‘The Waltons’: Michael Learned Revealed Who Was the Stricter Mom, Herself or Olivia Walton

by Keeli Parkey
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While playing a mother on television is no easy task, it’s not as difficult as being a mother in real life. However, playing a mother on television often leads to comparisons to one’s own parenting skills. This was the case for one actress on “The Waltons.”

Fans want to know if the actress playing the mother in question is more or less strict than her television counterpart. They want to know how she punishes her children. They want to know if she is as dedicated to her family as her character.

Are these fair comparisons to make? Probably not, but they happen all the time. And, it happened to Michael Learned, the actress made famous by her portrayal of matriarch Olivia Walton on “The Waltons.”

During an interview with Yahoo!Life in 2020, Learned talked about the comparisons between her and Olivia Walton. So, what was it like to have the woman who played Mrs. Walton as a parent? According to the actress, her children did just fine while she was on the show.

“I don’t think it bothered them really, but I was away a lot, so sometimes I’d come home after being on-set for 12, 13 hours and they’d be standing at the door — ‘I need something for my drum set. ‘I need this for my trombone.’ ‘You forgot to give me money for school.’ …” Learned recalled.

Actress Who Played Matriarch on ‘The Waltons’ Said She Was a ‘Very Permissive’ Parent in Real Life

Turns out Michael Learned’s parenting style was pretty laid back. This is where someone else stepped in to help out around the house and be a disciplinarian with the children.

“… We had a wonderful housekeeper named Mrs. Blair who was a lifesaver for me, I couldn’t have asked for anyone better,” Learned said. “She was a little stricter with the kids than I was, and we needed that because I was very permissive as a parent. …”

While the show was on and in the decades that followed, fans have often approached Learned to share with her what “The Waltons” meant to them.

“You were my mother growing up” — I get a lot of that,” Learned reportedly told Yahoo! “Or a lot of times I get, ‘My mother was just like you.’ Or, ‘I wish my mother was just like you.’ But it’s usually always related to this wonderful character I had the privilege to play.”

Michael Learned also shared one example of her parenting style in comparison with Olivia Walton’s with Yahoo! during the interview. She was asked if her television character was more strict as a parent than she was in real life.

“Absolutely. There was one scene where Olivia is waiting for Reverend Fordwick to come over and she has the kids all dressed in their woolen Sunday best, and there’s this big pitcher of lemonade on the table and she won’t let them have any until the reverend arrives,” Learned said. “I would never do that in real life! And I protested at the time. Finally, John Walton comes in and takes them all swimming at the pond. I didn’t win that battle. I won some of them, but I didn’t win that one.”

The popular family show aired from 1972 until 1981 on CBS. It followed the lives of “The Waltons” clan while they lived in Virginia during the Great Depression and World War II. Playing the patriarch of “The Waltons” family, John Walton, was Ralph Waite.

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