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Are TV Moms Crazier than Their Real-Life Counterparts?

Donna-reed Like it or not, TV has become ingrained in our culture and both reflects and propels how we view ourselves and our lives. Since parenting and family is such a huge part of life, TV will undoubtedly have something to say about how those aspects of life change over time.

The Hollywood Reporter has an interesting piece up about the "anti-moms" of today's TV shows. It cites characters like Christine from now-defunct The New Adventures of Old Christine, Bree Van de Kamp and Lynette Scavo from Desperate Housewives (which I am constantly surprised is still airing), Sarah from Brothers and Sisters, and Claire from Modern Family, their predecessors being Roseanne Conner from Roseanne and Carla from Cheers. These ladies are/were the "anti-moms" to the perfection of TV moms from the 50s through the 70s. They are endlessly flawed and audiences get to see a version of the reality of raising children as a modern woman.

When my mom was a kid, the moms that she saw on TV were the saintly and serene Donna Reeds and June Cleavers, shining examples of post-war prosperity, optimism, and conformity. Never mind the fact that my mom was being raised by an unwed working teen mother. If you ask her now to describe her childhood vision of motherhood, a good portion of her description will include the suburban angel in heels and pearls, devoted wholly to her family. And though my grandmother is unendingly proud of her accomplishments during my mother's childhood, she admits to often wanting nothing more than the life of the picture-perfect mid-century mother, who cheerfully tended to the home while her husband worked to support the family. (My grandmother did eventually meet her Prince Charming about 30 years ago.)

Roseanne-conner When I was a kid, the TV moms that I looked up to were Clair Huxtable, Elyse Keaton, Angela Bower, and later Vivian Banks and Roseanne Connor. The first four moms were all successful career women who gracefully (usually) admitted to their imperfections and made having a career and a family not only seem possible, but normal. Roseanne Connor, who I've gushed about many times before because I love her, portrayed the working mom that many of us grew up with. She didn't have a career, per se, but worked hard to support her family and made a lot of mistakes along the way. But I never once felt that Roseanne didn't know what she was about or doubted her abilities as a mom.

An interesting offshoot of this is Betty Draper of Mad Men, who outwardly personifies the perfect suburban 1960s mom, but is actually a pile of neurosis and daddy issues.

Many moms who blog, myself included, take comfort and pride in writing about some of the less soft-focus experiences of motherhood. Balancing out the odes to the weird and wonderful creatures that we parent are accounts of our doubts, the times that we've lost it and yelled and sometimes even hit, the days that we just can't do it, the bills that we can't pay, and the piles of laundry that fill every corner of our lives. I think this is what the creators of these anti-moms are tapping into: this odd generation that is way past the illusion of 1950s perfection, and past the, "I can do everything without breaking a sweat," hyper-optimism of the 1980s.

Something about some of these anti-moms makes me uncomfortable, though. While I recognize that Christine, Bree, and Lynette are extreme portrayals, I sometimes feel like moms like me, who are honest and open ourselves up to gain community and support, are being made fun of a tad. Do you ever watch these shows and feel like the jokes are coming at the expense of moms?


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Interesting question. I've never thought of it that way...I've looked at is they're writing about flawed moms since so many of us do feel like we have shortcomings, so we see the humor in it. Take Patricia Heaton's character from "The Middle."

I don't understand what they found wrong with Claire from Modern Family?


Of course TV moms are crazier than real moms. Real moms are BORING. Nobody would want to watch my life on TV. -Everybody- on TV is crazier, smarter, funnier, more attractive, and generally more interesting than their real-life counterparts.


Cool, thoughtful post.

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