Like everyone else out there, I’m currently obsessed with Stranger Things 2.
Stranger Things has been a massive hit for multiple reasons. The thing that propels it to greatness, especially in the eyes of us ’90’s kids, is the Duffer Brother’s ability to pair a unique story with the familiar. They masterfully the evoke the nostalgia and real-life adventures of our childhoods and take it up a notch by infusing the supernatural.
The Duffer Brothers are also very good at building relationships between their characters. This became even more apparent in Stranger Things 2.
This season expands on the friendship theme and continues into an exploration of found families. Found families are especially important for teens looking for a safe place to process their experiences and explore their personalities and beliefs as they grow and change.
All shows about middle and high school aged kids focus on friendship groups, but few have portrayed found families quite as well as Stranger Things 2.
“The Party” is at the core of the found family, a ragtag group of outcasts who validate each other in a world where few can be trusted to accept them for the unabashed nerds that they are.
Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve, though older and arguably way too cool for “The Party,” become the wise older siblings of all the kids, not just the ones they’re related to, and they provide protection and guidance that the adults in their lives cannot, from things of which most of the adults are oblivious.
Joyce and Hopper become the “cool parents,” the only adults who can see the world as the kids see it. The only adults who are willing to believe and accept the kids for who they are. Even when painful and heartbreaking.
When the kids converge on Hopper’s cabin in the woods, they embrace Joyce as if she was their own mother, and she holds them as if they’re her own. Hopper’s affection is harder to spot as his character is clouded toxic masculinity, but his repeated willingness to put his life on the line for the children is his way of adopting them as his own.
The family formed between the kids and trusted adults in Stranger Things 2 cannot be forged by something as random as circumstance or biological material; their family is forged out of love, sacrifice, and unconditional acceptance.
Eleven’s experience is perhaps the best illustration of the importance of found families. She goes to find her biological family, but discovers they cannot be there for her the way that she’d hoped. They are absent and tainted by the trauma of her past.
She then seeks out her “sister,” who has created a family of her own, one bound by their love for each other and their desire for revenge. This family also isn’t right for her, but their bond and devotion to each other reminds her of what she really wants in a family. So she returns to the only family she’s ever known, her found family in Hawkins.
We also see the power of the found family when Will is in the grip of the monster. Both his friends and family play a vital role in reminding him who he really is. The bonds created by their years of shared experience pull him back from the brink. He needed his found family to save him, and they rose to the task.
The found family of Stranger Things 2 is a powerful demonstration of what it looks like to truly love and be loved. It’s a vital reminder that the families we choose are the ones who can save us from a world that can be dark and dangerous, even if it’s not merging with the Upside Down.
When I saw the found family from Hawkins, I felt a pang for my own found family, the one I created when I was a struggling teenager. I suffered from crippling anxiety and depression, which I learned to cope with by using drugs and alcohol. I was wild, rebellious, and often downright savage, which made my relationship with my family difficult. Luckily, when I got to high school I stumbled into the drama club and met the people who would become my found family for the next four, excruciating years.
Whenever I had a fight with my parents I could flee to one of their houses. Whenever the world felt like it was going to crush me, they would wrap me up, stroke my hair, and protect me from everything.
These friends and their parents literally kept me alive through some of the worst years of my life. They were there for me when I wouldn’t let my parents in and they loved me back to life when I was on the edge of the abyss, just like Will. Without the whole being possessed by an evil shadow monster, obviously.
We all need found families to survive, and it’s nice to see a show that really explores how important they are to tweens and teens struggling in a world that they barely understand.
I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for the Hawkins family in season 3!