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From June Cleaver to Claire Dunphy, we picked the best TV mom from every decade

Moms have evolved so much through the last seven decades, but one thing has always remained the same: Family is number one. The depiction of mothers on TV has shifted with the times as well. But through every decade, the best TV moms consistently make you want to jump into the TV and be a part of the family.

There has been a long list of iconic sitcom moms over the last seven decades. But we’ve managed to pare the list down to just a few favorites, starting in the ‘50s and working our way through to the modern take on the classic role. Just in time for Mother’s Day, here are the best TV sitcom moms of the past seven decades.

June Cleaver – Leave it to Beaver (1950s)

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Anyone who watched the show, in the ’50s or decades later in reruns, marveled at how well Theodore “The Beaver’s” mom set the gold standard. The show centered around the adventures of Beaver, the youngest Cleaver child (Jerry Mathers), along with his sporty big brother Wally (Tony Dow) and father Ward (Hugh Beaumont), but Barbara Billingsley’s June often stole the show. Steeped in the traditions of the time, June had her own social world, but her primary focus was always on the family. She cooked, cleaned, and personified the term “lady” with nary a hair out of place. More than that, however, when push came to shove she wasn’t afraid to do the shoving when called for. June was the epitome of the ’50s archetypal mother — one whom you wished would tuck you in to bed or take your side when the inevitable hijinks of childhood ensued.

Samantha Stephens – Bewitched (1960s)

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In addition to tending to her family and relationship, Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) had to suppress her secret powers as a witch after marrying a mere mortal, facing pushback from her fellow witches, including her own mom. Then, she had to protect her two children who were also born with special powers. How does one, after all, explain away a child’s ability to move toys with her mind and a wiggle of her nose? Yet Samantha handled this bizarre rendition of family life with grace, integrity, and intelligence, forging a new mold not just for witches, but for mothers everywhere.

Carol Brady – The Brady Bunch (1970s)

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When Florence Henderson passed away last year, we all felt grief as if we’d lost a mother figure from our childhoods. As one of the most iconic TV mothers of all time, Carol Brady got things done, with a smile and some elbow grease. As the song explains, she was mom not just to her three girls from a previous marriage, but also to her husband’s three boys. While she was a stay-at-home mom, she kept busy with writing, sculpting, singing, organizing PTA meetings, and more, all while making sure her family was well tended to (though credit is also due to housekeeper Alice, played by Ann B. Davis). Touching on working mom, single mom, and step-mom, the Brady bunch showed viewers a new kind of family, while also submitting that a mother could do it all and still maintain a sense of humor and fun.

Clair Huxtable – The Cosby Show (1980s)

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The role of “mom” was shifting in the ‘80s, and we can thank Phylicia Rashad’s depiction of the Huxtable matriarch for helping change the perception of working mothers. She was a confident lawyer who kept the entire family — including four daughters and that incorrigible Theo (Malcolm Jamal Warner) — fiercely in check with the same dedication and fast-talking intimidation she likely also demonstrated in court. As one of the first career mothers to be depicted on TV, she balanced work with running her household as the disciplinarian, and served as the more serious foil to husband Cliff’s silly and humorous parenting ways.

Maggie Seaver – Growing Pains (1980s/1990s)

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For seven seasons, Maggie (Joanna Kerns) was the mother of four kids, and wife of psychiatrist Jason (played by the late Alan Thicke.) Another representation of the changing nature of family dynamics, Maggie decided to return to work as a reporter, tasking Jason with more parental duties and working from home. Even as her career blossomed, Maggie never missed a beat, from scolding her troublesome teenage son Mike (Kirk Cameron) for his latest antics to passing down words of wisdom to her bookworm daughter Carol (Tracey Gold), Maggie was always there when her family needed her. Heck, towards the end of the series she even took in a homeless teen named Luke, played by a little known teen actor named Leonard DiCaprio.

Tami Taylor – Friday Night Lights (2000s)

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The only mom on our list not in a sitcom, Tami, played brilliantly by Connie Britton, was a multi-dimensional character in the seminal drama. Tired of being considered a “trophy” wife to her high school head coach husband Eric (Kyle Chandler), Tami decided to return to work as a school guidance counsellor, then principal, helping the kids and school through a host of issues. Yet she continued to be a caring mother to her daughters, and an anchor for her husband, guiding him through tough decisions about the team time after time. In a way, she was not only a compassionate and open-hearted mother to her own kids, but also to all the kids at Dillon High and East Dillon High.

Claire Dunphy – Modern Family (2010s)

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Uptight, bossy, controlling, and often frantic, Claire (Julie Bowen) is also a loving wife and a fiercely loyal mother to her three kids. She sometimes takes things a bit too far in her quest to ensure they get everything they need in life — helicopter parenting in full force, though always with good intentions. Claire gave up her career when she got pregnant with her first child, but later returned to work to head up her father’s successful closet business. She’s so relatable to the 21st century working mom, many will nod their heads vigorously at Claire’s obsessive nature, penchant for wine, and struggle to balance career and family. This makes her one of the funniest, and best, TV moms of this generation.

Honorable Mentions

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While we couldn’t possibly cover them all, a few more TV moms are especially deserving of shout-outs as honorable mentions: Lucy Ricardo – I Love Lucy (1950s);  Wilma Flintstone – The Flintstones (1960s); Olivia Walton – The Waltons (1970s); Marge Simpson – The Simpsons (1990s); and Beth Pearson – This Is Us (2010s).

Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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