The 30 Best TV Moms of All Time, Ranked

From Joyce Byers to Lorelai Gilmore

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best tv moms this is is
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Although I credit my mom for shaping me into who I am today, it’s impossible to talk about my journey without mentioning the iconic fictional moms who also left a mark. From Reba’s warmth and Nashville charm to Rainbow Johnson’s healthy work-family balance, I’ve been lucky enough to glean wisdom from some of the most compelling matriarchs on TV. So, to honor these greats, I’ve put together a full ranking of the best TV moms of all time.

To be clear, none of these characters are not perfect by any means. They’re all flawed and complicated women who, for the most part, understand that they can't do it all. Even so, they take on the world's hardest job and make the best of it. Whether that means eating takeout for dinner several nights in a row or arm-wrestling their kid to keep them away from a scary movie.

From Lorelai Gilmore to Vivian Banks, keep reading for my ranking of the 30 best TV moms.

best tv moms jean milburn
Sam Taylor/Netflix

30. Jean Milburn (Sex Education)  

  • Played by: Gillian Anderson

The free-spirited sex therapist doesn’t always make the best decisions when it comes to her romantic life, but I respect the fact that she owns up to her mistakes and learns from them. Her relationship with her son, Otis, is a complicated one, but Jean consistently goes above and beyond to ensure that he feels seen, understood and supported. Naturally, her direct approach leads to some of the funniest, cringe-worthy moments (“I've noticed you're pretending to masturbate, and I was wondering if you wanted to talk about it.”) Still, her heart is always in the right place—and she always gives solid advice.

best tv moms reba
The WB

29. Reba Hart (Reba)

  • Played by: Reba McEntire

As she sings in the iconic theme song, Reba is a "single mom who works two jobs, who loves her kids and never stops, with gentle hands and the heart of a fighter." She speaks fluent sarcasm, she welcomes confrontation and she can be a bit controlling, but she’s also honest, funny, grounded and caring, which makes her an incredible mom. She’s fiercely protective of her family and is there to support them, regardless of the circumstances.

best tv moms violet crawley

28. Violet Crawley (Downton Abbey) 

  • Played by: Maggie Smith

TBH, I initially found the sharp-tongued matriarch a bit intimidating. However, throughout Downton Abbey’s six-season run, I came to adore her as a compassionate and genuinely funny woman who would stop at nothing to protect her family (and their estate, of course). She shares plenty of wisdom, and she has a soft spot for her children and grandchildren, which causes her to meddle in their personal lives when she thinks it’s necessary. Despite her questionable decisions (and proud behavior), it’s clear that her intentions are pure.

best tv moms jill taylor

27. Jill Taylor (Home Improvement)

  • Played by: Patricia Richardson

Optimistic, insightful and down-to-earth, Jill is considered the voice of reason in the Taylor family. She's nurturing, she’s sensitive to her kids' needs and she has the best sense of humor. (Don’t put it past her to team up with the kids for a prank.) But the no-nonsense mom also knows when to put her foot down. She’s a bit of a meddler, and she can be passive-aggressive at times, but her good qualities—from her intelligence to her resilience—far outweigh her flaws. 

best tv moms joyce byers
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26. Joyce Byers (Stranger Things)

  • Played by: Winona Ryder

Single-handedly raising two boys is no easy feat—especially when you're living in a town that's hiding dark secrets. Still, Joyce proves to be one of the bravest single moms to ever grace the small screen. When her son, Will, suddenly disappears, she’s riddled with confusion and grief as she tries to get him back—going as far as to break down her own wall to find him in season one. Joyce may have a stubborn streak, and she can be overbearing, but she is also genuine, compassionate and very determined when it comes to keeping her kids safe.

best tv moms lorelai
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25. Lorelai Gilmore (Gilmore Girls)

  • Played by: Lauren Graham

The beloved coffee enthusiast (and queen of witty banter) raised a brilliant teenage daughter while navigating work, family drama and a rather complicated love life. That alone, in my humble opinion, earns her a spot on this list of incredible TV moms. Sure, about ninety percent of Rory’s diet consists of Chinese food, and yes, Lorelai makes some poor decisions, but she’s not defined by her setbacks. The proud mom creates a safe and loving home for her daughter, allowing them to form the most enviable mother-daughter bond.

