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If you're of a certain age, you may remember visits with your cousins where all kinds of mischief ensued. This was mainly due to the simple fact that there were so many cousins.

Some of my 20+ cousins (the family with six of them) lived in a sprawling house in Detroit with a big front porch … and a coal chute. Talk about exotic.

Both my parents were the youngest in their families, so some of my cousins were much older than me. Luckily, that allowed my siblings and me to double-dip into the second-cousin generation (technically, first cousins once removed), which of course grew exponentially.

But recently “The Great Cousin Decline” got me worrying about the fact that families are having fewer children these days, resulting in fewer cousins.

Admittedly, that didn't sound like a big deal at first. After you've had your neck squeezed in a headlock for five minutes under the front stairs, having fewer cousins sounds like a good idea.

But cousins can expand our knowledge of the world in important ways. They tend to be more unlike us than our siblings, so they can expose us to diversity in the relatively safe space of family. They may grow up in different home environments, including dissimilar family relationships, socioeconomic status, values, and interests.

Fewer cousins also means fewer people within our own tribe to depend on when we need it. While it behooves us to find people outside our family for support, bonds forged over time can create a unique connection.

Taking that to heart, I recently gathered some of our own cousins and their offspring for what I called “Cousinpalooza,” appropriating the name from the famous music festival Lollapalooza, which means wild, crazy party.

The oldest cousin was 44, the youngest second-cousin 16 months, so the party was more crazy than wild. And while it was only the Emery side of the family this time, my hope is that everyone left with a better understanding of what it means to be a tribe. I talk about that in my book, but, hey, seeing is believing, right?

“In middle age and older, the cohesion of a whole family can begin to depend on the bonds between cousins,” Faith Hill writes in the article cited above. “Along with siblings, cousins become the ones organizing the reunions and the Thanksgiving meals. The slightly random houseguests in your younger years become the stewards of the family in your older ones – as do you.”

Preparing for duty now!


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I couldn't agree more, Sharon. When you are an "only," cousins become even more important -- they are the honorary siblings one never had. Along with the visits throughout the year to each other's homes (they lived way out of town!), I grew up with my cousins every summer for about 12 years up north for close to three months each year. They gave me an entirely different experience of what daily life could be like. The bond is still close with regular conversations and correspondence. When my dad died years ago, the first person who called was my cousin who said, "I'm leaving Cleveland in a couple of hours and I'll be there later. I'll find you." (That was…


Having grown up with a surplus of great cousins-this blog really resonates with me. Cousins were the bomb! The older cousins were the coolest creatures that walked the earth-they made me feel important always asking about what was going on in my life. The younger ones introduced me to a whole other kind of love- they made me feel like the cool older cousin, I felt a lot of pride watching them grow into the wonderful people they are now. Some of my cousins are my best friends as well - I love my tribe and am honored to be part of it!

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Beautifully said, Lea. What a wonderful world it is with a big, sprawling extended family!


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