When I was growing up, I wasn’t particularly close with my cousins. This isn’t to say that I didn’t adore them because I did. I always looked forward to seeing them at family gatherings every few years. However, several of my cousins and I are decades apart in age. And we have always lived thousands of miles away. We didn’t have the opportunity to spend very much time together as a result. That never bothered me or stopped me from caring about them. But it also never occurred to me that things could be any different.
That said, less than two years after my own son was born, my sister told me she was pregnant. I was thrilled! Of course, I was excited to meet my new nephew. But I was ecstatic for my son to have a cousin who was close in age to grow up with. I wondered, however, why I felt this way. If cousin relationships weren’t an influential part of my childhood, why was I so excited about seeing this cousin relationship form? It turns out there is actually a lot to cousin relationships that deeply benefit both children and adults.
The Unique Relationship Between Cousins
Did you know that cousins can enjoy many of the same benefits of close sibling relationships? When they have a chance to grow up together, cousins are connected by the sacred bonds of family. They play together on the playground, stick up for each other in school, and adventure together in childhood (and beyond). They experience the ups and downs of childhood development together. And they’re always tied by blood.
However, there is one added benefit of cousin relationships over those of siblings. They don’t have the same pressure and stressors that siblings have who are raised in the same home. Stressors that are often caused by having the same parents. Over the years, sibling relationships are sometimes put to the test. Sibling conflict may seem trivial but can be the result of years of unresolved tension within their home. Cousins generally don’t have that kind of strain on their relationships. They have space and time away from each other to resolve conflict.
Cousins Provide Perspective
Children are witnesses to family behavior, for better or for worse. This is a really healthy thing for children to be able to talk about with a trusted family member, such as a cousin. These kinds of conversations are deeply beneficial to their mental health and development.
What’s more, cousins can offer a unique perspective on family dynamics. They are invested in family relationships, but they enjoy a certain distance that allows them to call things as they see them. On the one hand, this means that they can help their cousins navigate difficult or painful family situations by speaking the truth to whoever needs to hear it. On the other hand, cousins can also offer encouraging reminders of how much one family member is loved by another in times of difficulty. Think of a time when you’ve been in a fight with a loved one. Did you have someone from the outside, who you know cares about you, say something that changes everything for you? This is where cousin relationships shine.
Additionally, cousins each hear and learn things about the family history from a different perspective. These perspectives help weave a beautiful tapestry rich with stories, traditions, and beloved memories when everyone comes together. “Remember Uncle Burt’s joke about the fireflies?” “See this dance? Grandma taught me this.” “Did you know that Great Aunt Marie once did Marilyn Monroe’s hair?” “He saved six of his fellow service members in that battle. I remember because each of them spoke at his funeral.” There’s nothing better than spending time with cousins, reminiscing about family members who are long gone but still collectively loved.
Cousins are Life Long Friends
Years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the “ever-self.” It’s the idea that while you’ve grown and changed as a person, there’s a core part of yourself that has been there since childhood and still exists. What’s more, that part of you longs to be understood. The good news is that close family members, like cousins, know that ever-self and they see you for who you really are. This means that whether you’re seven or seventy, your cousins will have a special knowledge and love for you that isn’t able to be matched by people you’ve met later in your life.
But here’s the most important thing about cousins: even when they weren’t very close growing up, they still share the bonds of love that make a family. Whether they all knew and had a loving relationship with the same grandparent or if they all were the product of the same family environment, they likely share similarities and experiences. They often find that they share similar mannerisms, enjoy the same music, and even share characteristics that could date back several generations. Things like this are what make cousins family and bond them together throughout their entire lives.