My mother, an only child, grew up in the same neighborhood as several of her cousins, and she says that having them around all the time meant she never felt alone. The cousins, she says, felt like more than friends — they felt like brothers. She remains close to them all.
My son is an only child, too, and he has lots of cousins, but none of them live close by. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be good friends. And if I can help that connection, I certainly will, because cousins’ friendships are special. Since there is a family relationship binding a friendship with a cousin, it’s more likely to be a deep and long-lasting one — exactly the kind of friendships you want your children to have.
They say you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. Cousins seem to fall into the area in between. You can’t choose them, but you can choose how close you want to be with them. As the old saying goes: cousins by chance, friends by choice. And while friends may move in and out of your life, cousins will always be there.
“A person may have many friends from many different parts of their life,” says Kathleen Alfano, Ph.D, Former Director of child research at Fisher-Price, “but you’re born into cousins, and you have them forever. And you don’t have to prove anything to your cousins the way you sometimes have to do when you’re building friendships,” she continues. “Cousins play a different role than other friends. There’s a lot of shared history, the roots of families.”
The fact that people can’t choose who their cousins are means that your child’s cousins might be very different from the kids they usually choose to be friends with, which can be a very good thing. "It's a great introduction to diversity and lots of different interests," says Dr. Alfano.
It may be obvious, but your children’s relationship with their cousins will have a lot to do — at least when they’re young — with your relationship to those cousins' parents. If you’re close to your sister, for instance, and get together with her and her family a lot, your children are likely to become close, too. But if you have a first cousin who lives across the country, and you only see each other once a year, your children won’t have much opportunity to form close friendships with those cousins.
Not a lot of cousins in your family? You can still give your children the opportunity for these special friendships. The word “cousin” can be used loosely, and you can recruit close friends and their children to fill that role in your children’s life. “If you have a friend who’s like family to you, especially if your friend has kids around the same age as yours, you can have your child call your friends ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle,’ and your children might grow up feeling like cousins, too,” explains Dr. Alfano. “Cousins who are blood relations are fine, but you and your children can also have that deeper bond with the close friends who are like family to you."
Beth Weinhouse is an award-winning journalist who specializes in writing about parenting issues and women's health. She's been an editor at Ladies' Home Journal and Parenting magazines, and her work has appeared in dozens of consumer magazines and websites.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.