Ah, parents—can't live with them, can't live without them (at least until you turn legal age). Maybe not an issue when you have parents who are good role models, but it can be catastrophic otherwise.
Television is fraught with character examples of bad parenting. Sure, they may often be exaggerated with a skewed perception of reality, but even so, they're rooted in truth and real-life behaviors.
From the least awful to the absolute worst, here are our picks for the worst parents on television, from whom we can learn a lot. We bet you didn't even realize some of them are as bad as they actually are!
10. Richard and Emily Gilmore (Gilmore Girls)
Richard and Emily Gilmore are quite likable throughout Gilmore Girls. They love their daughter and granddaughter, and they're respectable people with good hearts. It's a pity that they're scheming control freaks.
They share a love for deceiving and manipulating those around them. Their intentions are usually good, but that doesn't matter because their ways are full-on questionable.
Lies, secret deals, and master plans are the daily bread and butter of Richard and Emily Gilmore. Their lifestyle highlights borderline toxic standards, they're staunchly conservative, and they can come across as snobs and classists, which doesn't help their image.
9. Karen and Ted Wheeler (Stranger Things)
Karen and Ted Wheeler are painfully stuck in their ways. Their son Mike is openly trying to reach out to them about his best friend's disappearance, but instead of listening, they're neglectful of their son's emotions for the sake of parental authority.
But hey, it's the 1980s, and boys didn't have feelings back then. That explains the father's absolute oblivious reaction to Will's need for reassurance and guidance, all while the mother acts terribly.
The way Karen and Ted talk to each other highlights a tendency for muted conflict. Karen, in need of support, looks over to Ted; Ted doesn't provide it, at least not in the way she wants. She fails to communicate her needs, yet spits out sarcastic comments and leaves.
Their focus should be on the fact that their son's best friend disappeared, but instead they're fixated on mutual bottled-up frustrations. A traumatic day for Mike is just another dinner for the Wheelers.
8. Jerry and Beth Smith (Rick and Morty)
Jerry and Beth Smith aren't entirely bad, but they're unfortunately neglectful and unhappy people. That's why their depiction as parents—and as spouses—can be painfully relatable.
Jerry feels unaccomplished and disconnected from his kids and family. Beth has a good career, but she often feels let down by her partner and she's ultimately unhappy with her marital life.
They both have something in common, though—they filter every situation through the lens of their unhappy marriage, and they rarely do much to work on it. They don't care about harmony and instead let their family marinate in private issues.
Their own (un)happiness comes first, and it must be constantly addressed. That manifests as fighting in front of the kids, often to the point of dragging them into their arguments. It's a common sight, but that doesn't mean it should be acceptable. It's traumatizing and unfair.
Jerry and Beth manifest a dynamic that's fun to watch, but it's something that absolutely needs to be addressed between real-life parents. No wonder why Morty prefers death-risking space adventures to family dinners.
7. Virginia and Burt Chance (Raising Hope)
Burt and Virginia Chance had Jimmy when they were very young, and they've stuck together ever since. They love their kid—who's now an adult—and they're always there for him. But despite their constant efforts, their parenting strategies are far from perfect.
In fact, they have absolutely zero parenting skills. The entire process of raising Jimmy has been a constant series of experimental decisions, and they've obviously made a lot of mistakes.
In Jimmy, we see all of those mistakes. He's neurotic, insecure, with trust issues, and unable to handle stress in healthy ways. (Surprisingly, he ends up being a pretty good single father to his own unplanned child.)
The fact that Burt and Virginia were always there for him makes them likable, and they certainly have good hearts. But they're also neglectful, chaotic, and uneducated on important matters like health.
Sure, the entirety of Raising Hope is a vehicle for their potential redemption. However, in real life, no redemption arc will ever cure your son's obsessive-compulsive twitches that came from your bad choices.
6. Lois and Hal Wilkerson (Malcolm in the Middle)
We can't deny that Lois and Hal Wilkerson love their kids and make a true effort to be good parents. Unfortunately, their parenting strategies are extremely outdated and definitely detrimental.
Physical intimidation? Corporal punishment? Psychological manipulation? These are all portrayed as necessary tactics for "dealing" with kids. Lois punishes them in ways that diminish their senses of self and masculinity, while Hal is a selfish, subdued, sad coward of a man.
