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Life Kit: Cultivating a chosen family

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

For some people, the holidays can be a painful reminder of family conflict or estrangement. But for Daniel Blevins, they're a reminder to spend more time with his chosen family, like his three chosen kids who he met online.

DANIEL BLEVINS: They just saw me as a father figure and an older gay man and somebody they had questions or they wanted to talk to.

DETROW: Blevins runs an online support group called Stand In Pride. It connects queer and trans people with stand-in parents for life events like weddings and graduations, and those relationships often last more than one day. Life Kit producer Margaret Cirino talked to Blevins about expanding a chosen family.

MARGARET CIRINO, BYLINE: For Blevins, chosen family is just family. He walked one of his chosen kids, his daughter Kesha, down the aisle at her wedding, and he says that cultivating this chosen family is crucial for many queer and trans people.

BLEVINS: I think it's saving lives, too, to show these younger people that you can survive.

CIRINO: But finding and building those connections is not easy. If you want a richer family network in your life, Blevins has a few tips. The good news is that you probably already have some chosen family to begin with.

BLEVINS: Take stock of the people who are around you, people who make you feel safe.

CIRINO: Ask yourself these key questions.

BLEVINS: Who checks on you? Who's concerned about your well-being? Who's making sure that you're OK? Just having that connection with someone who instinctively knows when you're not OK, I think that's a good indicator that you're more than just friends.

CIRINO: Maybe you have a really close friend that you want to think of as family, but you're unsure if they can be that for you because they've already got family of their own. Blevins says those things don't have to be exclusive.

BLEVINS: I know of a few instances where, you know, two best friends, one has their family. The other one doesn't. Their family adopts the other one and takes them in and just makes them part of the family.

CIRINO: Blevins says you can also challenge yourself to widen your network and find family outside of your preexisting circle. Join a Facebook group like Stand In Pride if you're part of the queer or trans community. There's also a sibling group that's open to everyone. That one is called Stand-In Family, and Blevins recommends another group called Free Mom Hugs.

BLEVINS: A lot of those who come to the group looking for support don't ever post anything. They read the introduction posts of those who are there to offer support, and they reach out to them. They just, you know, handle it privately.

CIRINO: You can also check out in-person groups if you're comfortable to find like-minded members. Maybe that means working in a community garden or volunteering at a local school or joining a hiking group. Or maybe you're looking for a deeper family connection in the long term, but right now, you need help with something specific.

BLEVINS: It just depends on where you live. There is a website called findhelp.org, and you can search by your ZIP code for a resource in your area.

CIRINO: Findhelp.org is good for lots of different situations, like you have an upcoming surgery and you need someone to drive you, or you need career advice - you know, all of those more logistical needs that you might normally turn to a family member for. Regardless of how much family you have in your life, all of us stand to benefit from deeper and more plentiful chosen family connections.

BLEVINS: If you think about a family dynamic, you know, if mom and dad both work, a lot of times, you may have a grandparent or an aunt and uncle who can pick you up from school because you're sick or a family friend, so you don't just depend on the mom and dad. It's a whole network of people. You know, they say it takes a village, and that's true.

CIRINO: For NPR News, I'm Margaret Cirino. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Margaret Cirino
Margaret Cirino (she/her) is a production assistant at Short Wave, NPR's daily science podcast. Her job involves pitching, producing and forcing her virtual and in-person co-workers to play board games with her. She has a soft spot for reporting on cute critters and outer space (not at the same time, of course).