Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Worst TV Parents Ever

Many parents (both fictional and real) have screwed up their kids in some way. After all, no one is perfect — and parenthood doesn't have a certification test. 

Between wildly disparate disciplinary styles, a lack of free time, and a general misunderstanding of how something said in the heat of the moment can impact a child for life, parenting isn't exactly an easy job. However, while some parents make honest mistakes and try their best, others fall into patterns like substance abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or worse.

When it comes to TV, there tends to be more awful parents than decent ones depicted onscreen. In both teen and adult shows alike, parents are often at the forefront of the drama. There's no point of tuning if there aren't any stakes in a TV show, and awful parents certainly add that tense element. From "Supernatural" and "Friends" to "Game of Thrones," here are some of the very worst parents TV has offered us in recent years.

John Winchester (Supernatural)

There's nothing quite forcing your grade-school children to become soldiers in your vendetta against the demon that killed their mother. In "Supernatural," John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) raises Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki) to risk their lives endlessly to partake in the Winchester "family business" — which means never having a stable home and fighting monsters instead of doing homework. 

John prevents his boys from having a childhood by embedding a deep martyr complex into their psyche that neither brother can quite shake. Both siblings have a warped, codependent view of family, leading to their endless quest to sacrifice themselves for one another.

At the start of the show, Dean excuses much of his father's toxic behavior by parroting the sentiment that he did the best he could. The Winchester patriarch's neglect becomes even clearer when we discover in "Bad Boys" (Season 9, Episode 7) that one of Dean's happiest memories is of living in a group home away from his father. 

There are further implications that John has been prone to alcoholism-induced violence, and to make matters worse, when Dean and Sam go back in time and tell a young John how they were raised he expresses a disgust, unknowingly, at himself.

Christina Scofield (Prison Break)

One way to ditch the kids you never wanted is to fake your own death — but it makes you a pretty awful parent. In "Prison Break," Christina Scofield is initially lauded as a wonderful mother who died young, leaving two kids behind with a deadbeat dad and a future in the foster care system. But that's just a fraction of the story. 

As it turns out, both parents worked for an insidious secret cabal known as The Company that controls every aspect of the U.S. — from running the country to controlling the police force. We later learn that the father of Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) and Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) left to protect them from The Company that he defected from. Their mother Christina (Kathleen Quinlan), however, is a different story.

While fans previously thought that The Company framed Lincoln for the murder of the Vice President's brother to take revenge on Aldo's desertion, mommy dearest was actually at the helm of that particular decision. When she magically appears alive and well in Season 4, Christina reveals that she begrudgingly adopted Lincoln after the death of his parents at the request of Aldo. Still, she resented him for dragging her biological son Michael into his criminal path.

While she never wanted kids, Christina recognized Michael's genius and wanted to recruit him into The Company. Of course, Michael would never join the murderous cabal. So what does Christina do? Oh, just shoot Lincoln and stick a stiletto heel in his bullet wound to force Michael to do her bidding. When she realizes that converting Michael is a lost cause, she turns her gun on him, leading Sara, the mother of her unborn grandchild, to kill her — and sending a pregnant Sara to prison. 

Bart Bass: Gossip Girl

There's nothing like a wealthy absent father who fakes his death and tries to kill his son over money. When it comes to jaded parents, Bart Bass (Robert John Burke) on "Gossip Girl" takes the cake. 

Bart's relationship with his son at the beginning of the series is already fraught with his cruel treatment of Chuck (Ed Westwick) — who's just a teenager. Despite Chuck's young age, the amount of pressure that Bart foists on his son is enough to cripple even the most well-adjusted teen. However, despite his father's lack of affection, Chuck continually tries to please Bart.

Bart seemingly dies in Season 2, but three seasons later, the billionaire shows up again. He apparently faked his death — and is evidently a changed man. Chuck stepped up to run the family empire in his absence, but Bart decides he wants it all back when his resurrection becomes common knowledge. Bart's solution to this problem is to hire someone to kill his son. High quality parenting, to say the least.

Frank Reynolds: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Most kids' parental nightmares involves walking in on or hearing about their parents' sex lives. For "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" dad Frank Reynolds and his adopted twins Dee and Dennis, that's not only a common occurrence but an hourly one. Frank wouldn't understand the concept of boundaries if it slapped him in the face. As a result, his kids follow in his dysfunctional footsteps.

For instance, Frank gets Dennis a job with his company, and instead of showing him the ropes of how to be a businessman, he hooks up with a sex worker in front of his college-aged child. Sure, Dennis' future actions and choices are his own, but how does someone come out of a home life like that unscathed? No wonder everybody thinks Dennis is a serial killer. Even more disturbingly, this isn't the last time Frank would solicit sex in front of his kids. 

