In Search of a Perfectly Imperfect TV Mom

by Ally Weinberg March 29, 2017

little baby girl legs with dirty knees

Television moms have been an essential part of our social fabric since we first turned that sucker on and tuned in. June Cleaver, Carol Brady, Clair Huxtable, Marge Simpson, Elyse Keaton, Angela Bower, Roseanne Connor; they’ve become America’s moms. Now that I’m a mom, I’m having trouble finding much in common with the women who raised me, whether in first-run episodes or syndication. Whether they were stay-at-home moms or working moms, whether hippies or doctors or “the boss” (we all know Angela was the boss, as if that should have been a real question), they gave viewers comfort and a relatable lesson all within those weekly 22 minutes of television. While I’m forever grateful, I’m now in search of a modern mom I can more deeply relate to. The good news for those of us in the trenches: moms are being represented less as the seemingly perfect archetype, and more as real women. Let’s take Claire Dunphy from "Modern Family". I can easily understand her type-A, neurotic style to marriage and parenting. As I watch her freak out, I picture my husband pointing out my own “Claire Moments.” But relating to Claire quickly turns me into a stress ball about my own life. Claire and her husband live in a spacious two-story house and for more than half the series, they subsisted on a single income. Oh, and they reside in Southern California. As a Los Angeles resident, all this does is cause me to spiral about real estate and desperately search Red Fin for some hidden gem. My husband and I are still renters with decade-old cars and Ikea furniture. We’re not in the same league as the Dunphys and we know it. So, I’m not sure that I can take mom lessons from someone whose backsplash makes me want to throw myself out of my nine-year-old, two-door Yaris. I love Rainbow Johnson on "Black-ish". She’s a badass doctor, she’s raising four (soon to be five) smart kids, including two daughters with clear leadership skills. In fact, the men and boys in this series are played more often as fools than anything else. Rainbow is an excellent communicator with her kids and husband Dre (Anthony Anderson), she acknowledges her faults, and she loves themed Halloween costumes. I also respect that the writers make Rainbow and Dre confront tough topics with their children, be it about race, privilege, internet porn, or most recently, the election. There’s Jane Villanueva, the protagonist of "Jane the Virgin". In the first season, Jane was a pregnant virgin caught in the crosshairs of a globetrotting drug lord. Her heart was constantly fought over by two swoon-worthy men. But once Jane gave birth, she became one of the most relatable moms in pop-culture. Sure, she’s literally in a telenovela, but the soapy plot is just the shiny wrapping surrounding the series. The true depth of the show comes from its more relatable and human moments. Whether it's co-parenting with her ex, trying to maintain her identity and career as a new mom, struggling to breast pump, tackling the signs of postpartum depression, debating finances with her partner, or raising a child amidst personal tragedy; JTV delves into it all with a level of heartbreaking realism sorely missing in much less soap-opera-like television. The writers are not afraid to let Jane share the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with motherhood. There’s no doubt that Jane is a modern mom and the series has been brave enough to show what that means by including the good, bad, and ugly. Jane is also in an ideal “it takes a village” scenario. She has her mother's and abuela’s help, her doting father, Rogelio (if you haven’t seen JTV, it’s worth watching just for telenovela star Rogelio de la Vega), as well as a husband (major spoiler about that here), a co-parenting ex, and that ex’s ex (Petra, who has also had her share of raw and emotional parenting storylines). Talk about a support system! My husband and I are lucky if we can book the same babysitter twice in six months. I’ve been binge-watching "Parenthood" recently (yes, totally late to the party, I know!), and would like to be adopted by the Bravermans. Over the course of several seasons, I’ve vacillated between Julia, Kristina, and Jasmine as I decide which mom I connect to most greatly (never Sarah though . . . get it together, Sarah Braverman). Julia might be the most relatable to me. She and I both love our jobs and find parenting to sometimes be a little boring. This doesn’t mean I don’t love being a mom, it just means that repetitive conversations about Elsa, Doc McStuffins, and whether or not one needs to wash their hands after going to the bathroom (spoiler alert: yes, always), can get a little frustrating. Like Julia Braverman, I’m also married to a hot guy who wears a tool belt and is great with kids. Twinsies! (A cursory "Parenthood" google search makes me concerned that Julia will become the Sarah of "Parenthood". I know there are troubled waters ahead for Julia and Joel, but I’m early in season five -- don’t ruin it for me!) ABC’s new series, "Speechless", shares a night with "Black-ish", and it's spot-on humor and social commentary make it a perfect companion. "Speechless" has been widely acclaimed and the subject of many think-pieces for its representation of the disabled in front and behind the scenes. The DiMeos are a lower middle-class family trying to get by as they raise three children, one of which has cerebral palsy. J.J. is non-verbal and confined to a wheelchair. He uses a laser pointer to spell out his words. In the pilot, the family moves to a toney suburb so that J.J. can attend a better school, complete with an aide who can speak for him. For the first time, he’ll have a voice. The matriarch of the DiMeos is Maya DiMeo (played by Minnie Driver). Maya is a hard-charging, full-on Mama Bear who is used to fighting the system for the betterment of her kids. She’s admittedly not perfect. She’s chronically late, she drives their minivan too fast, she’s been known to steal a horse, and she’s self-aware enough to realize when she’s made a mistake. Often on the show, Maya and her husband acknowledge how constantly fighting for J.J. to live a full life means they deprive their other children of the attention they may need. But ultimately, we feel they're raising their kid as best they can. When a student treats J.J. condescendingly and he gestures to his aide to respond, “Eat a bag of D***,” we instantly know that he got that from his mom. And we know that she would be proud. Rather than pick one ultimate Mom to rule them all, I think I’ll take a little bit from each. I’ll happily admit to Claire’s neurotic behavior. My type-A personality can be annoying for those around me, but you can bet my iCal is on point. I’ll take Rainbow’s badass confidence and self-assuredness with both her professional and parenting abilities. While I wish I had Jane’s support system, I’ll instead take her emotional candor. I’ll take Julia’s insistence on remaining an individual, and not sacrificing her identity because she’s a parent. And I’ll definitely take Maya’s fierce Mama Bear attitude when it comes to advocating for her family. I hope the increasingly realistic representation of women on successful TV shows only expands, opening the floodgate for more strong, smart, and flawed moms (and frankly, women in general) on my screen.

Ally Weinberg


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