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Betty Draper's Best Mothering Moments

With the amazing run of "Mad Men" on AMC wrapping up, I will miss Don Draper's philandering yet charismatic magnetism, Joan's stoic resolve set against her sex appeal and Roger's lovability despite his proclivity towards orgies and LSD.

But damn if I won't miss the mothering hits and misses of Betty Draper Francis most.

She is a mother we all love to hate. Supremely flawed, but somehow vulnerable, too. And damaged possibly beyond repair.

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Who can forget little Sally walking into the kitchen with the dry cleaning bag over her head, breathing deeply in and out, the plastic pressed against her open mouth, and Betty, gossiping with a friend over cigarettes and coffee, giving her the death stare that scares even me, warning her that if her clean clothing is on the closet floor there will be hell to pay.

Or the constant commands for her children to "go upstairs," "go watch TV" or "go play outside." It doesn't really matter where, Betty just wanted those poor kiddos to go. As a mother in 2015, these commands are like watching motherhood play out on some faraway planet—you recognize it, but it seems so foreign.

I was a psych major in college, so pardon my somewhat amateur attempt to better understand Frau Draper, but, at her core, I see her as someone who wants to love and be loved but has no idea how to make that happen. We know enough about her own childhood to see where her flaws originated, and each season has given us a front row seat to see how those flaws are being played out on her children.

She feels insecure in their love, she values the superficial over the authentic, she can't get past her own unmet needs to see the unmet needs in her children. Poor Betty, poor kids.

But despite all her flaws, she is still standing, making a life for her and her children. She left Don, the withholding and cruel philandering husband, which took guts in mid-century America. Sure, she married the über-traditional and fairly controlling Henry Francis, but he at least provides the stability and family life that Don never did. Pfft, it's a trade-off. But who among us hasn't made a trade-off in life?

Here are some of my favorite "Mad Men" mothering moments, compliments of Betty:

  • Little Bobby is thrilled that Betty agrees to chaperone his class field trip. I love that look on my own son's face. It's so damn relatable. That boy loves her so much, but poor Betty doesn't see it. She sees a dusty farm, livestock and a braless teacher. She ruins the day when returning from a quick hand wash. Realizing that Bobby has traded her sandwich, she is left with nothing to eat. She is hungry, sure, but for so much more than food. Hours later, after dinner, she is still stewing about it, working that mom guilt like a pro.
  • After Sally is accepted at the boarding school of her choice, something Betty had always wanted for herself, it is Betty who gives her the good news. Sally, in her teen angst fashion, has a muted response, but Betty is beaming in a proud mothering moment. She then lights up a cigarette and offers one to Sally, telling her she would rather Sally smoke in front of her than behind her back. When Betty then suggests that surely Don has offered her beers before, Sally responds, "No, my father never gave me anything." Ouch. Sad Betty has managed to truly create a mini-me in her Sally. A cool, icy front masking the hurt underneath. And in that moment, we know Betty knows, too, what Sally is becoming.
  • On Baby Gene's first birthday, Betty invites Don to visit the party. Betty is surrounded by streamers, cake and punch, playing children, her new respectable husband and all their old friends. Don is an outcast and outsider in his old home. Betty knows just what she has done, reassuring her disapproving new husband, "It's OK—we have everything." That little scene tells us so much about Betty. She is never beyond using her own children to take her jabs when she feels wronged.
  • After Sally gets her first period, Betty sets her up in her own bed and brings her a warm water bottle to soothe her little, aching uterus. It is a tender scene, actually, and Betty tries to explain that being a woman is all about responsibility. As fumbled and narcissistic as Betty can be, this crossed threshold—Sally "becoming a woman," if you will—seems to be a moment of hope for Betty. The two can now be contemporaries instead of mother and daughter, which is so much more fraught.
  • My favorite Betty moment comes in the middle of a seemingly idyllic mothering day. Betty lovingly prepares a hot breakfast for Sally and Bobby, even tousling their hair when presenting the plates prepared so lovingly. She folds the laundry, and gently chides the little ones not to jump off the bed. Cut to the clock at 1:00 p.m. Betty is alone at the kitchen table, still in her negligee, coffee cup and cigarette ever present, when she rises. We see her next outside, lifting a rifle, cigarette hanging from her mouth. She shoots, then reloads. Betty as badass, aiming for her neighbor's pigeons. "Mrs. Draper?" the neighbor shouts, "What are you doing?"

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Indeed, Mrs. Draper, what are you doing? Oy. We can disapprove so easily, but the pain and loneliness and isolation of motherhood is represented so well in Betty Draper. I will miss her and her flaws.

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Image via AMC/MadMen

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