Is ‘Mad Men’s’ Betty Draper the worst TV mom ever?

“Mad Men” is back on the air this Sunday night, and we can’t wait to see Betty Draper resent and belittle poor Bobby and Sally with every interaction. (Just you wait Baby Eugene, your turn will come too.)

In the pantheon of TV mothers, Betty Draper may be the worst. She doesn’t seem to like her children at all and in fact seems determined to make them non-entities in their own home. (We haven’t even mentioned the CONSTANT drinking and smoking around her kids — and while pregnant. I also was shocked by scenes of her dieting while pregnant.)

Michael and I were trying to think of other bad TV moms. He suggested Roseanne and Peg from “Married with Children.” But I would argue that those mothers, while not the best at physically caring for their children, actually loved their kids. (Maybe Hyde’s mother on the “That ’70s show,” ironically also played by Peg Bundy. She actually walked out on her kid in the show.)

Betty Draper makes sure that Bobby and Sally are nicely dressed and are well coifed but leaves them without affection and avoids interaction whenever possible. I’m pretty sure Betty Draper only had kids because that’s what married women did in the 1960s.

As we await the season premiere, please indulge in a montage of Betty Draper’s best parenting from New York Magazine! (It seems like the video, even though embedded, sends you to their site to watch it. But no worries just click the back arrow and you can come right back and comment.)

God bless Bobby and Sally (and poor baby Eugene). They will all be in therapy for years.

Tell us what you think: Is Betty Draper the worst TV mom ever? Who was worse than her? What do you think of her character and parenting on the show? What did you think of her montage? Do you ever catch yourself saying things that Betty says?

42 comments Add your comment


July 24th, 2010
12:26 pm

To me, the worst mom on tv is Lois, on “Malcom in the Middle”.

Active Duty Mom

July 24th, 2010
12:28 pm

I think the character of Betty Draper is a reflection of that time period when birth control was unfortunately not very reliable and in many states, illegal. The birth control pill did not come out until 1960 and it was only available to married women and not in all 50 states. Remember also that contaception was not legal for married couples in all 50 states until the Supreme Court decision Griswold vs. Connecticut decision in 1965. One of my friends said that her mother told her and her brother that had there been better birth control methods (late 1950s-early 1960s) she would not have had children at all. How fortunate we are now that we can choose when and if to have children.


July 24th, 2010
12:40 pm

Betty is a product of her generation. She did what she was supposed to do, marry well and have children. She wasn’t provided the means to do anything else in life. She didn’t have the choices us women have today. Not to mention her style of parenting was very common back then. Sure she is cold and dismissive, but how is that any worse than the all too common “spoil and coddle” parenting style today. I think this article should be about Don and why he is the worst TV dad ever. There were multiple times when he wanted to ditch the family and run away. He rarely comes home and does little when it comes to parenting. I wonder why there is so much criticism of Betty when most of her problems are caused by Don.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

July 24th, 2010
12:42 pm

I actually like Lois from Malcolm — She was tough — those boys were terrible and they were everywhere and she was on them like white on rice — She had terrible financial constraints and a daydreamer husband but she was going to make the best of it and keep that family in line. Did she yell? heck yeah! but I don’t think with those kids that was bad.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

July 24th, 2010
12:52 pm

Don is not a good dad either — pretty uninvolved and hands off.

Michael says Don loves his kids and wants good things for his kids. but he does not make them his first priority.


July 24th, 2010
1:25 pm

This is a show about the 1960s and its culture. She is doing what many of women of the time were doing in that the effects of smoking were not being given to the public and everyone smoked even pregnant women. That should not be shocking neither should the dieting. The show is portraying the culture of the time so we really shouldn’t be shocked by it.


July 24th, 2010
2:02 pm

Better Draper is supposed to be a horrible mom. Mad Men is all about showing the reality behind the shell of appearance; the viewer gets to see Betty make herself and children look put together and at the same time see the callowness under the facade.


July 24th, 2010
2:04 pm

Don doesn’t make his children his first priority, because as the man in the household his first priority is providing for them through work. I can’t believe you don’t realize any of this…I was born in the 1980s and the character motivation related to the time period is fairly obvious.


July 24th, 2010
2:23 pm

You were shocked by the depiction of a woman smoking, drinking alcohol and dieting during pregnancy? Are you aware that this show is set in the 1960s when this was common practice? Were you shocked by the men on the show drinking during office hours, serial philandering, and overt prejudice? Good grief.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

July 24th, 2010
2:24 pm

I get it’s a period piece. And even though you know it happened it’s still shocking to see women doing that. I am equally offended by Don’s philandering.


July 24th, 2010
2:35 pm

It’s 2010! Everything is so shocking! We must hold history to our current value system! – Listen, Don would love 2010 because with ashleymadison, (craigslist, roofies…) philandering is so much easier. He might wonder why no one drinks during the day time or during work. Heck, I wonder that all the time!