Malcolm in the Middle highlights the difficulties of raising male children. Sure, the Wilkersons are fun to watch. Yes, the show is a cult hit and a classic sitcom of its era. But when it comes to parenting, the kids' emotional needs aren't approached from a positive and inclusive point of view.
5. Roger Peralta (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Roger Peralta has always been the absent father to Jake. He cheated and lied to his spouse, he disappeared when Jake was very young, and he has been an unreliable on-and-off presence in his life ever since. If he ever shows up, it's only for selfish, opportunistic reasons.
While most of the parents on this list are here for their misguided parental techniques, Roger is here for his absence.
As a wise Jay Pritchett said in Modern Family: "90% of being a dad is just showing up." Voluntary absence is, in many cases, the worst sin a parent could commit. There's no good intention behind it.
In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Roger would eventually turn around and bond with Jake, exhibiting character growth while allowing the show to highlight the possibility of people being given second chances.
But in real life, the absence of a father has a lifelong impact on children. They'll have issues developing bonds, and they'll always feel as if they were defective and not "good enough" for their dad to stick around.
Yes, coming back and reconciling is better than nothing, but it doesn't fix all the years of abandonment. It's quite selfish in a way, as you're now developing a relationship with someone whom you caused deep trauma.
Fathers don't need to be perfect, but they do need to be there for their kids. Don't wait until your kids turn into traumatized adults, only to swoop back into their lives when it's convenient for you.
4. Dr. Beverly Hofstadter (The Big Bang Theory)
Doctor Beverly Hofstadter is an accomplished neuroscientist who's extremely smart and knowledgeable. Yet, her motherly skills are below acceptable. Instead of developing a healthy relationship with her son Leonard, she gave him so many emotional issues.
She might love him in her own weird way, but she's daringly open about him not being her favorite child—and that's enough for us to consider putting her right at the top of this list of worst parents.
As if that weren't enough, she publicly belittles him and makes him feel inadequate, she's quick to dispense judgmental remarks regarding his masculinity (or lack thereof), she has no sense of boundaries, and she always has a shroud of superiority about her.
Her character may be played for laughs, and she may have a redemptive turnaround at some point, but that doesn't make her any less terrible. If you have a favorite child, the least you can do is keep that to yourself.
3. Waqas and Manisha Al-Jamil (The Good Place)
Waqas and Manisha Al-Jamil have two daughters, Tahani and Kamila. With Waqas and Manisha being so rich and well-educated, they could've given their kids a full life of stability, harmony, and opportunities.
Instead, they ruined their lives.
Waqas and Manisha are emotionally abusive and sadistic over-achievers. They pit their children against each other, favoring Kamila while looking down on Tahani. They claim it's for intellectual stimulation, but it's really just for their own morbid source of entertainment.
While praising one and shaming the other, Waqas and Manisha compromise one of the strongest possible relational bonds: sisterhood. They perpetuated this antagonization even to their death, through their will.
Driven by constant competition, Tahani and Kamila both developed a profound sense of inadequacy. For them, parental love was never unconditional; it always came with tons of conditins, along with bags and bags of unresolved trauma.
2. Sheryl Goodspeed (Final Space)
Sheryl Goodspeed is a secret agent. During one of her missions, she falls in love with her target—a pilot named John Godspeed. Together they have Gary and build a family while she continues working as a secret agent.
She uses Gary as a way to secure her proximity to John, to complete her mission. When all her schemes are discovered, John leaves her and dies on a mission shortly after. Left alone with Gary, Sheryl abandons him—she never wanted him in the first place, and she tells him as much.
Sheryl's actions sent young Gary into a spiral of crime and mental issues. That's why she's a true number two on our list.
Of course, Sheryl eventually comes around and they bond. It's clear, however, that Gary will never fully trust his mother. Her abandonment wounded him for good.
1. Peter Griffin (Family Guy)
Peter Griffin is the worst. If you're looking for advice on how to be a better parent, just do the opposite of whatever Peter Griffin does.
Yeah, we know that he's a cartoon character. We also know that the creators often use satire to lampshade real-life issues. But as a parent? He's simply inexcusable. A modicum of effort is all it takes to be better than him.
Peter Griffin's portrayal raises several points of reflection on family, fatherhood, masculinity, sexuality, mental health, among others. Learn From Peter's mistakes and flaws. He may be the protagonist, but he's far from the hero—because he's the problem.
Peter embodies everything that went wrong with modern society, and that's why he's our pick for the worst parent character on TV.