Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), Grey’s Anatomy
Lesson: Spend joy like you spend money.
Fifteen seasons in, Grey’s Anatomy is still delivering laughs, addictive romantic drama, and motivational material in spades. In “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” wildly successful urologist Catherine Fox is going out of her way to skip a major party her son is throwing for her at his penthouse. Fox doesn’t feel like celebrating her progress as a cancer survivor because she is too busy worrying about if it’ll come back. Fellow mother and physician Miranda Bailey (who had her own life-threatening health scare due to a heart attack in a prior season) sees what Fox is doing and gives her this rousing speech:
You’re all easy come, easy go when it comes to money, but you’re afraid to spend joy. What, you think you’re gonna run out of it? That dread between scans is scary. But it’s life. And it’s not perfect, but it’s the one you get now. You have a piece of tumor on your spine, and it could get bigger or it could not. And you know what? An earthquake could take us all out tomorrow. Or a meteor. Or robots. We don’t get to know that. But just right now, we’re alive. We are still here and people love us, so that’s cause to celebrate.
This mother-to-mother pep talk elicited some genuinely great advice that we should all take to heart and not just because we know that unchecked climate change is killing our planet and we might not have much time left to enjoy it.
Annie Marks (Mae Whitman), Good Girls
Lesson: Tolerance is good, but acceptance is better.
In the recently-aired episode “Thelma and Louise,” a pivotal scene occurs between Annie and her child Sadie, played by 14-year-old transgender actor Isaiah Stannard. On the show, Sadie is first introduced as Annie’s daughter who has a tomboyish dress sense. Throughout the first season, Sadie’s father doesn’t quite understand his child’s gender nonconformity, but he begrudgingly tolerates it while Annie goes out of her way to help Sadie feel comfortable–there’s a particularly sweet scene where she shops way above her means to buy her kid’s dream bespoke suit. “We liked the idea that the character of Sadie was exploring her gender [expression] in the show,” show creator Jenna Bans explained in an interview with Variety last year, “but I think what we responded to more was that the Mae Whitman character just couldn’t care less.” In “Thelma and Louise” Annie comes to Sadie’s room to announce the gender of her ex’s newborn baby. “Yay, it’s a boy,” she shares, to which Sadie responds, “Mom? So am I.” Without missing a beat, Annie responds to her son’s coming out with the unconditional love that so many children in the LGBTQ community deserve to receive but rarely do (the full scene is definitely worth a watch).
Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon), Better Things
Lesson: There are many paths to happiness.
In “Future Fever” Sam’s friends have gathered for a casual living room hangout when her usually confident and nonchalant eldest daughter, Max, suddenly shifts the party mood by confessing she feels confused and scared about how uncertain her future is. “I am just now starting to realize that I am going to be like eighteen in two years,” she says. “And it’s like, I already blew it. That’s how it feels.” While everyone around the room takes turns telling her that that feeling is still with them as adults, her mother starts to cry.
Later, Sam takes her on a mother-daughter trip to the mall and asks her to try on a suit. Max feels self-conscious about wearing a suit as a teenage girl, but her mom steadies her in front of a mirror and gets her to stare at her reflection. “You know those people that you see every day that look like they have their shit together and they made all the right choices and how impossible it seems just to get to that place?” Sam says. “Well, look. You look like one of those people. And all they did was put on the clothes […] And honey,” she continues, “you can be anything you want to be, seriously. But also, if you just get a job and get by, you’re still gonna love your life. Because life is good. Even at its worst.” Sam doesn’t always hear everything her kids are saying to her because her life as a working actress and single mother of three has her spinning several plates at a time and that means that sometimes she misses things. This moment was special because she listened to her daughter’s vulnerable confession and found a way to show her not only that she heard her, but also that she wasn’t alone. It’s easy (and frankly trite) to tell your kids that they can be anything they want to be. So Sam goes one step further and gets real with her daughter–one of the things this FX comedy does best–telling her that whatever she ends up doing career-wise doesn’t have to decide her level of happiness in life; she will find joy in life because there is joy to be found.
These TV moms might be fake, but they are full of very real wisdom.