Keeping cousins together

How do you build bonds when your family is scattered?

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I have been thinking about the relationship between cousins lately.

Last year, I was in Vermont at a writer’s retreat and decided to look up a cousin I had not seen in over forty years, Tom. His father and mine were best friends as well as brothers, but both men died early, and out-of-state colleges and the Vietnam War scattered siblings and cousins far and wide in our family. Tom was my favorite cousin, but without parents we both stopped coming back to our hometown.

Now that I have re-established a wonderful friendship with Tom and his family, I want my grandchildren to appreciate the importance of cousins. It is easy for grandchildren to grow up close to cousins if the parents are good friends, the children attend the same school, and everyone lives nearby. My children’s cousins vary in age by nearly twenty years and live in five states, so close family ties never developed. In some cases, my two children have never met their first cousins.

I want to improve the situation for my grandchildren. Locally, we have two boys, both ten-years old, and two girls, ages five and twelve. The two families live 45 minutes apart and the children attend different schools and participate in different sport activities. Between work, school, and sports, there is little opportunity to get together, and no one wants to drive 45 minutes when play-dates can be arranged locally.

Forging a Bond

A few weeks ago, I suggested that my daughter-in-law let 12-year-old Hattie babysit Renee,so the two women could go out for dinner. The girls did girlie stuff like try on clothes and jewelry and paint their fingernails. For the first time ever, Hattie helped her cousin stop being afraid of their dog. Renee idolizes her older cousin, and it is good for Hattie to get to know Renee as she develops from babyhood to an inquisitive little girl. Previously, the girls had only spent time together at holiday family gatherings.

My brother and his son Brent (24 years old) came to visit last autumn and I asked them to take the ten-year-old cousins, George and Jack, camping with them. But George had already invited a school friend, and my son thought a threesome might not work. Jack hasn’t had many opportunities to go camping but I encouraged everyone to give it a try, convinced that Brent would be the catalyst to keep the threesome working together. It turned out to be a great trip, and I can see the friendship between Jack and George deepening. Since then, I have arranged and carpooled for the boys to have two sleepovers. Both successful!

How it Used to Be, How it Can Still Be

After I told my grandchildren of the reunion with my Vermont cousin, they were amazed that so many of my cousins lost track of one another over the years. It happened when we were young and unaware of the special part cousins can play in our lives. Now as a grandmother, I realize that I relied on older family members to tell me about my cousins, but as that generation passed away, family ties were further fractured.

When I was a child, I had fifteen first cousins living in the same town. We ice-skated on grandma’s pond, hid colored eggs in her yard, ate turkey dinners crammed in the dining room, and attended school together. Today, we are a more mobile society than ever before; career opportunities for men and women demand that we are likely to move hundreds or thousands of miles from our birthplace, distancing ourselves mentally and physically from extended family relationships.

I am determined to promote long lasting friendships and love between the cousins as my grandchildren grow into adulthood. I still have to fly across the country to see my grandchildren in Tennessee but we use Skype, Facebook, and mobile phones to keep the cousins connected.

I think I will look up another cousin who moved to Chicago after college. Who knows, maybe I will have an opportunity to visit the windy city, meet his family, and remind him of the times we double-dated in high school.

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