Forming Family Bonds in the Digital Age
Families have lost and found members with the help of social media and the Internet, but the experiences can be both disconcerting as well as heart-warming.
Before the Internet, people searched for lost family members for years, sometimes decades, while others embarked on journeys to adopt children they weren't able to have on their own, both facing many obstacles and hurdles.
Often, parents hoping to adopt a child found their efforts stymied by a long, drawn-out, paper-riddled process that may or may not would have ended with a bouncing baby years after their first search began.
Remnants of that process remain as cumbersome to navigate as ever, but the Internet is streamlining the adoption process by providing a quicker, more efficient way to match adoptable children with willing parents, even across countries and cultures. And while digital data facilitates adoptions through online matching and paperwork, in other cases, lost family members are being tracked down using social media and other databases.
The Adoption Conundrum
Even though millions of kids wait in child services systems around the world, adopting a child requires an enormous amount of effort, money and preparation on the parents' end, and for good reason -- child placement isn't taken lightly. At the same time, the process is often held up by bureaucratic shuffling and red tape and not the time it takes to do a proper vetting.
Advancements like the National Network Parent Match may change the face of adoption by making the search and paperwork far less painful and time-consuming. Parent Match works with adoption agencies in the U.S. to get children into the right homes faster, and it's working for many couples.
"Before Parent Match existed, an agency in Maine with an expectant mom who was looking for an adoptive family for her child would never have know that there was a perfect family in Texas waiting for her with another agency," said Parent Match founder Dr. Lori Ingber. "Parent Match allows agencies and adoption attorneys to communicate with one another in a way they never have before."
Digital tools can support couples on their journey, helping people who aren't immediately successful. Rick and Erika Jones, for example, turned to Twitter to find a child, raising awareness about the often tedious and disorganized adoption process. Although they received retweets from lots of supporters, including celebrities, the couple, who are foster parents, has yet to find a child to adopt.
Of course, there's a flip side to the Internet making it easier for adoptive parents to find a child in need of a good home. The child's biological family can use the Internet to find them, and that might not always be welcome.
Reunited and It Feels So Good
Of course, sometimes reunions with long-lost family is welcome. With one remarkable case, a homeless veteran named Ronald Paul Burden reconnected with the son he'd never met over Google+ after his son saw caught an interview with the medical specialist on YouTube. Their heartwarming 47-minute conversation demonstrated the Internet's power as a connecting tool.
And the Donor Sibling Registry, an online resource helping people conceived using sperm banks find their half-siblings, can foster lifelong friendships between biologically related people. One member, Cynthia Daily, created a group for the people related to her, with positive results.
Siblings separated by foster case or abusive family situations have tracked each other down through social networks, as was the case with one Texas woman who located her long-lost brother using Craigslist. After she learned of her brother's existence, she posted about looking for him. She knew he'd moved to Canada, and figured it might take a while to track him down, but they were able to connect with each other within two hours of the post.
First Comes Love...
Before families are created, the Internet often plays an important role in matchmaking through online dating and the way people use social networks like Facebook and e-mail to forge their relationships.
Though there's no "I want kids" button on Facebook (yet, anyways), many sites let people filter through potential husband and wife material based on whether they want a tiny, expensive bundle of joy down the line. There's even dating sites catering specifically towards people who want or already have kids, like Single Parent Click or the somewhat strangely named Local Single Moms. There's even a site for children who want to set their parents up with someone, Sleepless in Seattle-style, called Matchmaking Kids, which is likely to result in some awkward blind dates.
What If We Don't Want to be Found?
For every story of a successful reunion between family members, there's another where the digitally fueled return of a long-lost parent or sibling can result in heartache and disappointment.
Some adopted children find their biological parents online and set up fulfilling and healthy relationships, but it doesn't always work out that way. Sometimes people use social media to find their biological children before they turn 18, causing unexpected upset within both households.
And even though after they make the first contact, sometimes life can take very twisted turns, as was the case with Aimee L. Sword, who used Facebook to track down her 16-year-old son and ended up having sex with him. That kind of Oedipal incident undoubtedly scarred the adopted son far more than never hearing from his birth mother would have.
Also, although the Donor Sibling Registry turned out to be a good experience for Cynthia Daily, other children of sperm donors found having access to the information a disconcerting experience because they found out they had many more siblings than they thought they would, sometimes up to 18. Some are calling for a reform of the sperm bank industry, and they are concerned about accidental incest. The only way they know about the potential for that is through the database, so in a way they have the Internet to thank for opening their eyes about how some sperm donation centers work, even though they didn't like what they found.
The Internet can bring people together for better or for worse. If organizations like Parent Match can continue to slim down unwieldy red tape and people continue to use social media to draw attention to the plight of adoptive parents, the Internet is likely to help streamline the adoption process.
But although the Internet may make it simpler to adopt, it also blows adoptions wide open, so both parents and children need to set up respectful ways to reach out to one another that speak to the digital age.
Agree or disagree? We'd love to hear your thoughts. Share your experience and leave a comment below. ♦
Categories: Culture Desk | Features