Having an extended tribe brings joys and life skills, and prepares us for the future.
When I was a kid, we lived within 5 miles of 9 of our 10 cousins. Despite the vast age range between us, it was still amazing growing up so close (geographically and emotionally) to our cousins. It was like having an extended tribe — I always knew, no matter what happened (or how much I was angry with my siblings), that someone had my back.
Who that “someone” was rotated, naturally. Like all relationships, cousins have seasons of bonding and seasons of drifting. But learning to navigate those shifting dynamics from a young age gave all of us a better sense of how to navigate relationships in general.
I thought about those formative years of childhood when I read Casey Huff’s post on growing up near cousins atHer View from Home:
It’s all of the best parts of childhood, and the fact that the whole gang of cousins is present in nearly every single one. It’s future all-nighters, inside jokes, and secret handshakes. It’s an exclusive club of mischief-causers scheming to get one more scoop of ice cream, one more hour before bedtime, or one more free pass from their ornery escapades. It’s learning new skills from the bigs, and patience from caring for the littles. It’s gaining new perspectives on life from people who “get” our kids and understand all of the beauty and complexity of their family’s story in its entirety, the good and the bad.
My own kids haven’t had the experience I did. They’ve lived almost their entire lives at a geographical distance from their cousins — hundreds and hundreds of miles apart.
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My brother-in-law has always hated this. He was unhappy when we moved away from Texas and disliked the distance between our kids more vehemently than anyone else. For a long time, I was kind of annoyed by it. After all, we weren’t just lollygagging around the world — we moved for jobs, out of necessity.
And yet, as it took me many long years to remember, my kids were missing out on one of the most formative experiences of my childhood — growing up with an extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins to tease, torment, love, and protect them. They were missing out on the experience of having a tribe, of belonging to a group larger than their own nuclear family. In fact, they were missing out on learning what it is to belong to something larger than yourself, or your family.
We moved back to Texas a few months ago, and even though we live just a half-mile apart, the kids have seen each other much less often than I’d like. Part of it is routine kid stuff — someone’s always sick, teething, being sleep-trained, or (for us adults) just plain exhausted. But some of it is the fact that integrating our kids into each others’ lives is foreign. It doesn’t come naturally to us yet because it hasn’t been natural — it’s like a skill that we never developed and perfected.
But on those rare occasions when we do get the cousins together, I can see my childhood mapped onto their rambunctious play and raucous laughter. I can see everything they’ve been missing, and I’m deeply grateful that we have the chance to give them the gift of cousins now, while they’re still young enough to appreciate it without really understanding why.