Defining what makes a mom great is a complicated undertaking. No mother — or human, for that matter — is perfect all the time. Keeping that in mind and in honor of Mother’s Day, Rotten Tomatoes made a list of some of our favorite fictional TV moms.
We’ve included some obvious recent choices like characters from Jane the Virgin and Parenthood — programs that, in their very premise, address the concept of parentage and what that means to different people. We’ve also included older series like Leave It to Beaver — series that may not seem as relevant in a world in which many moms juggle career with home life, but that still shaped the role for a generation of viewers. And there are also shows that aren’t necessarily about motherhood all the time, but have certainly offered some thoughts on the subject; Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen, for example, will fiercely protect and avenge her “children,” and Catelyn Stark made the ultimate sacrifice in doing so. (No, Cersei — just no.)
One thing’s true for all of these shows: These characters may not be the best moms all the time, but their imperfections sometimes make them best in the role.
It wasn’t just that Tami Taylor was a great mom to two her daughters — which she most certainly was — but she was also the de facto parent for so many other kids in Dillon, Texas, when they needed advice on everything from how to handle colleges or their own parents or even more serious issues.
It may not have been Jane Villanueva’s plan to have a kid when she was still a virgin — especially since she was artificially inseminated with her old crush’s sample — but it turned out that she’s pretty good at it. Probably because she had such great role models in her mom, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), and grandmother, Alba (Ivonne Coll).
One of Dr. Rainbow Johnson’s greatest acts is her ability to talk to her kids like adults and put them first even when she’s going through her own stuff (like, say, when her marriage is falling apart).
The circumstances under which Sharon and Rob (Rob Delaney) accidentally became parents and partners could have been catastrophic (one-night stands can have that effect on people’s lives), but she’s handled issues like redefining herself after children and fighting with a spouse in front of the kids with impeccable comic timing.
Penelope Riera Alvarez leads an exceedingly stressful life. A war veteran coping with her own issues of depression and anxiety, she’s also a nurse to a fairly incompetent doctor (Stephen Tobolowsky) and lives with her extremely vivacious mother (Rita Moreno). But she always has time for her kids.
The epitome of “having it all” just as the phrase was permeating the lexicon, Clair Huxtable was a successful attorney, a mother of five, and a patient saint who was able to keep up with her family’s antics.
Lorelai Gilmore is there for her daughter Rory’s (Alexis Bledel) many, many mistakes with a smile and a quick-witted pop culture reference. In fact, she loves her so much that she’ll even attempt to play nice with her own mother, Emily (Kelly Bishop), no matter how infuriating those encounters can be.
Daenerys might be the Mother of Dragons, but she also feels a maternal duty toward her ever-increasing army of soldiers and followers. Catelyn Stark’s final act was a (failed) attempt to protect her first born. And then there’s, erm, Cersei (Lena Headey). Say what you will, the woman loved her children — mostly. Bye, Tommen!
Single mom and working actress Sam Fox knows she doesn’t always have a good work-life balance. But she’s raising three kids who don’t begrudge her for it and that says something.
Sally Field, who played matriarch Nora Walker in this long-running series, said it best when she accepted an Emmy award for this part: “If mothers ruled the world, there would be no goddamn wars in the first place.”
We know that Rebecca Pearson had a strong better half in her husband, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) when it came to the emotional support necessary for raising triplets. But it’s how strong Rebecca had to become after Jack’s untimely death that proves she should not be underestimated. The series’ other standout mom is smart, successful, and sympathetic Beth Pearson.
That stereotype that housewives sit on the couch and watch soaps everyday? It doesn’t apply to Debra Barone. She’s relatable because she’s as overworked and stressed out as the rest of us. Plus, she has to put up with her meddling mother-in-law, Marie (Doris Roberts).
How did a feminist, free-thinking mom like Elyse Keaton end up with such materialistic and conservative kids? It’s a sign of the times and she made the most of it.
Like many immigrants, Jessica Huang wants her kids to be successful Americans and remember their roots. And if she has to be a stern pragmatist to get them there, then so be it.
Who doesn’t love Mrs. C? Marion Cunningham was the caretaker and mother everyone wanted in their lives — even those like Fonzie (Henry Winkler) who may have been too cool to admit it.
This TV remake of the Ron Howard movie was loaded with strong examples of motherhood — be it Monica Potter’s Kristina, who overcame cancer and also turned her worries about her son’s development into a career that would help similar kids, or Lauren Graham’s Sarah Braverman, who may not be so good at adulting herself, but who moves back home because that’s what’s best for her kids.
Before the Kardashians or the Partridges, there was this long-running comedy in which singer Harriet Nelson played a version of herself as the perfect small-town housewife and mother (even if she was nothing like this in real life).
Wife, mother, and Tom Selleck fan Linda Belcher is husband Bob’s partner in life and at their restaurant. A little scatterbrained yes, but who can blame her? The lady hasn’t had a day off in years, and she has to put up with burger-themed puns.
Harriette Baines Winslow was proud to be a working mother with her own opinions. She was also patient enough to deal with Steve Urkel’s (Jaleel White) increasingly frequent visits.
With her pearls and immaculate kitchen, June Cleaver was the archetype of nuclear family matriarchs who always managed to have a handle on her two sons. She eventually finds a life for herself outside of her family; the follow-up series The New Leave It to Beaver sees her as a member of the city’s council.
If motherhood is about keeping your kids as innocent and safe for as long as possible, then all of the women on this miniseries deserve accolades. We’re especially impressed with characters like Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) and Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman), who strove to keep their sons good even if genetics wasn’t working in their favor. The series also starred Reese Witherspoon as Madeline Martha Mackenzie, Laura Dern as Renata Klein, and Zoë Kravitz as stepmom Bonnie Carlson.