I lost a lot of grandparents when I was very young. My immediate family seemed to shrink, especially when my brothers moved away for college. Feeling like my family was so small, I liked to think of my church as a family as well, off and on. My parents also let my friends come over for holiday dinners when we were teens, and they also felt like my family was their family. And then there were my best friends' families, and their homes always felt like my second homes.
For some people, the concept of family is pretty concrete. It's those people you have to see at holidays or who call too much or who you have blood ties to. My family is very important to me- this one in my "adult house", then the one where I grew up and my immediate blood family members, then my in-laws. My family has definitely expanded, and I feel like all three of those are "my family." I `can't not include any of those groups.
I went on a senior high school trip this past weekend, and I was reminded of how important the church family is for teens. In a time where your family often seems to waver, or you're not sure if you trust your family, I don't know how other teens without churches even get through it all. I passed out my phone number and email to my cabin just in case- just in case they have to talk to someone different, just in case they need a ride, just in case of anything. I remember how important that was to me when a counselor told me I could call them anytime, or whatever.
Family should be a term that you can "spread out", if you will, when your own family is confusing. We joined a church so that my stepkids can have that alternate, somewhat unchanging family as they grow up, since we knew that their life was going to continue to be confusing and unstable. So although they won't know who to trust sometimes or what their family means, at least they will have a place to go to of people who have known them for years.
Thanks to Facebook, it's even easier than it ever use to be for me to keep in touch with the youth I've gotten to know over the past 3 years of my marriage and joining this new church. It's IM, board posting, picture sharing all in one. I can see how they're doing just from status messages, without them even having to reach out.
Then there's my in-laws. I'm pretty sure all of them are on Facebook. The moment I post anything, people from my husband's family that I don't even know are commenting on stuff or asking how it went. I also play games with them all, including some of our nieces that have sites mainly controlled by their parents and only for game use. I just love that I am technically playing with my 5-9 year old nieces everyday, exchanging fake stuff... Yeah, ok, strange. I still think its cool.
We'll be letting my oldest stepkid start her account soon. We're trying to stick to the 13 rule, as stated by the sites themselves and after she signed herself up on the YouTube pages as 23 years old. We'll also be sure to have our kids understand that Facebook is a connection to everybody- ALL their family, beyond and beyond. With that connection to all of these in-laws I've mentioned, maybe they'll start to see that their world is a lot larger. Then throw in the church people who can see what's up all the time and maintain a steady connection... And we've got a solid front finally coming from our family- or should I say "families"- but in a cyberspace sort of way.
Maybe its one new, big way to fight parental alienation and manipulation. Most manipulated kids just block the parent they don't know and their families, but my husband and I are the tech ones. We made sure to set them up with their first emails, laptops, Wekbinz, iPods, etc. first. My husband and I also know how to get around everything possible, even if we were blocked. Sneaky, that man I married.
I think one of our biggest hopes is that both kids see their family as larger than the divorce, larger than mom and dad, larger than their town. We've tried to get this across in a lot of different ways, from talking about how one day they could go to college in any number of towns where our families reside, to reminding them that there are many people outside of their mom's town who are their family. We have even used Facebook to show them that they have a ton of cousins they've never met. Family is everyone who loves you, who supports you. Family includes those who are different from you plus the ones that you barely see. Family is your church, family are the people who stand up for you, family is online. Family is bigger than just you, and any stories you may have heard. Family is bigger than court and the pain. Family is there, family is wide. And even if one family tells you to ignore all of the rest, the rest won't give up and won't shut up. We'll show up. =)