Watching siblings grow up on online | How Facebook affects family estrangement



I was lucky enough to have a happy childhood.

My parents split up before my first birthday. Living with mum and spending time with dad (who lived a fair distance away in terms of the UK) every other weekend worked out pretty well for all of us. 

My mum was my best friend (and still is - although, that's probably a little sad to say as an adult, sorry mum), and my dad was my absolute world. They both got on fairly well and I didn't have to deal with any broken-home ordeals some families go through - to which I'd thank them both for, honestly.

But when I was around 11, I lost contact with my dad.

Things weren't great, although they were never awful either. But I wasn't happy. I asked to go home, and that was that.

I can't really explain it to you any more than that because I guess that's all I really know. I don't know how that affected my family. I don't even know if my dad was happy to see the back of me or whether he cried after I left. I just know there wasn't a phone call the next day to ask how I was, no birthday cards the following years or ever little beep on my phone to remind me he was thinking of me.

Nothing. And so, life carried on.

The first photo

A few years later, I became friends with various family members through Facebook. Which seems odd, thinking about it.

But that was the day I saw the first photo of my not-so-baby brother beaming with a cheeky grin through the screen.

It's worth mentioning, that the siblings I left behind really were the thing I loved most in my little world at 11 years old. I talked about them at every opportunity I could take, I played with them, taught them naughty words and made my youngest brother smile by singing Basshunter at his tiny little face when he hardly smiled at all. (From my memory, of course).

He was so bloody big! More hair, more teeth and possibly more freckles - but definitely the same little baby I'd left five years before. It was my brother, and he was all grown up.

Reflecting

It wasn't until very recently, while pregnant with my first child, and still non-existent in the B-side of my family's lives, that I really thought about it.

I'd watched my siblings grow up, entirely online.

We talk about the dangers of the internet, and how scary the online-world is becoming. But there I am, completely and utterly grateful to a completely oblivious and in-animate website that was used as the window to my own family for all those years.

I've been able to watch my two youngest brothers pass milestones and pose for their first-day-at-school uniform photos and somehow never ever pass through that awkward-ugly phase that plagued my life for eight long, miserable years.

But I'm sat there feeling pissed off that throughout those years, I've never been able to tell them I love them. Or even know for myself if they have vague memories of me, or whether any photos including me were thrown out the second I left.


And all of that, leads to me to writing this.

How on earth does all of this really affect family estrangement? 

We all hear the stories of old school friends reaching out to each other online and meeting up after 30 years of living completely separate lives. Or the long-distance family members staying in contact with each other through funny status updates about their jobs, husbands and kids and their travel photos.

But what if all those status' and photos are there, maybe even the 'friendship' link, but the messages aren't?

How are you supposed to feel when you see your aunty post a status update with your parent's name blacked out to realise they've blocked you, even though you were never 'friends' to begin with?


Let's face it, Facebook isn't to blame at all here. I should have been more responsible for my own feelings - I shouldn't have gotten so close if the rejection could hurt, fine, that's probably more than true.

But I find it interesting that Facebook doesn't understand family estrangements - of course it doesn't - and in fact, a few years prior, it made me chuckle to myself that my dad had come up as a 'suggested friend' on my account.

We don't post online how we feel about the more serious stuff happening in our lives - or at least, most of us don't. A family member once told me through a private message that my dad had been upset that I wasn't there for a special occasion they'd shared. 

But I wasn't talking about missing him. 

In fact, I was sharing smiling photos of me and my school friends and bragging about how I'd taught myself to play guitar. (So deep, teenage me, well done...). 

I even posted a photo of my mum's partner in a party hat at one point, with the caption, 'Christmas with Dad' - to which, I still have no explanation for, except that I was a confused teenager that probably just wanted to look 'normal' to the people I went to school with. Let's not go there.

Family life can be complicated. Muddled and messed up in all sorts of ways.

But what if I don't want that for my kids?

It seems cruel after stating how grateful I am to watch my siblings grow up online, but honestly? I don't want my family to see the same photos of me.

Life shouldn't be watched through an LED wall. 

I'll never understand a parent who doesn't want to reach out to their own child - but I've stopped trying to.

He shouldn't see me graduate on Facebook, or get promotions at work on LinkedIn. He shouldn't see how successful my business gets or how happy I am on my wedding day.

He shouldn't see my baby boy the day he's born, and get to watch a video of the first time he says 'Mummy' or watch him toddle for the first time through the hallway of the house my partner and I worked so hard for.

Because it was all made so easy by the modern, online world.

And all it would really take, is that phone call, a birthday card or a beep on my phone to remind me he was still there.


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