When we first meet Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) in Stranger Things, he's furiously making out with Nancy (Natalia Dyer). Right off the bat, we learn he has a C- in chemistry that he shrugs off in pursuit of another make-out sesh with his star-student girlfriend, later crawling his way into her window. In the following episodes, he throws the house party responsible for Barb's (Shannon Purser) disappearance and destroys Jonathan's (Charlie Heaton) camera. By episode 6, he's a full-on villain, assisting in spray-painting "Nancy The Slut" on the town's movie theater marquee. So why, now, is every Stranger Things fan calling him "mom"?
"Mama Steve" and "babysitter Steve" have become popular monikers for the character, who returns for the show's third season this summer. When we last saw him, he was shepherding all the kids through the Upside Down, saving their lives while also, in Dustin's case, giving makeovers. This 180 came at the end of a long road of personal growth.
"Steve was supposed to be this jocky douche bag, and Joe was so much more than that," Ross Duffer, the co-creator of Stranger Things, told The Hollywood Reporter back 2017. "We knew, moving into season 2, we really wanted to utilize him but we didn't actually know how to do it — especially once Nancy moves on. We didn't know quite what to do with him."
Steve does manage to redeem himself at the end of the first season by helping Nancy and Jonathan defeat the demogorgon, giving him the coveted title of internet boyfriend. However, he and Nancy break up early in the second season, leaving an open slot for a new relationship — no, not a romantic one. Something a little bit more maternal.
"That led to the Duffers' notion of pairing him with Dustin, who's also kind of keeping a secret and is about to have his heart broken in a similar love triangle," executive producer Shawn Levy explained to THR. "It came from a place of not wanting Joe Keery to play the sad sack beat for nine episodes. What's the scenario we can put Steve in to once again surprise us and once again step up in a way that a stereotypical character wouldn't? That led to the Steve and Dustin alliance, which led to such incredible character work and moments for the second half of the season."
Steve and Dustin's bromance was celebrated by fans — us included. However, with such a long wait between season 2 and season 3, fans were left to their own devices to take Steve Harrington memes to the next level. It turns out, they were charmed by Steve's relationship with all the children, and the way he went from popular asshole to protective guardian, earning him the nickname of babysitter and, later, mom.
Fans were so loud with their love that Netflix couldn't help but notice and the streaming service has been totally playing along with the fun.
"How many children are you friends with?" Robin (Maya Hawke) asks Steve, in a line practically written for fans.
There's no reason you can't be a mom and an internet boyfriend, and Steve seems to walk that line perfectly. But don't get too comfortable — for all you know, this season will bring another transformation.
Stranger Things 3 returns on July 4.