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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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