerd. Leslie, played by Amy Poehler, dreams of becoming the first female President of the United States. Ultimately, she and Ben get married and have triplets. Fans were originally unsure of what motherhood meant for the character, since Leslie’s main driving force was always her career. However, audiences were satisfied when despite the crazy challenge of being a mom to multiples, Leslie is steadfast as ever at continuing her career and working her way up the political ranks.
Rainbow Johnson: Juggling Race Issues & Remaining In Charge
Rainbow Johnson is the matriarch on the show Black-ish. Rainbow is an amazing example of a strong African American woman who is not only a successful mother but also in her career. In this case, a successful anesthesiologist. The show deals with the issues of a Black family living in a mostly White upper-middle-class neighborhood. The show also realistically portrays that as a mother with a super demanding job, she has to juggle her priorities. Including when she can and cannot be there for all of her kid’s events. The show has successfully addressed many issues that are prevalent in today’s society including racism and feminist issues. Rainbow also shows that moms have flaws and that’s okay too.
Tami Taylor: The Challenge Of Working With Your Spouse
The character Tami Taylor of Friday Night Lights begins the show as merely the coach’s wife. However, that is certainly not all the character is destined for. Tami, played by Connie Britton, is the mom of two girls in the show and ultimately decides to go back to work. She ends up working alongside her husband at Dillon High School where she works as the guidance counselor. This can sometimes complicate the relationship between the two as some of the issues she must deal with include player academic eligibility. The character is also a great example of what it means for a working mom to share a workplace with her husband.
Alicia Forrick: Getting Back In The Workplace
The Good Wife follows a woman named Alicia Forrick who is just beginning to reignite her law career after being at home with her children for thirteen years. Alicia, played by Julianna Marguiles, didn’t have much of a choice after her husband is sent to jail. Suddenly, she finds herself as a single mother while also attempting to re-enter a world that she had long left behind. The show also touches on the struggle she faces of attempting to make time for her kids when she previously used to give them all of her time. Many women in the real world decide to take time away from their career in order to raise their kids and then face the challenge of attempting to resume their career which is not always the easiest of tasks. Alicia shows that women can always get things done.
Olivia Benson: Tackling Adoption
Olivia Benson is a powerhouse detective and later the Commanding officer of the Special Victims Unit on the TV show Law and Order: SVU. Olivia, played by Mariska Hargitay, has grown to become one of the most well-loved characters in TV on 19 seasons of the show. Olivia had long focused on her career and has not often had a steadfast love interest. However, in Season 15 Olivia met the love of her life, a little boy named Noah. It was discovered that Noah was born to two parents with a plethora of struggles and he is ultimately orphaned. By the beginning of the following season, Olivia ends up adopting him. While Olivia remains committed to her career, it is clear that she prioritizes being a mom. Adoption is a reality for many in the world, and the relationship is beautifully portrayed on SVU.
Shirley Partridge: One of the First
Shirley Partridge was one of the first working moms seen on television during the 1970s. Shirley, played by Shirley Jones, was the manager and band member of her family’s singing group on the show The Partridge Family. The show focused on some of the realities people face in show-business life which was a world the actress herself was very familiar with. Additionally, it faced the issue of a family that had been left widowed by the death of Shirley’s husband and the kid’s father. Shirley herself has claimed that she was the first working mom on TV. However, others say that honor goes to Diahann Carroll on her show Julia.