A vivid memory from my childhood involves trying to recreate John Travolta’s moves to the Bee Gees’ You Should Be Dancing (from the movie Saturday Night Fever), along with my cousin, Sonja. These kinds of shared experiences are exactly why kids should get to know their cousins.
We shuffled around the edge of the packed dance floor at our holiday hotel in Cornwall, trying to copy the grownups who seemed to know what they were doing. We were eight years old and should have been in bed hours earlier; nobody – including my aunt and uncle – had realised we were still there.
It was our first taste of anything that could be compared to going clubbing. And even though we’re only in touch occasionally these days, Sonja and I still talk about it.
Or there’s the time I watched Nadia, one of my Italian cousins, getting ready for a date. A few years older than me, I thought she was breathtakingly beautiful and unbelievably glamorous. She let me play with her makeup while she did my hair for me; I’ve never forgotten it.
Whether you have two cousins or 62, your relationships with them are likely to be significant. Here are the reasons your kids should get to know their cousins.
Cousins share their childhoods
Cousins generally become each other’s first friends – especially if their parents are close siblings. There are plans to get together for holidays, birthdays, weekends away. Our first sleepovers were often at our cousins’ homes – and we can make it the same for our kids.
There’s just a week’s age difference between my own son and my eldest nephew. I know they both remember with fondness the weekends they spent together at their grandparents’ house, being spoiled rotten in the absence of mums and dads.
Look at photographs from your own early years, and there’s a good chance your cousins will feature often. They share our history and a sense of family that nobody else can understand nearly as well.
They share our family stories
Cousins remember how funny it was when Grandma couldn’t work out which way round to hold the camera. How when you all spent Christmas together, the uncles had a little too much festive spirit and giggled all the way up the stairs as they pretended to be Santa.
They’re the keepers of the family’s legends. The ones who share our history as well as provide a slightly different perspective on it from our own. By passing these on to our own children and theirs, we’re making sure our history is kept alive for younger family members.
Cousins are our role models
Older cousins can attain an almost celebrity-like status in our childish eyes. I idolised Nadia, mentioned above. I wished I was as poised and mature as she seemed to me.
It surprised me to learn, some years later, that I held the same position in turn. My cousin Lily is 17 years my junior. Whenever she saw me, she tells me now, she always thought I was incredibly stylish and self-assured. She looked forward to my visits because I didn’t treat her ‘like a little kid’ but spoke to her seriously, as an equal.
I’m sure she’s remembering that wrong, but it’s important for older cousins to be aware of the influence they can have. There might not be the same friendship as between cousins of the same age, but the younger one will look up to the elder one and see them as the kind of person they’d like to be.
Cousins share life’s milestones with us
Friends come and go, but cousins are in our lives always. We’ll dance at each other’s weddings, meet at family reunions, and share the happy and sad times that are part of any family’s story.
The changing nature of your relationship is accepted without question. Time, distance and circumstance mean I haven’t yet met one cousin’s youngest child, but I know that if I turned up on his doorstep tomorrow, I’d be welcomed with open arms.
The bonds might fray, but they don’t break.