Bad Mothers in TV and Film That Will Make You Appreciate Your Own

These mothers from TV and film are so bad, they'll make you run to your mommy and ask for forgiveness for being so ungrateful.
These mothers from TV and film are so bad, they'll make you run to your mommy and ask for forgiveness for being so ungrateful. Saul Herrera/Getty
Parenting is for the crazy. You'd simply have to be crazy to undertake such a role that requires you to be responsible for a tiny life, on a 24-hour cycle. You have to give up sleep for the first half of a kid's childhood. Then when the little bundle of joy matures into an adult, a surge of raging hormones turns it into a loud, surly, sullen shell of a human that rolls its eyes more than the wheels of a slot machine.

And somehow through all those trials and obstacles, the truly great parents still find reasons every day to love and nurture their children. Doesn't that sound crazy to you?

These mothers don't necessarily fit the aforementioned category thanks to their various neuroses and personalities, which definitely started before they became legal guardians. At least they'll help you appreciate your own mother this Mother's Day.

1. Mrs. Bates from Psycho and Bates Motel
Alfred Hitchcock's cinematic interpretation of Robert Bloch's horror novel is loosely based on the true story of infamous serial killer Ed Gein, who had issues with his mother, to put it mildly. We're not celebrating that mother. We're not running a true crime podcast or a death metal band.

Norman Bates' best friend implanted herself in her son's psyche, leading him to commit a long line of grisly actions across four movies and a gripping A&E series that puts the infamous killer in a similar but separate dimension. Both are frightening in their own special way. Hitchcock's interpretation doesn't show Norman's mother in her true form until the very end in one of the greatest twist endings cinematic history. Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin and Anthony Cipriano's TV version of Norma is quite visible and seemingly normal until certain decisions set Norman down a path of mental self-destruction. Both are so good at being bad that we're not sure which one is worse.

2. Junita Titus from Titus
Just like Psycho, this underappreciated '90s sitcom co-created by comedian Christopher Titus is based on a real-life person with a history of mental illness. Thankfully, Titus re-released the entire three-season run and filmed a moving, two-part conclusion last year that they didn't get because of its sudden cancellation.

According to Titus, his mom, Juanita, is crazy but not in the whimsical sense. He means the kind of crazy that led to police and legal proceedings and court-ordered psychiatric committals. And yes, we're still talking about a sitcom. Juanita Titus was portrayed by three different actresses during the show's run, but all of them show the highs and lows of Titus' mom's behavior and the love she has for him even if she has difficulty showing it in less destructive ways. Titus has a brutal sense of honesty that made it funny and ahead of its time. The show doesn't shy away from the dark parts of its lead character's life; it embraces them, showing that dysfunctional is actually normal when it comes to all families. 

3. Livia Soprano from The Sopranos
Most bad moms in movies and TV mean well, but Livia Soprano was just mean.

The Sopranos may be remembered for its daring ending, but the first two seasons were gripping because of Livia Soprano's story. The mother of the lovable mob boss Tony was rude, cutting, snarky, selfish, ungrateful, dour and pessimistic about her life and everyone in it. She would never pass up a chance to put down her children emotionally and physically. We learned in the very first season that she conspired with Uncle Junior to have her own son killed. She used Tony's natural devotion to his family against him at every turn, especially in the absence of his father. And why? Who knows? It's just the way she was. Sometimes it felt like all she knew how to do was destroy the people closest to her simply because they accepted her when she never would.

4. Margaret White from Carrie
It's easy to blame religion for the decisions that Carrie's mom made when presented with the kind of haunting, tragic beauty that Piper Laurie could deliver. Something much deeper and more sinister is at play in Margaret White's psyche, however.

A human manifestation of evil runs through Margaret's story as she figuratively and literally beats her daughter with the Holy Bible for inconceivable and unforgiveable reasons. She hides her actions behind her fundamentalist faith, actually driven by a deep seeded hatred of her daughter. The final scene of the original Carrie is one of the most jarring scenes between a mother and her child ever committed to celluloid. Margaret attempts to murder her own child after the infamous prom massacre with a massive smile plastered across her face — making an even more horrific image than the revenge Carrie enacts on her bullying, giggling classmates. Carrie's actions came from years of cruel oppression, but Carrie's mom's murder is just evil in its purest form.

5. Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development
The matriarch of the Bluth family may want the best for her children, but her definition of the best can change in a second.

The young Lucille, played by Kristen Wiig, and the Lucille we know best, played by the late Jessica Walter, knows how to use her powers of manipulation to meet her own needs. She locks Buster to her side because she's afraid of being alone. She battles her own neuroses and fears by criticizing her children. Also, she tried to steal the Queen Mary so she wouldn't have to go to jail for the crimes she committed.

6. Beverly Sutphin from Serial Mom
Serial Mom is the closest humanity will get to director John Waters having his own sitcom. It pits the idyllic façade of the American dream against the honest human violence hiding inside all of us.

The Sutphins seem to live a typical suburban life, but the mother harbors a level of devotion to her children that drives her to kill people who slight the members of her family — even for the most miniscule of reasons. Beverly Sutphin, played by Kathleen Turner, has a destructive side that spills out under the heavy weight of maintaining an unhealthy level of happiness for her family life. The juxtaposition makes it one of Waters' funniest and best films even as he presents a character with one of the worst methods of mothering.

7. Estelle Constanza from Seinfeld
Imagine being raised by a mother who's so critical, loud and domineering that she implants herself into your head for the rest of your natural life, stockpiling guilt material like it's some kind of tradeable commodity.

The introduction of George's parents on Seinfeld was one of the greatest expositions to a character we've been blessed to see on television. A cynical, selfish human like George could only be created by a pair of emotionally abusive parents such as Frank and Estelle. She yells every other sentence at her child even if she's trying to get his father to lay off him. She nags her son to the brink of insanity. Every time George commits some kind of self-destructive, selfish act in the name of personal gain, he's really trying to shut up the grating, high pitched voice in his head that tells him every little thing that's wrong with him.

8. Olivia Foxworth from Flowers in the Attic
Imagine if Nurse Ratched from One Flew of the Cuckoo's Nest became a grandmother. Flowers in the Attic feels like an unconnected sequel to the film that gave Louise Fletcher her Oscar statue even if un-Oscarworthy.

The grandmother, Olivia Foxworth, is the textbook definition of an abusive parent even though she's an extra generation away from the children whose lives she's destroying. She enforces strict rules on her grandchildren and mentally and physically abuses them like they are nothing but old toys locked away in her doll house. Just like Carrie's mom, Olivia hides behind the veil of religion as an excuse to be an abusive tyrant toward children who desperately need help. She treats the four Tennant children like a curse because of the way they were brought into the world through no fault of their own. She unleashes horror on the least deserving targets. The only thing more horrible than her is anyone who would let their children be subjected to her wrath. 

9. Pamela Voorhees from Friday The 13th
The mother of film's most prolific slasher serial wrestles with tragedy in unfathomable ways, and it manifests in a revenge story that flirts with the boundaries of horror and violence.

Actress Betsy Palmer delivers an unforgettable performance as the mother of Jason Voorhees, whose unconscious quest for revenge can never be sated. She pretends she's preventing the reopening of Camp Crystal Lake out of concerns for other children's safety, but is really just using it as an excuse to exact what she considers to be justice for the tragic death of her son who drowns while two camp counselors are messing around instead of watching the water. She's the product of a mother who refuses to accept reality in the face of love and lets it manifest into a murderous, violent rage that still can't be satisfied even after 11 movies and a reboot. 
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.