Barbara is best known for her portrayal of June Cleaver in the hit television series Leave it to Beaver. Always pleasant, nicely dressed, and beautifully coiffed, June epitomized the ideal stay-at-home mom of the 1950's.
Little did Barbara/June know that, as much as she was appreciated by audiences of her own day, she would later be scoffed at and vilified by mothers who felt themselves unfairly compared to her. Believe it or not, there is a book titled I Killed June Cleaver: Modern Moms Shatter the Myth of Perfect Parenting. There's another called Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box.
Honestly, I think those images of June Cleaver as the "perfect" mom, the standard against which all moms should be judged, should be killed. But I also think that the "real" June Cleaver is a pretty good role model. Here are some things I've observed about June:
- She keeps a simple but gracious home. The Cleaver household is not at all fancy. The children share a bedroom; the family eats its meals at the kitchen table. The kids get into all kinds of scrapes. But all in all, things are orderly and therefore lovely.
- She is firm with her children. June knows that boys will be boys, but she also trains them to be gentlemen. She expects them to be gentlemanly when the situation calls for gentlemanly behavior; otherwise she allows them to be boyish. As the mother of three teenage boys, I'd say her approach is pretty good.
- She dresses as the respectable person she is. After all, what role is more important than that of chief executive of a home and family? I think perhaps this job calls for something a little better than sweat pants. As for the much-touted pearls she wore each day, those were a touch that Barbara Billingsley herself added to her wardrobe. Apparently she was self-conscious about a hollow in her throat, and she wore the pearls to cover it up. Smart move.
We moms seem to have a habit of judging ourselves too harshly, of expecting too much of ourselves. Perhaps the greatest thing we could learn from June Cleaver is her graciousness, and perhaps we should start with a heaping helping of grace for ourselves. No doubt our children could do without elaborate Halloween costumes. Our husbands don't need us to be fashion plates. Our communities don't expect us to be paragons of volunteerism. In short, nobody expects us to be perfect--expect perhaps we ourselves.
Jerry Mathers, the actor who played the Beaver, had this to say about Barbara Billingsley: "She will . . . be remembered by her friends as a gracious lady. Barbara was a patient advisor and teacher. She helped me along this challenging journey through life by showing me the importance of manners and respect for others." Barbara's own son, Glenn Billingsley, said, "She was every bit as nurturing, classy, and lovely as 'June Cleaver,' and we were so proud to share her with the world."
Perfect? No. June Cleaver wasn't perfect; neither was the woman who portrayed her. But gracious, patient, nurturing? Yep. She was that in spades. And that's exactly what I want to be.
Maybe I'll go put on my pearls.