Their mom is no peach either — but Frank making his children dig up her dead body to see if she faked her own death takes things ten times too far. Additionally, Frank continually calls their mother slurs, putting them in the middle of their toxic feud. Somehow, Frank manages to top these grievances by constantly getting Dennis and Dee into illegal and life-threatening situations, normalizing this behavior and egging it on in his kids.

Julie Cooper: The O.C.

Welcome to the O.C. — where the only thing more dramatic than the teenagers' shenanigans is that of their irresponsible and chaotic parents. Sandy (Peter Gallagher) and Kiersten (Kelly Rowan) are the exception to this rule, but even they have their moments. However, when it comes to the bad choices of "The O.C." parents, no one can top the ultimate gold digger, Julie Cooper (Melinda Clarke).

There's nothing like sleeping with your daughter's ex-boyfriend (who's barely of age) to set the mood for family dinner. Julie makes one awful decision after the next, letting her daughter get away with whatever she wants to avoid being called out for her behavior. Occasionally, Julie will attempt to do the right thing — like trying to get her daughter into therapy. Yet she quickly gives up on any proper parenting the minute Marissa (Mischa Barton) fights back, paying the price with her life.

Julie's sporadic, toxic relationships set a horrible example for Marissa, who's more like her mother than she cares to admit. Julie does eventually get her act together, but it takes her daughter's death to do so. Marissa's father isn't exactly a catch either. He gets run out of town for embezzlement and continually lets Marissa get her hopes up that he'll stay while continuing to leave her. And it's worse because he's actually a good dad who looks out for her, but his abandonment is another nail in Marissa's coffin. All in all? Marissa deserved better.

Cersei and Jamie Lannister (Game of Thrones)

"Game of Thrones" is the holy grail of toxic parentage, boasting endless familial storylines of incest, abuse, and even murder. Biological twins, spouses, and parents Cersei and Jamie Lannister hit the trifecta. 

Interestingly enough, both parents (particularly Cersei) are lauded for loving their children more than life. However, Cersei's obsessive love dooms the children she supposedly cares about — and helps create one of the most notorious (and annoying) ruthless killers the series has ever seen: Joffrey Lannister (Jack Gleeson).

Cersei (Lena Headey) spoils her son rotten despite seeing how insufferable it makes him, and instead of setting up boundaries for his own good, she continues to give into his deadly temper tantrums. While she's not as physically abusive as many "Thrones" parents, Cersei has been known to slap him around a few times. While their two other children, Tommen and Myrcella, escaped Joffrey's terrible traits, it's no wonder Joffrey sucks so much.

Additionally, Cersei and Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) lie to their kids about their incestuous origins, gaslighting their concerns — and implying that they know, on some level, that their relationship is not okay. Cersei may love her kids, which her husband cites as her best trait, but her ruthlessness even gets her daughter Myrcella killed.

Frank Gallagher: Shameless

Whether you're into the U.S. edition of "Shameless" or the original UK series, the show's patriarch Frank Gallagher (David Threlfall/William H. Macy) is a deadbeat dad — and that's a generous assertion. In both iterations of the show, Frank is far more interested in hitting up bars with tabs he can't afford and abusing his children than, say, paying rent or parenting. His alcoholism resulted in his kids growing up long before they should have, with the older siblings taking on parental responsibilities that should fall to the actual parent.

Frank's greatest hits include convincing his own son that he has contagious cancer to scam a charity (in the U.S. series). Additionally, when he needs a new kidney (it's shocking that it's not his liver), he tries to con his daughter — who never knew him — into giving him one of her kidneys. To make matters worse, she unknowingly develops a crush on her estranged father, resulting in a creepy almost-incestual arc. 

He is every bit as terrible to the kids he does know. Frank is horrifically homophobic to his son Ian, and he hires a hitman to kill his daughter Fiona's fiance.

Lillian and Lionel Luthor (Smallville)

Postpartum depression is no joke, but there's no justification for killing a baby. In "Smallville," Lex Luthor's mother, Lillian (Alisen Down), suffers from a severe case, and instead of getting help, she smothers her baby Julian with a pillow when he's crying. Knowing the violent way Lex's father Lionel (John Glover) has raised Lex, she doesn't want to subject her baby to the same treatment, opting to murder him instead of running away with her boys.

Despite his reputation, Lex (Michael Rosenbaum) is a profoundly emotional person with a strong sense of compassion. An 11-year-old Lex even falsely confesses to accidentally killing Julian, sparing his mother's life. This ultimately leads to the lifelong issues between Lex and his dad — carving Lex's future path to villainhood.

Lex's descent into mad-scientist territory is a tragic villain backstory because, initially, every early misguided and deadly decision he makes stems from a place where he's trying to help people. However, no one trusts him, so he eventually decides to give in to their expectations. Indeed, his life could have turned out very differently if his mother hadn't acted the way she did. 