July 24th, 2010
2:39 pm

The timing of your blog is funny… I had never seen this show until a friend told me it was on the other night, and my husband and I started to watch it. It was the episode when Betty gives the little girl a Barbie doll. I honestly assumed that she was the little girl’s stepmother because of how coldly she treated her. Wow..I didn’t watch more than one episode; between back-stabbing colleauges and adulterous affairs, it’s not my kind of show.


July 24th, 2010
2:51 pm

Nancy Botwin on Weeds is TV’s worst mom.

74 Dawg

July 24th, 2010
2:58 pm

Well, I grew up during that time, and while parenting definitely was different, our mother was very loving toward us(and we were worse than the Malcolm in the middle kids) . I think Betty Draper’s coldness toward her kids is a personality flaw, not a cultural issue. The main thing I took away from watching a few of the episodes is that she and her husband are self absorbed to the extreme. It’s narcissism . The part about the drinking and smoking is somewhat correct. But I believe many doctors were warning about drinking while pregnant in the early sixties.


July 24th, 2010
3:09 pm

You really think Betty Draper is that bad of a mom? I mean, I don’t think she’s particularly great, but I don’t think she is horrible. I think Don Draper is actually a good father. Emotionally he connects with his kids better than Betty does. He’s just a lousy husband. But you know what I know a lot of guys even in this day and age who are like that: great with their kids yet can’t stand their wives for whatever reason.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

July 24th, 2010
3:36 pm

Good call Nicole — now she is shocking!!! I haven’t even watched that show in a year and she was completely out of control two seasons ago — now I think she’s on the run and had another baby????? yes she is a bad mom.

Jose Benzaca

July 24th, 2010
3:38 pm

I thought this would be a joking light piece, but you people are serious. It is a friggin TV show.

Cody Nolan

July 24th, 2010
4:20 pm

I think Betty resents her kids because she resents her WHOLE LIFE. She gave up a glamorous modeling career in Manhattan to marry Don, a man who at that time swept her off her feet, but later turned out to be a jerk of a husband. And then real life hit, and she found herself stuck in that house with two kids in that little suburb all the while knowing her husband was living it up in New York. The man is never home! Her resentment of her children is just one component of her unhappiness with how her life has turned out. I think she is finally taking control now and changing things for herself with the start of Season 4. True, Bobby and Sally may already be out of luck from ever getting the mother they wanted and deserved, but Baby Eugene will get all of the affection the other two were deprived.

Good God!

July 24th, 2010
4:33 pm

It’s TV!!!!!!!!! dont you mombies have kids to pretend to raise?

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

July 24th, 2010
4:40 pm

Cody — will she be happy with the new man????? I am not into him at all


July 24th, 2010
5:02 pm

Mad Men is a fantastic show. If you will take the time to notice, the world was full of Bozos then and low and behold the cup is still running over.


July 24th, 2010
5:37 pm

Mad Men owes a lot in ways of pacing and look to “The Sopranos”, the show that featured the absolute nightmare of all mothers: Livia Soprano. For God’s sake, she put a hit out on her own kid! She takes the cake.

Cody Nolan

July 24th, 2010
6:14 pm

Theresa – In my opinion, her new man is temporary. He is a rebound, a way out of her situation with Don. But only time will tell. It might also turn out that she likes her materialistic lifestyle too much to leave it for good. She might return to Don for his financial resources and just use him for what she can get out of him at the expense of finding any true emotional happiness.


July 24th, 2010
6:35 pm

Betty Draper reminds me of the character Elizabeth Leefolt in Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” (which, interestingly enough, is set in the 1960s, as well). Both women are more concerned with maintaining physical appearances (and of course the outward impression of a ‘happy family’), rather than their roles as nurturing, loving mothers.

bob jackson

July 24th, 2010
6:37 pm

Mad Men captures the era of the early 60’s perfectly. Growing up in that era, it was common to see women smoking and drinking while pregnant. Dieting too was commonplace as saccharin and other of these type additives were in drinks and food. Consumed by everyone, including pregnant women. Diet pills were also coming of age.

Do not get hung up applying 21st century axioms and political correctness on 1960’s life style. As information and knowledge became more reliable and accessible, life styles changed. What is considered as “bad mothering” in 2010, was acceptable in 1960.

Betty Draper, while having her faults, was a personification of the times. Just look at how all the women, men, & parents act on Mad Men. pregnant or not.

It is a great show and I have never missed an episode. I grew up in a very loving home with great parents and family and have nothing but great memories of my childhood.

I Beg to Differ

July 24th, 2010
6:47 pm

Clair Huxtable is by far the worst TV mom ever.

Common Sense

July 24th, 2010
7:09 pm

January is my favorite month!!!!!!!!!


July 24th, 2010
7:38 pm

I love the show and she is a terrible mom. The show is a great precursor to the many societal changes to come. Her poor children will grow up to be drug addicted teenagers- Check your contemporary history for more!


