Why Cousins Are Special and Their Roles in Our Lives
The Importance of Cousins
- From our toddler days to our declining years, we recognize our cousins—particularly the ones we like—as special people.
- During our childhood, they are not in our presence as often as siblings, but their presence, whenever they appear, brings maximum pleasure.
- In our adult lives, some cousins are closer and more supportive than siblings. Throughout our lives, they play different roles, all special.
For those who need clarification, here are a few explanations on the cousin relationship. You do not have to memorize them in order to understand the rest of the article.
After the definitions, we will refer only to first and second cousins.
- Cousins are the children of our aunts and uncles. We share one set of grandparents with them. These are our first cousins as illustrated in the diagram.
- Our cousins’ children are our first cousins once removed because we are one generation apart. (They are NOT our second cousins).
- Our cousin’s grandchildren are our first cousins twice removed, and so on.
- Our children and our cousins’ children are second cousins. They share one set of great-grandparents.
First Cousin Illustration - Whitney Houston and Dionne Warwick
- Whitney and Dionne had the same grandfather, Nitcholas Drinkard.
- Dionne's mother (Lee Drinkard) and Whitney's mother (Cissy Drinkard Houston) are siblings.
- Dionne and Whitney's daughter (Bobbi Kristina) are first cousins once removed.
- Dionne's children and Bobbi Kristina are second cousins.
Following are five specific roles that cousins fill in our lives.
(1) Substitutes for Siblings
My mother has an only child, but her 2 sisters and 2 brothers produced a sum total of 30 children.
My father died when I was a toddler, but his 2 sisters and 2 brothers produced a sum total of 15 children.
My parents gave me neither brother nor sister, but their siblings gave me 45 first cousins, 5 of whom are older than I am. Of the 5 older ones, the 4 females have provided me with close sister-like relationships at different times. As for the older male and the younger cousins, we enjoy catching-up sessions which are often years apart.
It is safe to assume that other people in my only-child situation have proven their cousins to be very significant when:
- They take on the roles of aunts and uncles to your children, because they are your substitutes for siblings.
- Their children and your children are introduced as second cousins.
- They backup your stories about your grandparents.
(2) Playground Protectors
Children feel safer on the school playground, if they can count on someone to show up when a bully is around. They become confident when someone points out the muscular guy or the feisty girl as their cousin.
Teenagers also appreciate cousin protection. A teenager on Angels Online refers to his cousin as a “living guardian angel.” Still another on Teen Ink states, “I am the oldest of four children . . . I don’t have a sibling to look up to. [My cousin] is the one . . . who is always there for me. . . Even when I post a Facebook status and it seems like something is wrong, she will always text me and make sure everything is okay.”
My cousin and I still laugh about our primary school days when she was willing to fight anyone who bothered me, and even the ones who just looked like they could be a problem. Back then, I felt sorry for any child who did not have a cousin like mine.
(3) Social Supporters
In families which foster healthy relationships, male cousins guard their dating female cousins as rigidly as do fathers and brothers. They are deliberately present at functions when their cousins are not quite sure what to expect. They want to be seen with their female cousins to establish that:
- The girls are not deprived of male attention.
- The dates must impress not only the girls, but also the cousins.
- The men dare not try any kind of abuse.
Female cousins are just as careful about the dating life of the males. They filter their judgments of their cousins’ dates through their female intuition. Wise young women know that one way to beat the competition for a man’s attention is to befriend his close, female cousin.
Close cousins in same and opposite genders talk freely about their love life; they share advice; they play sleuth for each other on the matter of lovers’ loyalties. Their secrets are safer with cousins than with siblings, because their parents are less likely to probe cousins. Their support at each other's weddings means the world.
(4) Guardians for Our Children
Our children travel miles away from home to attend college and university. Chances are, there are cousins residing much closer than we are to the campuses. Rather than make the long journey home, our children find it exciting to visit with cousins. The cousins assume the role of temporary guardian, making occasional calls, offering a home away from home; and a permanent meaningful relationship develops.
Many of my cousins resided in the state where one of my children found employment. They extended invitations to holiday dinners and other family functions. The second cousins (my child and the children of my cousins) developed their own relationships. Their connections were probably more exciting to me than to them.
Choose a Cousin Quote
Which of these cousin quotes have the most significant meaning for you?
(5) Co-Authors of Our History
There have been times when we the cousins--children of our grandmother’s children, have talked about the old lady now deceased. It is interesting how unique each one's perception is.
Some of us lived with her, but at different times; some never did. Some born abroad only paid her short visits. Some of us migrated while she was still an active laborer; some knew her best after she suffered a stroke. We saw her in different stages of her life when she exhibited different attitudes and abilities.
Most cousins in other families have a similar experience concerning their grandparents—the oldest ancestor some of them know. The most comprehensive set of information we can obtain about our ancestors and our family history will have to be contributed by our cousins. If for no other reason than establishing our history, we have to admit that our cousins are special.
© 2013 Dora Weithers