JUDGE IF YOU MUST, BUT MY FAMILY HAS BEEN TAKEN IN BY "HERE COMES HONEY BOO BOO," TLC’s 60-minute train wreck. In one episode, Honey Boo Boo’s mother, June, prepares “sketti” for the rest of her brood, making sketti sauce from microwaved margarine and ketchup. We also learn that one of June’s daughters only brushes her teeth on “special occasions.”
Thank you, Mama June, for inching me ever closer to Mother of the Year.
While the better part of motherhood requires on-the-job training, June reminds me that a steady – not to be confused with sketti – TV diet throughout my formative years has actually taught me a lot about motherhood from TV moms. (Bully for the therapist who gets to fix my kids.)
Arguably the patron saint of TV moms, June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley) has done more to distort the perception of motherhood than any of her peers. She wore a dress, pearls and heels at all times, yet her baseboards never needed scrubbing. It’s unclear how she developed her finely tuned BS-meter, but it served her well when it came to shielding Wally and the Beav from the high jinks of one Eddie Haskell.
I bonded early with Shirley Partridge (Shirley Jones), whom I’d identified as my mother-in-law-to-be since I had firm plans to marry David Cassidy; unfortunately, David Cassidy’s plans weren’t as solid. Shirley was a pop-singing matriarch who drove a psychedelic bus: pump up the cool factor. Her only flaw was Reuben Kincaid. Oh, and that other elephant in the room, Danny Bonaduce.
Once Greg Brady became my intended fiancé, I studied Carol Brady (Florence Henderson) in earnest. Motherhood transformed her from being downright matronly to over-the-top hip with a shag haircut and plaid bellbottoms. With six kids under her platform-soled foot, Carol ran a tight ship, even if it was Alice who did most of the heavy lifting and lunch packing. Carol never dreamed of abandoning her maternal lot in life for something more inviting. If Carol had better prospects, she kept them to herself. Even when Mike got the perm.
What made Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery) a great mom? In a word: restraint. Despite having the sorcery to send (either) Darrin to parts unknown, Samantha always kept her cool. A lot of moms might be tempted to brag about it if their kids could magically move their toys around the room, but Samantha remained low-key about her kids’ supernatural abilities. It was much more fun to let Gladys Kravitz figure it out on her own.
Among the last of the wholesome TV moms is Marion Cunningham (Marion Ross). Mrs. C is the kind of lovely, yet complex, person who can’t help raising nice kids like Richie and Joanie. Don’t forget, though, that she was also the mother of Chuck, the oldest of the Cunningham children, who just “went away” one day, never to return or even come up in conversation again. Mrs. C never looked back. In fact, Chuck’s exit made more room for Fonzie, who eventually moved in and became her dance partner.
According to the Peg Bundy School of Motherhood, being a mom is sometimes inconvenient – like when kids are around. Peg (the first true antidote to June Cleaver) can’t be bothered with the mundane details of feeding or raising her children or maintaining a household. But what’s funny about Peg (Katey Sagal) is that there’s really nothing maternal about Peg, and no one seems to mind.
Enter Betty Draper (January Jones), my favorite TV mom and something of an amalgam of several TV moms. Like June Cleaver, Betty is a snappy dresser and well coiffed. Like Shirley Partridge, Betty suffers creepy, adolescent boys (Shirley +Danny; Betty + Glen) for reasons unknown. It’s very probable that, had the young Fonz shown up on her doorstep, Betty would have taken him in.
Oddly, Betty Draper shares many traits with Peg Bundy. She enjoys a drink (or five) during the day. She’s never far from her smokes. Betty is often irked by the existence of children (thank God they have a TV) and lacks maternal warmth – or any warmth, for that matter. When young Sally Draper scampers into the kitchen with a dry cleaning bag over her head, Betty admonishes her daughter that she will be a very sorry young lady if the clothes from the dry cleaning bag are now on the floor of her closet.
Oh, Betty Draper – at least the kids always know where you stand.