“Aunty Vivi, can I please have a cousin?” was the question from my 3-year-old nephew, Lucas. Admittedly, he’d been prompted to ask this potentially sensitive question by his dad (my brother-in-law), but the question was genuine. As the only grandchild on both sides of his family, Lucas was keen for the company of some other kids during family gatherings.
It took a few years before we granted Lucas his wish, but fast-forward nearly two decades, and Lucas is now the senior cousin of nine kids, ranging in age from 11 to 21. My son is the youngest and, delightfully, he shares a middle name with his big cousin, Lucas, who has repaid our granting of his childhood request many times over with his cousinly care and companionship. The boys’ shared love of trains and football made it easy whenever we handed my son over to say, jokingly, “We only had kids because you wanted cousins, so enjoy looking after them!”
Now that my kids are 11 and 14, I am happier than ever that my sisters and I all had kids around the same time. Cousins are the magical middle ground between a sibling and a peer. The genetics that we share with our cousins mean that, somehow, we recognize ourselves in the other. Do cousins somehow see their parents’ long-lived sibling bond, or is there some other explanation for their easy comfort with each other?
Combined with shared family traditions, familiarity builds a base for strong connections between cousins.
At the same time, households are different, and the genetic grab-bag provided by the in-laws yields far greater variety in personality and style than among siblings. And that’s where the gold happens—like when we found out during our annual extended family holiday that two of my kids’ nearly-teenager cousins made their own breakfast and lunch and were far more willing to help out with domestic duties. (Okay, maybe that discovery and the changes we made when we got home were more fun for me than for my kids.)
For my kids, it’s about companionship. While my son is the youngest of the cousin group, my 14-year-old daughter is firmly in the middle. She is incredibly fortunate to have five cousins (across both sides of our family) aged within one year of her. For a girl who has, at times, struggled to fit in easily with other kids, having these built-in peers have been lifesaving for her and sanity-saving for me. Through her cousins, she has developed confidence and skills that she otherwise might not have acquired.
Luckily for our kids, their cousins are all on the mature, responsible, and dedicated side of life, so they are providing positive role models. My kids have watched their cousins work hard and achieve at school, throw themselves into passion-based activities, enjoy their lives, and stay strong despite curveballs thrown at them by the external world and their internal hormones.
They are starting to see their cousins learn to drive, choose careers, and fall in love. They recently welcomed the first “in-law” girlfriend into the cousin-fold with total acceptance, tinged with a decent amount of good-natured teasing. (That’s how you really know she’s “in”.)
My kids and their cousins remain close even though they only see each other once or twice a year. There is a chance that this might even help the relationships stay strong, as they are unable to become tired of each other and any get-together is eagerly anticipated. Technology helps maintain the link between visits, with “cousin chat” messages sometimes flying thick and fast.
I wonder how my kids’ cousin relationships will translate as they all move past their teen years. Maybe the closeness of their childhood and teen years won’t survive the transition. Or maybe, as they are currently scheming, they really will all move to the same city after finishing school and live together while they move into adulthood.
Regardless, they’ll always have these years to hold on to.