By now you may have heard that the actress Florence Henderson died last week on Thanksgiving Day. She was best known as Carol Brady, the “lovely lady … who met this fellow” on the iconic 1970s sitcom “The Brady Bunch.”
The show wasn’t a ratings hit during its initial run, but “The Brady Bunch” found its niche when it first aired in syndication in 1975. It’s been on the air ever since.
Some of that success is undoubtedly due to Henderson’s take on the family matriarch, which made Mrs. Brady one of the most famous TV moms in history.
“I portrayed Carol Brady as the mom I always wished I had,” Henderson once commented, reflecting back on her own troubled upbringing. “I wanted to portray Carol as a loving, fun, affectionate mother and it seemed to resonate with a lot of people who maybe had the same situation I did growing up.”
Henderson was talking about people like me.
I didn’t have an easy childhood. As I’ve written before, my dad struggled with alcoholism and left the family when I was 5. I lost my mom to cancer when I was only 9. The time I spent in foster care was bleak.
During those tough years, I yearned for a stable, idyllic family life … something like what I saw on TV. And while I now know that the shows I watched as a boy romanticized family life, there’s still something to be said about showing life as it could be … and maybe, to some point, as it should be.
After all, who doesn’t want to grow up in a home where mom and dad love each other? Where the kids know they can trust and depend on their parents to provide a sense of safety and draw good boundaries?
To that end, I want to take a walk down memory lane and remember those good TV moms from yesteryear and see what they – and real-life moms – have in common.
1. They know when there’s trouble behind the (false) smile – and deal with it head-on.
Being a middle child isn’t always easy – just ask Jan Brady, who endlessly compared herself to her high-achieving older sister, Marcia. So when Jan tried to shake off a fight like it was nothing, Mom Brady knew better than to fall for the act … and that led to what is perhaps the most famous line on “The Brady Bunch”:
2. They advocate for a little bit of grace.
On one episode of “Leave it to Beaver,” Beaver lies to impress his teacher and friends, saying he has a pet parrot. When his father, Ward, finds out, he’s ready to let Beaver “face up to his mistakes.” And he isn’t wrong for that. But one has to smile when his mother, June, can’t help but suggest that “every once in a while a child is entitled to have his parents back up his mistakes.” It’s just like a mom to urge for a little bit of understanding on behalf of her child.
3. But they aren’t scared to show “tough love” when the situation calls for it.
Claire Huxtable was a smart woman who loved her children and was also their advocate – but who similarly understood a mom has to be willing to teach her children hard lessons. So when daughter Denise wants to spend her savings on the first car she sees, Claire helps her realize she hasn’t always been wise with money – while nipping Denise’s disrespectful attitude in the bud with a no-nonsense promise.
4. They partner with their husbands for the good of the family.
The Ingalls family faced many hardships on “Little House on the Prairie” – and throughout it all, Caroline “Ma” Ingalls showed courage, grace, and strength as she worked side-by-side with Pa. Watch the first scene in this reel of highlights to see what I mean:
I don’t think I’m the only one who appreciates the nostalgia of the old-time family shows – I’m sure plenty of you do, too. So tell me … who were your favorite TV moms? What were your favorite scenes with them? Let me know in the comments section, below.