best tv moms lois

24. Lois Wilkerson (Malcolm in the Middle)

  • Played by: Jane Kaczmarek

I’ve always been drawn to Lois, mainly because she’s far from the stereotypical, sweet mother figure that most fans admire. Her four boys find her more terrifying than the police. She’s loud (and I mean really loud). She often lets her temper get the best of her, and she can be very controlling. However, many are quick to forget that Lois is carrying a lot. She’s tasked with maintaining order in a chaotic household, holding down a job and keeping a stable marriage with a husband who’s well-meaning, but immature. Despite all this, she keeps her sanity intact and her boys in line. She’s fiercely protective of her family and won’t hesitate to defend them.

best tv moms cookie
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23. Cookie Lyon (Empire)

  • Played by: Taraji P. Henson

To the outside world, Cookie Lyon is the fearless fashionista who tells it like it is—and you don’t want to get on her bad side. But to her sons, she’s so much more. She’s a compassionate, open-minded mother who goes out of her way to protect her children (like when she affirms her gay son, Jamal), but she’s also strict enough to discipline her boys and hold them accountable. While their conniving father, Lucious, tries to pit them against one another, Cookie tries to teach them hard lessons and cultivate independence while nurturing their talents. 

best tv moms tami taylor
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22. Tami Taylor (Friday Night Lights)

  • Played by: Connie Britton

Eric Taylor's wife, Tami, juggles marriage and motherhood as a stay-at-home mom before working as a guidance counselor at Dillon High. While she always makes sure to prioritize her family, her passion for helping troubled kids makes her a mother figure to countless students. Tami acknowledges her shortcomings, but strives to find the right balance between giving her children enough attention and giving them the space they need to establish their independence. (I could never forget her classic line, "No matter what happens, no matter where you go, no matter what you do, I'm always gonna be behind you.")

best tv moms june cleaver
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21. June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver)

  • Played by: Barbara Billingsley

At first glance, she’s a stereotypical 1950s housewife, complete with coiffed hair, elegant dresses and pearls. But there’s more to this famous matriarch than meets the eye. From managing a spotless home and supporting her husband to teaching her her boys valuable lessons about gender stereotypes, June is the glue that holds the Cleavers together. And while her strong-willed husband, Ward, typically decides what’s best for the family, it doesn’t stop June from speaking her mind. Talk about a classy role model. 

best tv moms gloria
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20. Gloria Delgado Pritchett (Modern Family)

  • Played by: Sofía Vergara 

She's unapologetically loud and feisty—and yes, she can be a bit overprotective and she coddles her "baby," Manny. But considering that she used to be a single mom who worked multiple jobs to support Manny, who can blame her? It's always heartwarming to see how far she will go to protect her son. (Remember when she tracks down a cheerleader and convinces her to decorate Manny's locker, just so he wouldn't feel left out?) And let's not forget that she treats Claire's kids as if they're her own. Haley bonds with her over common interests, and Alex can always count on her for the support she needs.

best tv moms rainbow johnson
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19. Rainbow Johnson (Black-ish)

  • Played by: Tracee Ellis Ross

The quirky mom saves lives by day, goes the extra mile to be present for her kids, puts up with her stubborn husband’s issues and deals with his judgmental mother. Add to this the fact that Bow finds it challenging to connect with the kids and, worse yet, her preferred parenting methods rarely align with her husband’s. Yet, Bow’s kindness, patience and willingness to compromise continues to keep this family afloat. Even more impressive is her unconventional advice and ability to bounce back after a rough patch.

best tv moms linda belcher

18. Linda Belcher (Bob’s Burgers)

  • Voiced by: John Roberts

Quirky, optimistic and fun are just a few words that come to mind when I think of Linda, but when it comes to her kids, she's the ultimate mom. Despite their silly antics and unique interests, she chooses to celebrate their passions and creativity. And when it comes to school, she goes out of her way to ensure they're being nurtured and treated equally. (Like when she fights to get her children's stories in an exhibit after Mr. Fond refuses to include them.)

best tv moms kristina
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17. Kristina Braverman (Parenthood)

  • Played by: Monica Potter

After learning that her special needs son struggles at his school, she takes matters into her own hands and launches a new school that caters to children with learning disabilities. Not only that, but she supports Haddie when she comes out, responding with, “I love you no matter what.” Although Kristina can be a bit of a worrier and gets overprotective, she loves her kids unconditionally, and she provides them with a loving, nurturing environment, making her one of the best TV moms.