July 24th, 2010
8:49 pm

Why would you be shocked to see a depiction of pregnant women in the early 60s drinking, smoking and dieting? That’s what they did -even what some of their doctors TOLD them to do! I don’t watch the show, but she’s probably like millions of women all through history until very recently -they had to get married and have children even though it was NOT what they actually wanted to do. In her case it sounds like she wanted to get married, but then it wasn’t great and now she has 3 kids she never wanted to deal with. No wonder she drinks and chain smokes.

[...] Montage of Betty Draper’s Parenting Skills. I found it on Momania and check out the comments Theresa Walsh Giarusso got just by showing this and asking if Betty [...]

[...] for a quickie divorce. …Critic’s Notebook: The devil in Don Draper Los Angeles TimesIs ‘Mad Men’s’ Betty Draper the worst TV mom ever? Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)all 24 news [...]


July 25th, 2010
2:27 pm

I seem to have a lot less free time than many of you! I have never watched any of these shows!


July 25th, 2010
5:54 pm


Yet enough free time to make a pointless comment on a show you’ve never seen? lmao


July 26th, 2010
10:19 am

Agreed with the earlier posting that Nancy Botwin is the worst TV mom EVER. Don’t want to include spoilers for anyone that plans to watch but trust me she takes the cake…

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

July 26th, 2010
10:50 am

well what did you guys think of Betty last night with Henry — it’s like she wants to be married but just not have kids. I can’t believe the guy would live in Don’s house with Betty — even if Betty thought that was OK — why wouldn’t the guy be completely creeped out by that — and good job Don for standing up for himself (I know he’s a rat but if your wife wants a divorce she doesn’t get to live in the house you are paying for with her new husband. The new husband is the problem there!I think Don would let Betty and the kids stay on but just not with the new husband.


July 26th, 2010
11:07 am

I agree with many who commented the show is about the late 50’s early 60’s and very accurately portrays attitudes of the time. The things learned in the last 40 years about parenting, smoking, drinking, and dieting were unheard of then. Women are even today expected to be the main caregiver for the children and at least today they get out of the house and have their own lives. Those women were stuck all day with the kids, household duties, and soap operas. They had no lives and from that generation came your valium users. Of course Don is an awful husband and father but men ruled in that day. They still rule but are trying to be more politically correct now. That’s why I love that show because it makes us graphically look at ourselves. Why all those guys do is drink all day every day, at work. The women are treated horribly and not allowed to progress at the same rate as men. I love taking that look back to see we’ve come a long way but we’re not there yet.


July 26th, 2010
11:10 am

I’ve never watched “Mad Men” – and I have to admit, talking about the foibles of imaginary mothers, written by mostly male writers, strikes me as somewhat bizarre :-)

It was the 60’s. Pregnant women drank, smoked and dieted. Twiggy was the ideal, and one of the most popular ads in existence was the “Marlboro Man”. *shrug*. Times change. Does that make the fictional “Betty” any worse than anyone else living during that time? Hardly. June Cleaver she’s not, for sure — but really, was anyone?


July 26th, 2010
11:23 am

Hey T, a spoiler alert would have been nice…

TLC Hater

July 26th, 2010
11:30 am

Michelle Duggar is the worst TV mom ever.


July 26th, 2010
12:13 pm

My ex’s family is worse. They all do that happy facade thing. None of the adults buy it, and end up fighting indoors. The kids (that aren’t teens) do buy it. Most of them (teens and up) have drug and alcohol issues. Number of out of wedlock pregnancies, early births (count from the marriage date), and teen pregnanies is also high.

So glad my children only see them a few times a year.


July 27th, 2010
3:29 pm

I wanted to explain that the Surgeon General did not release the warning about smoking causing harm to unborn children until after August 1963. I can’t remember the exact month, but it was released in late 1963, in either September, October, or November. The reason I remember this is, because Jackie Kennedy was an avid chain smoker, who smoked through all four pregnancies. When Patrick died of a respiratory disease and the Surgeon General’s findings released, she felt guilty that her choices while pregnant had possibly led to his death.

You can’t watch this show with the hindsight of science and research has provided for you in the nearly fifty years since these fictional accounts occurred. You have to be prescient to the fact that we know a lot more now, as a result of the women’s liberation movement about what is better for our bodies and our children, why it’s crucial that we continue to carry on and fight.

What you can do, is watch this show to gain insight as to how your parents and grandparents act and realize how the times really did make it exceptionally harder for a woman.

Maybe Betty Draper isn’t the best role model of a mother, but she didn’t have much of a choice: she was brought up to believe that the best thing she could do in this life was go to college, meet a nice man, marry, and procreate. So many mothers from the past are like this: unfulfilled because that wasn’t interesting to them. When you force people into a part that their heart isn’t completely in, you remove their heart and soul from their life. Maybe Betty Draper isn’t television’s best “mom”, but isn’t that the point of her character? To emphasize what little choice women had and that the lucky ones are the Peggy Olsen’s of the world, rather than the Betty Draper’s who seemingly have it all and yet, not anything they truly want?


August 18th, 2010
11:48 pm

Hey Retro Heads!

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I need your votes to win, so please visit and vote for me!

Thanks a bunch,