Growing up as an only child of two working parents, TV sitcoms were my babysitters of choice. One of my favorite shows was The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and being a cheeky kid from Chicago, I completely related to Will’s inner city backstory and his parents-just-don’t-understand attitude. But watching the series as an adult is totally different. Now that I’m a mom, I relate more to Vivian Banks’ fierce maternal instincts and feminist mindset.
Which Vivian Banks you ask? Well, while I have no problem with Daphne Reid’s portrayal of Vivian, it's Janet Hubert’s version of the character that sticks with me most. I never realized it as a kid, but Vivian and Will share a similar backstory. On the show, Vivian reveals that she was raised in the city, dropped out of high school, worked odd jobs, went to night school to get her high school diploma, and then went to college to get her PhD. She is an educated, fierce woman of color who doesn't take crap from anyone — not her peers, her husband, or her children.
There’s one episode in particular that really hits home with me, considering I just turned 40. In Season 2, Episode 7, titled “The Big Four-Oh,” Vivian celebrates her 40th birthday, and decides she wants to pursue her lifelong dream of being a dancer. “No one is going to stop me from being a dancer,” she determinedly says in the episode. “I’m going to take every class I can. I’m going to show the world that Vivian Banks can dance.”
For laughs, the show paints her adamant drive as a mid-life crisis, but I admire (and envy) her for being a 40-year-old working mom who insists on pursuing her dreams and does whatever it takes to succeed. By the end of the episode, she works hard and nails the dance routine, resulting in one of the most talked about scenes from the entire series.
What I can also relate to is Vivian’s fiercely protective mom vibe — one she exhibits consistently through the series.She’s ready to throw down when the cops falsely arrest Will and Carlton for stealing a car and she’s got choice words for the snooty parents of a bully who has been torturing Ashley.
For laughs, the show paints her adamant drive as a mid-life crisis, but I admire (and envy) her for being a 40-year-old working mom who insists on pursuing her dreams and does whatever it takes to succeed.
That fiery maternal instinct is something I see come out more and more in myself as my children get older, and I’m honestly surprised at how strong I become when I need to protect my kids.
When my 9-year-old daughter told me a boy on the bus was bothering her, I felt like a volcano of anger erupted inside me. Not only did I make sure to have a stern talk with the child’s parents, the school, and the bus driver, I had a serious talk with my daughter about how to stand up to bullies and always fight for what’s right. That talk reminded me of Vivian, who was always brutally honest with her kids, but spoke to them from a place of love.
I know TV characters aren’t real, and they aren't ideal role models, but you can’t dismiss the influence they have on people. Art influences culture, and I think that watching strong, unapologetic TV moms like Vivian Banks just may have had a tiny influence on what kind of mom I’ve become.
They made endless sandwiches and kept us occupied after school, but, like our own mothers, we simply did not see them until we became moms ourselves. Now that we’re dishing up Concerned Faces to our own kids, we're looking back at their patented life advice and appreciating how they have changed after seven decades on the small screen: these are The TV Moms Who Raised Us.