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16. Olivia Walton (The Waltons)

  • Played by: Michael Learned, Patricia Hodge

Olivia is a selfless, thoughtful and resourceful mother who prioritizes the well-being of her seven children during the Great Depression and World War II. Even as they struggle to make ends meet, she teaches her kids the power of generosity and shows them what it means to be resilient and hopeful. Had it not been for Olivia’s consistent support and loving parenting approach, I’m almost certain the Waltons wouldn’t have fared so well.

best tv moms jane burke
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15. Jane Burke (Grey's Anatomy)

  • Played by: Diahann Carroll

The legendary Diahann Carroll shines as Dr. Burke’s intimidating but loving mother, Jane (better known as "Mama"), in the first few seasons of Grey’s. Because she’s so protective of her son, she welcomes the tough conversations with his fiancée, Christina, and her discernment is spot-on when it comes to their relationship. Unfortunately, Mama’s time on the show is short-lived, due to Preston’s abrupt departure after the wedding, but her final encounter with Christina speaks volumes about her kindness and character.

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14. Moira Rose (Schitt’s Creek)

  • Played by: Catherine O'Hara

The endearing mom loves her bébés dearly, although she has a very unique way of showing it. She’s self-absorbed and, at first glance, it seems like she has little to no interest in her children’s lives, but her character develops into a genuinely caring matriarch who’s a bit more self-aware. Her children come to love and appreciate her eccentric personality, and there are quite a few touching moments where she encourages her kids. For instance, when Alexis goes back to high school to get her diploma, Moira says, "The world is going to open up wide to you."

best tv moms martha kent
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13. Martha Kent (Smallville)

  • Played by: Annette O'Toole

Raising a young alien who struggles to balance his budding powers with school and adolescence seems like an impossible task, but Martha Kent—the kind-hearted voice of reason—handles it all with grace and charm. She and her husband, Jonathan, tought Clark to be a genuinely respectful, compassionate human being, but most importantly, she helped him develop a strong sense of morals, essentially equipping him to become the world’s superhero. It’s also worth noting that Martha consistently supports Clark after her husband's death, and the fact that she risks her life to protect him (remember when she goes up against Checkmate?) proves that she’d stop at nothing to keep him safe. 

best tv moms rebecca
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12. Rebecca Pearson (This Is Us)

  • Played by: Mandy Moore

Seeing Rebecca raise three siblings with completely different personalities and struggles, then press on after the sudden death of her husband, is beyond inspiring. While dealing with her own grief, she tries to help her children heal and support them the best way she knows how. She steps up and takes Jack’s place as the breadwinner by getting a job, but her motherly instincts remain intact. With Kevin’s rebellious nature, Randall’s anxiety issues and Kate’s struggles with her weight, Rebecca has a lot to deal with, but it doesn’t stop her from communicating with her kids and helping them through these challenges.

best tv moms penelope
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11. Penelope Alvarez (One Day at a Time)

  • Played by: Justina Machado

She’s a nurse practitioner who can assemble a rifle in thirteen seconds, thanks to her service in the military—but her resume doesn’t end there. Penelope is also raising two teenagers as a single mother while dealing with anxiety disorder and PTSD. She juggles motherhood and her career while navigating the dating world, and this only adds another layer of chaos, but she doesn’t let her personal drama get in the way of her mom duties. With the help of her mother, Lydia, she provides a cozy and loving home for her children. One that’s filled with hectic party planning and and a few awkward conversations about self-pleasure

best tv moms marge simpson

10. Marge Simpson (The Simpsons)

  • Voiced by: Julie Kavner

The iconic Marge, with her signature blue hair, is a mom to three, but thanks to her dim-witted husband’s laziness and impulsive behavior, it feels like she’s a mom to four—and that takes a special kind of strength. Marge often takes family issues with good humor and juggles a lot of responsibilities as a housewife. She’s nurturing and caring towards the kids, even when they test her patience. However, she learns her limits in season three’s "Homer Alone," when she has a nervous breakdown and takes a break from the family. Marge knows that her oafish husband will probably never step up in the way that she needs, but because she loves her family so deeply, she continues to soldier on and hold them together.

best tv moms jessica
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9. Jessica Huang (Fresh Off the Boat)

  • Played by: Constance Wu

This Taiwanese mom wants what’s best for her three sons—and it certainly doesn’t involve letting them cruise through life or settle for the bare minimum. Compared to her laid-back and idealistic husband, Jessica is the pragmatic matriarch who resorts to tough love, expecting nothing but the best from her kids. She’s stern, incredibly resourceful and quite blunt—but it always comes from a loving place. Plus, she works hard to preserve her family’s traditional culture—which is always a challenge in new environments.

best tv moms elyse
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8. Elyse Keaton (Family Ties)

  • Played by: Meredith Baxter

Well, who can resist a well-rounded, emotionally intelligent mom who challenges gender norms? Elyse, who works as an architect during the ’80s, teaches her three kids the importance of working hard, pursuing their passions and standing up for what’s right. She cares deeply for them, but she doesn’t try to come across as the supermom who has everything figured out. She gets overwhelmed and she makes mistakes, but she still earns the respect of her kids because she lives by example—while also being humble enough to apologize to them or ask for advice on occassion.

