Our culture suffers from a bit of an obsession with our biological origins. Those who gave birth to us are our parents, and others who are genetically connected to us are our family members, and we are expected to respect and love them, even when they prove themselves to be unworthy of our respect and love. This is exemplified in holidays such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day- no matter what your parents may have done to you, there is a cultural expectation that you will contact your family of origin on these holidays. You’re likely to be looked down upon if you refuse to be with your family of origin on any of the major “family holidays” for whatever your religious or cultural affiliation may be. If you’ve been abused by the very people you’re expected to laud on these occasions, you’re still likely to hear comments like, “Come on, give them a chance- after all, it’s Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Other-Winter-Holiday-Of-Your-Choosing.” Survivors often talk about spending holidays without families, and how these are often the hardest days of the year for them. The good news is, the solution to this problem is remarkably simple- we need to change our cultural concept of what a family is.
I am blessed with a wonderful family. The fact that most of them have no biological connection to me is meaningless. I know that if I’m in any kind of danger, my family will get together to find a way to help me, and make sure to protect me until that solution is reached. The friend who didn’t know how to help me as I was running away from my abuser, but sent me a big box of stuffed animals, cards, and books, hoping to just put a smile on my face, is family. The friends who hid me out at their houses and consistently put their own lives on hold to ensure my safety are family. The friends who advocated for me when nobody would help me and responded lovingly to my countless hysterical phone calls are family. My absolutely incredible, little brother, who gives me a reason to keep trying to look for answers in the middle of a horrific situation, is family. Who needs more of a family than that?
Child abuse survivors are often made to feel like there are only two options- suffer with the family they’re born with, or be alone, and it is up to each of us to show these very brave survivors that they do not have to suffer through abuse in order to be part of a family, and to be that loving, supportive family member to anyone in our life who may need one. Survivors need to know that it is okay not to want to be a part of an abusive family, and to have the unconditional love and support of substitute family members.
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