With family size shrinking, the cousin relationship is becoming rarer these days. Here's some reason to celebrate it!
I spoke with my own kids on what would be their ideal number of offspring, and like their contemporaries they’re all pretty keen on having one or two children (apart from one son who is set on having 11 — although I’m pretty sure his motives are soccer-related… ), so it seems that the next generation will be cut in half again. And this isn’t just happening in my family; overall, the numbers of large families are dwindling, with the U.S. Census Bureau putting the average American household at 3.16 in 2016. And I can’t help but feel that as family sizes decrease, so too does the real joy that comes with being part of a ready-made tribe.
So to make sure our kids, and their kids, have their own gang of people they can count on, our family is turning to the next best thing: cousins. Those wonderful family members who encapsulate all that we love in our siblings and best friends. They offer that same unquestioning love of a brother or sister — without all the bickering when you live with someone 24/7 — which seems perfect really. And there are further benefits of being close to your cousins:
Readily approved companion
When we make friends and introduce them to our families we hope our parents will approve. Cousins, however, are born with this stamp of approval already in place. And over time, as parents try to give their children more independence, it’s so much easier when there’s a cousin around watching over them too.
Support and protection
As childhood companions, cousins will also have gone through the same rites of passage (either at the same time or not). They’ll understand what each other is going through, be a shoulder to lean on, and offer advice that might be accepted more easily than coming from a sibling. (Remember there’s no sibling rivalry between cousins!) They can confide in each other in a way that won’t get back to mom and dad, yet they will always have each others’ interests at heart. And when going through those emotional upheavals such as grandma dying, a cousin combating cancer, or a brother getting married; they’ll understand all those feelings without needing to spell it out.
And from this support they can also offer fierce protection. If anyone tries to harm a cousin verbally or physically, there’s nothing like a big, or little, heroic cousin to come and save the day!
Understand the functioning of your family
Okay, we all have a relative or two who might be, say, a little more troublesome than others, but we still love them. An overly talkative aunt, a grumpy uncle, a niece that plays their music excessively loud; every family has them and they are often the butt of a private joke or two. In fact it’s these annoyances that make your family unique and there’s nothing better when other people understand how your family operates. If you complain to your cousin about great aunt Emma eating all the lemon pie again, or that your mom won’t let you go to a concert, it’s not a big issue, your cousin knows this doesn’t alter your love for these relatives. And more importantly, it’s great for cousins to share all the gratitude they might have for their families. Only they know just how wonderful grandpa is at making people laugh …
In my family a vacation is not actually a vacation if a cousin or two isn’t involved. These are the times where bonds are forged over happy, positive moments spent together. Cousins are synonymous with these feelings of joy, and we could all do with that in our lives. It’s also great for aunts and uncles too. They get to share fun times with their siblings’ kids; spoil them, teach them new skills, and tell them off (if necessary) without any repercussions. And, most importantly, they provide entertainment for their own kids.
Family occasions are never boring
As kids we often go from one family function to the next: large Sunday meals, baptisms, weddings, or the endless birthday parties that crop up. And where would we be without a cousin or two by our side to run around with? A gang of cousins not only keeps each other occupied but also provides much needed entertainment (and occasional annoyance) for older generations. They help keep the older family members in tune with what’s going on in our ever-technological world, and there’s nothing sweeter than seeing a grandchild explain the virtues of Snapchat to their grandparent.
Keep family traditions alive
We all know a family recipe or two that can’t be beaten, or a Christmas ritual unique to our own families that are repeated over the years. These little traditions are often born out of love and respect for each other, and by keeping them going in the family they’re safe for generations to come. It provides a sense of history and belonging to children, which only helps them feel secure and loved.
Age is not an issue
The best thing about cousins is that age is never an issue. When there is a large span of ages, big cousins play with their impressed little cousins, no one is left out. And if they are, there’s an aunt or uncle at hand to quickly sort that out. Cousins can learn from each other at any age, whether it’s how to change the diaper of the latest arrival, or a teen cousin showing off their fishing skills. Every one is of value and you can’t beat that!
With an affirmed companion firmly in place, you’ll have a friend for life. Someone who has witnessed all your good, and not-so-good, moments and is still by your side. As you leaf through those family photo albums (or more likely click through them these days!), you’ll both be smiling for the same reasons. There’s something very beautiful about shared memories that is not easy to find elsewhere.
Finally, cousins can be present in each others’ lives to varying degrees. Sometimes education or travel might separate them for a while, or there might be those cousins who live abroad whom we rarely see. However, the beauty of a cousin relationship is that when we do meet up it’s as if nothing has changed (also social media is a great way of keeping in touch!); the bedrock of love was formed years before and it is solid.
To help celebrate the beauty of having cousins my own family has a Cousins’ Day every year. The 24 (and counting) grandchildren of my mom and dad get together to eat cake, lots of it, drink too many sodas, bounce around on trampolines, and basically wreak havoc in the garden. It’s a day dedicated to them and everyone makes the effort to turn up; even the cousins in their 20s make the effort to come and play with their baby cousins. It’s a time for them to realize how lucky they are to have each other (and cake), and it’s a time for us parents to strengthen our own sibling bonds surrounded by the circus that is our family.
Since you are here…
…we’d like to have one more word with you. We are excited to report that Aleteia’s readership is growing at a rapid rate, world-wide! Our team proves its mission every day by providing high-quality content that informs and inspires a Christian life. But quality journalism has a cost and it’s more than ads can cover. We want our articles to be accessible to everyone, free of charge, but we need your help. To continue our efforts to nourish and inspire our Catholic family, your support is invaluable. Become an Aleteia Patron today for as little as $3 a month. May we count on you?