Where would we be without these mamas?
Mark Twain once said, “My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.” He was probably right, mothers have the unique ability to love their children despite any— and all—of the trouble they throw their way. No one ever said motherhood was easy, but luckily we all have role models who can offer sage advice, words of wisdom, and tips for laughing it all off.
Much of that good advice comes from family, friends, pediatricians, and those helpful strangers in the freezer aisle at the grocery story, but sometimes great tips for surviving motherhood can come while you are sitting on the couch watching a favorite TV show or movie. There have been some pretty incredible mothers in the stories we love, and many of them are from the South.
Here are 12 of the best Southern moms to have ever graced the screen:
Tami Taylor, Friday Night Lights
Not only did Tami (Connie Britton) take care of her daughters, Julie and Gracie Bell, but she also took on caring for the entire Dillon Panthers football team. As a school counselor and principal she made sure her daughters always had a strong role model. She was always gracious, did her best to listen without judgment, and tried to make sure everyone in her life did the right thing, even if it was hard. Tami also knew how to kick back and enjoy a glass of wine, which all mothers know, is sometimes absolutely necessary.
Lilly Harper, I’ll Fly Away
Forrest Bedford relies on Lilly Harper (Regina Taylor) to help raise his three children and run his household while his wife is in a sanitarium, and he works as the town’s district attorney. She not only feeds and cares for his kids, but helps teach them the difference between right and wrong inside their home and school and in society at large. Unlike many film housekeepers, though, Harper has a life outside the Bedford family and she goes home every evening to her young daughter, Adlaine, to love her and teach her about their changing world.
M’Lynn Eatonton, Steel Magnolias
No one summed up motherhood better than M’Lynn Eatonton (Sally Field) than when she was clad in black, standing at her daughter’s funeral after giving her a kidney and spending days by her side in the hospital as the men in their lives drifted in and out. “Men are supposed to be made out of steel or something,” she said. “I just sat there. I just held Shelby's hand. There was no noise, no tremble, just peace. Oh god. I realize as a woman how lucky I am. I was there when that wonderful creature drifted into my life and I was there when she drifted out. It was the most precious moment of my life.” (Grabbing a tissue, now.)
Sophia Petrilla, The Golden Girls
Sophia (Estelle Getty) wasn’t always nice to her daughter Dorothy (Remember when she said, “Jealousy is a very ugly thing, Dorothy, and so are you in anything backless”?) but she was always there for her. Sophia even skipped out on a relaxing stay at Shady Pines in order to play matriarch to the Golden Girls. She cooked and she dished it out, and there’s no doubt that she raised a strong-minded daughter who could hold her own in any situation. Sophia even bailed her daughter and friends out of jail that time they got arrested for prostitution with only a little judgment.
Rayna James, Nashville
After fighting for her space in the spotlight, country singer Rayna James (Connie Britton) wanted a different life for her daughters, far from the stage and the recording studio. However, when they decided that they wanted to share their music with the world, she got on board with the plan (eventually) to let her incredibly talented kids shine. Outside of the music world, Rayna always made sure her girls knew she had their back, despite the curve balls life threw at them— and there were a lot of curve balls.
Charlene Frazier, Designing Women
Charlene (Jean Smart) was a nice Baptist woman from small town Missouri and probably had no idea what she would be in for when she agreed to be the office manager at Julia Sugarbaker’s design firm. Her charming naiveté, innocence, and boundless curiosity may have made Julia’s eyes roll back in her head in exasperation, but Charlene never let her heart harden. When Airforce Colonel Bill Stillfield walked in the door she was ready to be whisked away. Soon they had their fairytale romance and a daughter, Olivia, whom Charlene raised with the same dreamy innocence.
Jane Villanueva, Jane the Virgin
When Jane (played by Gina Rodriguez) found out she was pregnant after an accidental insemination, which is a thing that could only happen on a telenovela, she had her doubts about whether she was ready to be a mother. Despite the extremely unplanned pregnancy, she quickly embraced the role of mother. Of course, she has great role model right in her own home thanks to her grandmother (and, fine, her mother, too). As the seasons have rolled on, her little Mateo has turned out to be a handful, she always has a new plan, a new list, and a new go-to strategy to keep her cool and her son on track to live up to his nickname of Mr. Sweet Face.
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Leigh Ann Tuohy, The Blind Side
Sandra Bullock may have played Leigh Ann Tuohy in the film, but the real life Tuohy is pretty impressive, too. She and her family adopted Michael Oher, a teenager stuck in the endless cycle of moving in and out of the foster care system. After bringing Oher into their home, they helped him maximize his potential on and off the football field with Tuohy fighting for her son every step of the way. After college, Oher was a first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2009 and went to the Super Bowl with the team. Bullock picked up an Oscar for her performance in the film of The Blind Side, but the real Tuohy won in real life with a son she can be very proud of.
Aibileen Clark, The Help
Not only did Aibileen (Viola Davis) take care of her own son, before he passed, but she cared for 17 other children, too. When her current employer was unkind to her daughter, little Mae Mobley, Aibileen stepped in to make sure that the little girl knew she was strong, kind, and capable. Aibileen may not have been Mae Mobley’s natural born mother, but she provided the little girl with love and an invaluable foundation for her future—and important lessons on the true meaning of family for all viewers.
Mrs. Gump, Forrest Gump
Remember “Run Forrest run!”? That was Mrs. Gump (Sally Field) knowing how to play to her son’s strengths. As Forrest said, “Momma always had a way of explaining things so I could understand them.” She had an adage for every occasion whether reminding her son that “miracles happen every day” or that you never know what you’re going to get in life, because “life is like a box of chocolates.” She was willing to go to great lengths to make sure that her son got a good education, and never once backed down in her belief that her son could do anything. And he could, couldn’t he?
Ruth Jamison, Fried Green Tomatoes
In this tearjerker, Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker) had a rough road in life when the love of her life passed away and she married a man who turned out to be abusive. When she found out she was pregnant, she left the jerk, and didn’t look back. She raised Buddy Jr. (named after her first love, naturally) and taught him to be kind and understanding, and to take life’s mishaps in stride, even if that means having a funeral for the arm he lost in a train accident. When she became ill, she made sure her son would be well taken care of and that he would be prepared for all challenges.
Ellen O'Hara, Gone With the Wind
While her daughter Scarlett is clearly the belle of the ball and the star of the film, she had the support of a strong woman behind her—her mother, Ellen O’Hara (Barbara O'Neil). Ellen saw her share of grief, including losing three sons in their infancy. Her three daughters adored her and she loved them, worrying about them as they grew into their own relationships. As the matriarch of the family, Ellen also managed their home, Tara, and carefully kept the ledgers before and during the war.