Let’s Talk About Janine’s Mom on ‘Abbott Elementary’

Taraji P Henson as Janine's mom talking to Janine in the hallway.
(ABC/Gilles Mingasson)

So much of what we’ve seen with Janine Teagues since day one has been leading up to what we get in Abbott Elementary Season 2, Episode 21, “Mom.” As Taraji P. Henson makes her debut as Janine’s mom, Vanetta Teagues, it allows the series’ true spark of a found family to shine through beautifully.

Because while we meet Janine’s biological mom in this episode, we ultimately get more of a sense that work mom Barbara Howard is far more than just someone who stands up for her—she’s someone who believes in her and values her wholeheartedly. Abbott Elementary’s “Mom” is also a riveting showcase of how far Janine has come in the series and an important exhibition of what heartfelt socializing looks like.

Barbara meets Janine's mom in the hallway during Abbott Elementary's "Mom"
(ABC/Gilles Mingasson)

We knew Janine took care of her mother (and her sister) in many ways, but to actually see some of it is painful. On a positive note, it’s great to see that Vanetta is the type of woman who’ll defend her daughter because watching her stand up to Ava was something glorious. And it subtly brings the best out of someone like Ava, too, because, in an episode that focuses on Janine’s happiness, it’s clear as day that so much of what she does comes from her innate compassion and goodness. It might not change anyone like Ava (and it shouldn’t), but at the very least, it allows her to maybe someday see Janine in a different light.

Still, the best part of Abbott Elementary’s “Mom” is Barbara standing up for Janine. The teachers at Abbott might like to note that they aren’t a family, and Janine might be excluded from group chats, but this episode proves that she’s not only a part of them, but she’s someone they’d do anything for. Barbara, especially, who shows that she’s not only her work mom but someone who has her back and cares for her.

Janine’s mini-solo vacation is a significant moment of growth for her. It’s the decision to finally live and choose herself in a moment of bravery that shows how much she’s gotten out of her shell. When we first meet her, she’s tearing at the seams, fighting for everyone but herself and ensuring that they’re doing better than she is. She’s too selfless to the point where it’s detrimental to her happiness. And everything that we see here proves that the growth is working because she doesn’t help her mom fully but as much as she can. She still chooses herself and the vacation. She chooses to take the words that Barbara, Melissa, and even Gregory have given her about simply trying.

Barbara confronts Janine's mom in the lounge in Abbott Elementary's "Mom"
(ABC/Gilles Mingasson)

And Vanetta doesn’t seem like the worst parent in the world, but as selfless as Janine is, her mother is on the more selfish end. She’s ignoring her daughter despite clearly loving her, and she’s choosing to deny that she does so. But still, there’s room for growth here. As Janine says, no matter how naive the thought might be, they may someday take their own trip together. There’s a high chance that won’t happen anytime soon, but that’s entirely okay because Barbara will happily go with her to the local Ross, where there’s a coverups sale. And in an episode where we meet Janine’s mom finally, we also see that where she’s gaining most of her influence is at Abbott around the people who aren’t holding her hand through everything but the ones who are caring for her with transparency, a little tough love, and a whole lot of empathy. Because that’s who they all are—Barbara, Melissa, Jacob, Gregory, and Janine are the kind of people who take care of each other. It might not always look the way they want it. They might grumble a lot of times, but at the end of the day, the love that’s running through them is genuine and lasting.

It’s why Barbara essentially confronting Janine’s mom and fighting to ensure she goes on vacation works to showcase how far they’ve all come because Barbara is the type of character who’d do this for anyone she loves. She’ll fight for each of them because while the running joke is that she’s Janine’s mom, she’s, ultimately, all of ours on the show. It’s why her character continues to be the warmest, most easing presence every time she’s on screen.

Abbott Elementary’s “Mom” is a solid penultimate episode that continues to unveil how the characters are growing subtly. We even watch Gregory learn how to socialize in his own way, showing that he can, in fact, be principal someday. As the season finale approaches, it’s clear as day that we’re in for the type of wild ride that proves this show didn’t fall into the sophomore slump. 


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