Stranger Things: 5 Times We Felt Bad for Karen (& 5 Times We Hated Her)


Karen Wheeler doesn’t have it easy as a mom. While she doesn’t suffer as much as Joyce Byers, she is still married after all and none of her children are kidnapped into another dimension of sorts, she still struggles to do it all.

However, fans can’t give her quite as much slack as they offer Joyce, and there are quite a few things Karen could be doing better for both herself and her children. Over three seasons Karen has had a decent amount of screen time and it’s time now to review her toughest, and her cruelest, moments.

10 Felt Bad – Trying To Keep Her Kids Home

After Will Byers disappears, Karen tells her children, Will and Nancy in particular, that they are not allowed to go out late. While Nancy and Will both resent this new rule and subsequently break it, Karen is only trying to be a good mom. She is being responsible after the new tragic events that have come to lay so heavily over Hawkins.

The fact that her children disobey her is exciting to watch, but it does make viewers feel bad for her, partially because she doesn’t really know what’s going on.

9 Hate – Shushing The Boys At the Funeral

In season one, despite not being able to find Will’s body, a funeral is held for the missing youngest Byers. While the boys, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas don’t believe Will is dead, they attend.

In part because they don’t believe Will is dead they are talking quite a bit. Karen tells them to shush which, while socially appropriate, is perhaps not the best reaction when your son’s best friend is supposedly dead. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate to let Mike and hid friends “grieve” in their own way.

8 Felt Bad – Agents At The House

Karen is far from in the know when it comes to just what is going on with her oldest two children. Again, in season one, she tried very hard to show some interest in her children’s safety (in insisting they be in before dark) but Demogorgons and telekinesis are a bit beyond her.

So when agents, associated with the goings on at Hawkins lab, show up at her door with concerns about her son, Karen is a little out of her element, and that’s understandable.

7 Hate – Listening to Mike’s Phone Call

In season three of Stranger Things, Eleven and Mike make their relationship official and begin dating. While any parent would want to keep certain tabs on their child in his or her first relationship, Karen listening in on a phone call between El and Mike isn’t a great parenting look.

She is particularly confused because this is the call where Mike lies about the health of his nana, in an attempt to appease Hopper, but it could have been something more intimate or personal. If she trusts Mike enough to be in a relationship she shouldn’t be listening on the phone.

6 Felt Bat – Mike Lied to Her

Stranger Things - Mike Wheeler with Walkie Talkie

Trust goes both ways, and Mike didn’t trust his mom enough either. He tells Karen that all he’s doing is going to a generic sleepover when, really, he needs to go off and attend to the possessed Will.

No one in Hawkins seems to know how to ask for help, especially the children. It’s hard not to feel bad for Karen when she is trying to do her best. No one feels bad for her when she’s not paying attention, but when she’s trying it’s hard to hold her faults against her.

5 Hate – Ogling Billy

Stranger Things Billy And Karen Wheeler

One of Karen’s worst moves is her overt ogling of Billy at the community pool. Billy is the lifeguard. Billy does walk around without a shirt. Billy does make a point of speaking to Karen.

However, Billy is also the same age as Karen’s own daughter, and making eyes at him in such a public place is not only inappropriate but also demeaning to both Karen and Billy. Billy makes look good at the pool, but it’s not a great look for Karen Wheeler.

4 Felt Bad – When Nancy Lied

Nancy, in an attempt to get around the no going out at night rule, lied to her mother about going to a school assembly in honor of Will, when she just wanted to hang out with Steve.

Nancy does get to hang out with Steve, but that leads to a bit more trouble than anyone was bargaining for. Poor Karen is left out of what is really going on in her children’s lives, and in Hawkins overall. It’s hard not to feel bad for her at the moment.

3 Hate – Making Plans With Billy

It might have been possible to forgive Karen for simply looking at Billy during her time at the pool, but the fact that she goes as far as to make plans with him is unforgivable.

Private swimming lessons at a secluded motel is not an innocent invitation, and Karen is smart enough to know what she’s signing up for. While, in the end, she doesn’t go through with visiting Billy at the motel, it’s still quite problematic that she goes far enough that she later needs to apologize for not arriving.

2 Felt Bad – When Mike Didn’t Want to Rent a Movie

Karen may not be aware of what exactly is going on with her children, but she certainly can tell that neither Mike nor Nancy are feeling at their best. She tries to be the best mom she can when she offers to take Mike out to rent a movie with her.

The fact that Mike declines, basically blowing her off, can make anyone sympathize with a parent who is just trying her best and offering up special treats her children, under normal circumstances, would enjoy.

1 Hate – Apologizing to Billy

After sticking with her family, and standing up Billy at the motel pool, Karen actually goes to apologize to Billy for not making an appearance. While Billy, newly possessed, screams at her to stay away from him, Karen should have known that to begin with.

She should have let her actions speak for themselves and stopped attempting to speak with Billy all together. Karen just needed to let it all go.

NEXT: Stranger Things: 5 Times We Felt Bad For Steve (& 5 Times We Hated Him)


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About The Author

Jessie Atkin holds an MFA in creative writing. She is a storyteller, writer, and reader. She’s a YA connoisseur, Star Wars enthusiast, Harry Potter fanatic, Mets devotee, and trivia aficionado.

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