A friend once invited me to a party with a lot of people she worked with. I didn’t know anyone there except her, but I’m a social critter so that didn’t stop me from interacting with this gang of university types. After all, I read a book once (and had recently dropped out of a PhD program, but that’s another story). There was this guy surrounded by a few folks who was spouting some crap about how the American family was imperiled and dead or dying. Never one to be shy about keeping my opinions to myself (especially when there is alcohol involved), I challenged him. My view is that family is so important that if we don’t have one or if the one we have fails to serve, we create a new family. My friend was utterly humiliated–the guy was a professor who taught family relations or some such. But he WAS wrong. I’ve seen all kinds of families that took the place of absent or dysfunctional families. I belong to some.
Social, recreational, mutual support, religious, and other kinds of groups can become the family we need when we need it. We will seek out people who provide emotional, social, and maybe even financial help. We need that. We crave it. And if your birth family doesn’t provide what you need, you have every right to join a different family, one of your own choosing, your own creation. The internet has made it easier to meet and become part of communities of support and to help in forming new families to fill the needs of those who can not get what they so desperately need from their biological kin.
This morning I read about Stepan, a social media sensation with over one million followers, an influencer who also happens to be a cat. He used to live in Ukraine. Suddenly, Instagram and TikTok posts from Stepan stopped. His followers waited an anxious two weeks before they finally heard that he was safely in France. His human, Anna, and her two sons were able to escape the heavily bombed city of Kharkiv. Once they were in Poland, help came from The World Influencers and Bloggers Association and the organization’s CEO and founder Maria Grazhina Chaplin. Last year this organization named Stepan one of the world’s top “petfluencers.”
Through the media, social networks, and other resources, a great many of us have joined an international family that watches and waits anxiously as our distant, new loved ones deal with the atrocities of an unprovoked assault on their home. Volodymyr Zelenskyy has become our favorite cousin, loved and admired by the whole family, while Vladimir Putin seems like the creepy uncle you wish your Aunt Betty would divorce. Through social media and instant news, we are closer than ever to people we can and should love and support.
As winter turns to spring, we all pray this war will end and restore our family and friends, human and animal alike, to a peaceful world. When it is finally over, rebuilding will be a long and difficult process. Hopefully the people of Ukraine will get some help from their new world family. In the mean time, I’ll be planting sunflowers in my garden.
Some information for this post came from the Washington Post article “How Stepan, Ukraine’s Most Famous Cat, Escaped the War to Safety” by Taylor Lorenz.
Image: Sunflower seeds. By Marilyn Evans.