The biggest question I've frequently been asked in the past year is, "How did you get into a family?" The simplest answer I have is that I was adopted into it. Sometimes I refer them back to this post that talks about the day it happened. But inevitably, it leads to more questions. "How did you get kids? What kinds of things does a family do? How do you deal with family changes? Is it constant roleplay? You don't find this weird at all? How can I get a family like yours, too?" Let me kind of detail how the family thing has gone for me.
My sister and brother were already family and in the family community before they sibling adopted me. I was friends with them. I knew I cared about them and I knew that being their sister would be fun. More than that, I already felt safe with them. I knew saying "yes" to them would be a good thing. If you're looking to start a family, getting siblings that are already your friends is a really good start. I usually suggest that to adults who are looking to get into it all because if they are friends, there is a good chance you already feel like they are your siblings.
Family changes are inevitable. People get adopted, people leave, new people come in. Is it strange sometimes? Of course. Our brother is now our forever brother [forever siblings are those who are always family to you, no matter where they go or what family they join] because he joined a family that included parents. We're happy for him that he did! But my sister and I don't have parents. We would probably get grounded a lot if we did.
Getting kids can be kind of a process, but worth it when you find kids that click with you and your family. Most decent kids in SL want to have good parents who make them feel safe. I never realized it before joining a family and becoming a SL mom, but most kid avatars are quite vulnerable because they put their "little self" out there in a way that adults never do. I feel it more with the ones who are dedicated kids than the ones who flip back and forth between kid and adult avatars, but it's still there. They trust that someone who says they are family will not hurt them, so if you look into getting a kid, realize that you need to do what you can to not abuse that trust.
We got our two girls two different ways. Abby was my plurk friend and then our goddaughter, and Birdy we met through Heritage Adoptions. If you're not sure if you're ready for the big step of becoming a parent, becoming a godparent can be a great introduction to having a kid around but there are some things you have to know about it first. If you become a godparent to a kid who has a family, realize that you may not see them too often. Your role as a godparent is basically to talk to them or give snuggles or just be there for them sometimes when their parents are unable to be. This is good in that your time is still your own and not too much changes in your life. But it can be bad, too, if you start to grow very attached to the child and you don't want them to leave. Their first priority is their existing family, not you. But yes, on occasion, you end up with them as your child. It happened with us, and it happened with Lolita and Takeo with Payton. Sometimes the bond is just really strong and you can't stop it. [We're not baby snatchers, despite what you might have heard.] [No, seriously.] You can find a godchild at an adoption place like Heritage, or you can ask around if anyone knows a kid looking for a godparent.
Our adoption with Birdy was through Heritage, but not the "traditional" adoption since we did a longer trial period. Heritage has it set that kids are on trial with their prospective parents for just one week. Every day you get notices saying that you have so many days left in your trial. It can actually be quite anxiety making! But you are absolutely not required to only take a week and I urge you strongly to take a much longer trial period than just one week. If the kid is heavily campaigning to be adopted within the first few days, it is a red flag. If they are mad at you for wanting to extend the trial past a week, it is a red flag. If they try to get too familiar too quickly, honey...it is a red flag. Long trials, especially for kids you didn't know before, allow you both to get to know each other and learn about how you can combine your SLives together. You might feel that this is the kid for you within the first day, but still, extend it out just a little longer. Our trial with Birdy was over two weeks long and that was a shorter trial than we were anticipating, but the whole family basically knew from the start that she would be adopted. When you do go on trial with someone, if you feel like things are not working out, you have to speak up. That goes for both parent and child. You should never feel pressured to join a family.
If you do decide to hop in and adopt through an agency, remember that you must have a home for them already. If you're the type who just lives on a platform or you stay in sandboxes all of the time, being a parent may not be for you. Heritage is actually specific on their panel notecard that you MUST have a place for the child to live. They aren't required to live with you during the trial period, but I suggest that they do because you have to get used to each other. Make sure you get a kid who can be online around the times that you are, too. Do NOT pick someone who can only be in SL from 8am to 12pm when you can only be there at 1pm. It is unfair to both you and the child. Also remember that if you have kids, you will need to plan things for them to do once in a while. Sure they can entertain themselves, but like RL kids, they do get bored! I'm actually quite bad about this, though. Luckily for me, my sister is much better at planning family activities than I am. We do movie nights, game nights, go on vacations, and explore different places. And remember, too, that even if you have kids, you still have to take time for yourself and your partner [if you have one] once in a while. Your kids shouldn't mind and if you want to get "real" about it, you can hire a babysitter. But usually the kids just entertain themselves, or go to bed early.
Is being in a family constant roleplay? Well, yes and no. We do talk about our real lives when we're together. A Second Life family is about friendship, after all. But there is always that bit of roleplay there. Lolita and I refer to each other as "sis" most of the time on plurk. Our kids refer to each other as cousins. We do have times when we're more heavily into the family thing, like when we do vacations, have game or movie nights, or do meal times together. The kids very rarely use their voice to speak on Skype with us to maintain the whole kid thing. So yes, there is always that bit of family roleplay, but my family doesn't feel the need to immerse ourselves in it to the point of not knowing about the others' real lives. If you like more heavy roleplay, there are certainly people out there who would do that with you. You have to find the balance that works for you.
All families are different and while you might see our pictures or hear of our adventures, you might find that a family like mine doesn't work for you and that's okay. The most important thing in having a family in SL is that you are with people that you feel safe with, that you can have fun with, and who make your life happy.