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7. Louise Jefferson (The Jeffersons)

  • Played by: Isabel Sanford

The fact that Louise has to put up with George’s antics is challenging enough, but she still proves to be a wise and confident mother who puts her family first. While there aren’t too many shared scenes between the matriarch and her son, Lionel, it’s clear that she’s strong-willed and very protective of him—as we see in this classic scene where Louise competes with his wife and tends to a very sick Lionel. Her determination, wit and solid morals make her one of the most memorable TV moms of all time.

best tv moms harriette winslow
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6. Harriette Winslow (Family Matters)

  • Played by: Jo Marie Payton

I’ll admit, I have a soft spot for Harriette because her parenting style is quite similar to my mom’s. (For instance, the look she gives her children to get them in line still gives me flashbacks, and I’m all too familiar with strict curfews.) But aside from her familiar parenting techniques, it was especially encouraging to see that she kept her family stable and thrived in her career. (Also, who could forget about this incredible scene where Harriette finally stands up to her bully of a boss?) 

best tv moms carol brady
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5. Carol Brady (The Brady Bunch)

  • Played by: Florence Henderson

Carol adapts to a blended family of six kids—all of whom have different needs—while supporting her husband, maintaining the household and staying involved in her community. And she does it all with a charming smile. Of course, this isn't to say she was perfect, but she is honest, wise, gracious and extremely patient. She teaches her kids to be themselves and nurtures them, but that encouragement is always balanced with gentle discipline—like when she axes Marcia from her school play to teach her a lesson on humility.  

best tv moms kitty

4. Kitty Forman (That '70s Show)

  • Played by: Debra Jo Rupp

Honestly, her contagious laugh is easily one of the biggest highlights on That ’70s Show, and I love that she sees the good in people. She’s considerate, supportive and caring towards her children, and she treats the neighborhood kids like her own. But then she has these relatable moments that will make any parent feel seen. For instance, in season three’s "Kitty's Birthday (That's Today?!),” she says a line that I’m sure every parent has thought at some point: “You know, I love my family, but sometimes I just want to get in the car and run them all over.”

best tv moms aunt viv
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3. Vivian Banks (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)

  • Played by: Janet Hubert

FYI, I should clarify that I’m referring to the OG Aunt Viv from the first three seasons of the series, because this version was quite different from Aunt Viv 2.0 (played by Daphne Maxwell Reid). Will’s multifaceted aunt has her playful moments, but her stern, no-nonsense approach proves that she is not one to be messed with. From her impromptu trip to Compton to rescue Carlton to her powerful speech to Will about learning Black history, Aunt Viv solidified her place as one of the best TV moms.

best tv moms clair huxtable
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2. Clair Huxtable (The Cosby Show)

  • Played by: Phylicia Rashad

The iconic Clair Huxtable not only models feminism, but she also challenges people’s perceptions of Black mothers by shattering false stereotypes. The epitome of class and grace, Clair successfully balances her career and family, but the latter always comes first. She creates a loving home for her five kids, teaching them hard lessons about life, responsibility and respect. It’s no wonder so many fans like myself view her as a second mom.

best tv moms sophia petrillo
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1. Sophia Petrillo (The Golden Girls)

  • Played by: Estelle Getty

Though all the women on the show are mothers, Dorothy’s mom, Sophia, is the clear standout—and the best TV mom of all time. She doesn’t mince words when it comes to her daughter’s habits or Blanche’s countless trysts. And when she’s not delivering her wisecracks, she’s quick—maybe too quick— to share her over-the-top stories about Sicily. (“Picture it!”) Still, despite her flaws, Sophia proves to be a wise, compassionate and kind mother who genuinely loves her daughter and treats both Rose and Blanche like her own. For instance, Sophia gives sage advice when they need it most, and it’s always heartwarming to see her affectionately call her daughter “Pussycat” when they have their heart-to-hearts. Perhaps her most iconic moment, however, is when she’s asked to share her thoughts about potentially having a gay son in season two. She tells Dorothy, “I’ll tell you the truth, Dorothy. If one of my kids was gay, I wouldn’t love him one bit less. I would wish him all the happiness in the world.” 

nakeisha campbell bio

Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...