After Lex tells Lionel the truth about Jullian's death as an adult, Lionel says that things would have been different had he known. Lex responds, "Yes, Dad. You might have actually loved me."

Homer Simpson (The Simpsons)

Homer Simpson wins the award for TV's longest-running toxic father when it comes to abusive dads. His reward? A round of Duff beers at Moe's Tavern. Homer's dubious parenting methods include everything from hurling insults at his misbehaving son to frequently strangling the 10-year-old. Things get even worse during flashback scenes, where we see Homer strangling Bart as a baby. What kid wouldn't act out when they have a father like that? 

When Homer isn't getting into full-on wrestling matches with his son, he's probably getting blasted at his best friend's bar. While the series tends to make light of alcoholism, it's a real problem that ruins people's lives. Homer occasionally has epiphanies about his approach to parenting, but given the static nature of an animated sitcom, character development typically doesn't last more than a single episode. 

Esther and Mikael Mikealson (The Vampire Diaries franchise)

Decent parents are difficult to come by in "The Vampire Diaries" universe, but Esther (Alice Evans) and Mikael Mikaelson (Sebastian Roche) are a unique brand of negligence. Sure, there weren't any parenting books back in the 10th Century, but not turning your abused children into bloodsucking monsters seems like common sense, regardless of the time period. 

Esther and Mikael's relationship began on a toxic note, given that the young witch was captured and held hostage by Mikael's Viking people. Call it Stockholm syndrome, a desperate ploy to leave behind her captivity days, or the fact that he didn't exactly give her a choice — but Esther accepts Mikael's proposition.

After losing their first child to a shady first-born deal with Esther's sister, Mikael begins getting violent with his other children, beating and emotionally abusing them. Esther never lifts a finger to stop him, even when he mercilessly tortures Klaus — the byproduct of Esther's affair with a werewolf. After the tragic death of her youngest son, Esther turns her children into the world's first vampires without their consent — forcing immortality and bloodlust onto a bunch of abused kids. 

Of course, this concoction doesn't end well, leading to neverending body counts that span over a thousand years. Naturally, when Esther comes back from death over a thousand years later, she doesn't like what her vampire children have become (by her own hand) and tries to kill them all.

Carol Baker (Spinning Out)

This short-lived Netflix show has one of the most inaccurate, harmful depictions of bipolar disorder ever captured onscreen. With both mother (Carol) and daughter (Kat) struggling with their diagnoses, we watch Carol (January Jones) blame her daughter's birth for ruining her ice skating career. Carol physically abuses, insults, and acts like Kat's drill sergeant — made worse during unmedicated, manic episodes.

However, the worst part of this dynamic comes from the unrealistic portrayal of medication. The series paints medicine as diluting creativity, offering a negative stereotype that could inspire viewers to stop their meds. Making matters worse, when either Carol or Kat (Kaya Scodelario) are on medication, they become different people who are suddenly "fixed" and have a wholly different set of morals and personalities. 

In addition to Carol being a terrible mother who hammers in the stigma that people with bipolar disorder can't be good people or parents, the show's messages on mental health are damaging at best.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Judy Geller (Friends)

It's bad enough when teenagers get fat-shamed by their peers in school — but doing it as a parent is a particular brand of awful. 

Nevertheless, Monica and Ross Gellar's mom Judy (Christina Pickles) in "Friends" has no problem doing exactly that. Even after Monica (Courteney Cox) loses a significant amount of weight, she still can't escape her mother's unwavering criticism.

Additionally, Judy openly prefers Ross (David Schwimmer), to the point where she blames Monica, the younger sibling, for any mistake Ross makes even in adulthood. It's clear that this behavior deeply affects Monica, and it's possible that her mother's comments even resulted in an eating disorder. 

Judy only cares about aesthetics and optics. Additionally, Judy's terrible treatment of Monica likely contributed to her daughter using eating as a coping mechanism in the first place.

Mr. Maclay (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Convincing your daughter that she is part demon is certainly a new one for the category of crappy controlling parents, but at least the McClay family wins props for creativity. 

In "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," both of Tara's parents treat their daughter like the unwitting member of a cult, just to prevent her from going off on her own or having any autonomy over her own life. Their method of control hinges on the men of the family convincing their daughters — just their daughters — that they have demon blood in their lineage and need to stay home to prevent hurting anyone. Um, what? If this blood plagues the genes of the McClay women, how exactly are the men exempt?

It's pretty bold to use fake supernatural means to live out your deepest misogynistic fantasies. Sadly for Mr. Maclay (Steve Rankin), Tara (Amber Benson) befriended some people with actual knowledge of the supernatural, who debunk this nonsense once and for all. 

Amy's mom gets a special shoutout in "Buffy," too. It's totally normal to steal your daughter's body to relive your high school cheerleader days, right?