The Parents of Stranger Things, Ranked

Warning: this post contains mild spoilers for Seasons 1 and 2 of the Netflix show Stranger Things. Read at your own peril.

Dr. Martin “Papa” Brenner: Okay, let’s start with the worst of the lot. Dr. Brenner, “father”/guardian/kidnapper of resident spooky-girl Eleven, is straight-up terrible. He tattoos a child! He punishes her by locking her in a closet! He makes her hunt down monsters from another dimension! He treats her like a science experiment with head lice. He is so insufferable. F-

Mr. & Mrs. Hargrove: These two fuck-ups belong to new kids on the block Max and Billy Hargrove. Max is cool, by the standards of Hawkins (she skateboards, anyway); Billy is a psychopath with an earring who seems like he would date-rape you given half a chance. Anyway, these are their step-/parents, and Mr. Hargrove abuses Billy by knocking him around in front of Max and his wife, and basically by just being the older psycho in whose footsteps Billy is destined to follow. Fuck Mr. Hargrove for the abuse, and Mrs. Hargrove for just standing there being all, “Welp, men, etc.” F

Mrs. Wheeler: Nancy and Mike’s mom, who is this far down the rankings because of the intolerable scene where Billy shows up, all flirtatious of eye and disgusting of hair, and she’s like, “Tee hee, oh, no, I’m Nancy’s mother, not her sister, come in for some cookies and let me tell you where my kids are, young man who looks like he modeled himself after a Lost Boy, which won’t be released for another three years.” She was fine in season one, although she definitely leaned a lot on the “get down here, young lady!” model of parental communication, but then again, who didn’t, in the 1980s? D

Terry Ives: It may seem cruel to call out a woman who’s been catatonic for more than a decade, but Terry Ives is kind of a victim of her own making, what with barging into the secret lab she knew was running fucked-up experiments on children, waving a gun around. What did she think was going to happen? Doc Brenner was going be all, “Oh, hey, it’s you! Eleven, your mom’s here!” Nerp. Anyway, she does manage to provide Eleven with some important clues, but if El was any other kid, Terry would be a black box. D+

Mr. Wheeler: Dad asleep in the Barcalounger. Whatta fuckin’ guy. C-

Mr. & Mrs. Sinclair: Lucas’s parents, absent from the first season, inserted here to provide some mild, era-appropriate proto-feminism (“Your mom is always right, son!”) and innocuous banter. They barely matter. C

Mrs. Henderson: Dustin’s (single?) mom, who loves her cat and gives her kid a leash that is long and credulous indeed. She’s the kind of mom that is extinct today: the kind who lets her 12-year-old son go on long, after-dark bike rides through the woods, who is totally fine with “Out!” as a response to the question “Where are you going?,” who is proud of her son without needing access to his entire life. I literally can’t imagine how this woman would survive in today’s parenting milieu. B-

Jim Hopper: Ah fuck, Jim Hopper. His parenting arc in the first season had me s.o.b.b.i.n.g., but this season, he turned up the toxic masculinity to a place where I was literally hollering “You need to name your feelings, dude!” at the television screen. I can only imagine that parenting a psychokinetic teenager with a limited vocabulary would have challenges, but I don’t think constant yelling was a good choice (spoiler: it never is!). Get your shit together, Hopper. You can do better. B

Bob Newby: If your mom is going to get divorced from your terrible dad and then have a really rough 1983, pray for Bob Newby to come into your life. Bob is goddamn perfect as step-dad lite: he listens to Joyce, he backs off, he’s willing to show up as much or as little as the Byers family needs him to, he’s smart and funny and so into her. Sure, he’s a nerd. But he’s so kind. The Byerses needed some kindness, and Bob Newby delivered. A-

Joyce Byers: Winona Ryder played Joyce turned all the way up to 11 in season one, so it was a relief to have her bank the coals a little bit and relax—slightly—in season two. Regardless of how much screaming and shaking she’s doing, Joyce has always been a good mom: she cares deeply about her kids, she goes to bat for them every time they need her, she tries so hard to pay attention, and most of all, she trusts them. When Will started production in the Unsettling Drawing Factory, she’s all, “Well, honey, let’s just see what you’re trying to say here.” A

Steve Harrington: What, you don’t think Steven Harrington, unmarried seventeen year old father of no-one, deserves to be on this list? You don’t know anything. Despite the fact that he was a toad in the first season, by the time season two wraps up, Steve is not only a good dude (showing up at Nancy’s house with flowers to apologize even though he’s done nothing wrong), he’s a fucking terrific caretaker. The moment he shoves one of the Goonies out of the way so he can run towards monster in order to keep them all safe—carrying his nail-encrusted baseball, natch—is the moment where we are all Team Steve Harrington. I’m not even going to talk about the hair mentorship. Just get on HMS Steve Harrington and let’s see where we go! A++

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Kaitlyn Kochany
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Kaitlyn Kochany is a Toronto-area freelance writer and editor. She had her son, NS, in January 2016, and has been trying to sleep and write since then.

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