Family

The Cousin Conundrum, Part 2

To get the full story, please read The Cousin Conundrum, Part 1 first!

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When I landed back in my birthplace after over three decades in the Pacific Northwest, I had great expectations of regularly hanging out with “real” family again and re-connecting with members of my large family tree. Yet, over a decade later, I often feel like I still live hundreds of miles away from most of my cousins, aunts and uncles.

The legendary family Christmas parties and summer picnics have all but grown extinct in my hometown. My generation has chosen not to carry on the traditions that brought our large clan together on a regular basis.   Over the years, each branch of the family tree appears to have grown increasingly independent from the others.

The disparity between my  dreams of having close relationships with my cousins and reality put me into a conundrum—was there something wrong with our family (or me)?

At first I thought it was because I had lived away for so many years, but eventually I learned that even those who stayed in the area rarely get together.

Watermelon cousins
Some of my favorite farm cousins. (Somehow I missed getting in the photo!)

What had changed since the days of slurping sweet watermelon and playing together until the crickets chirped? Then the obvious hit me. We had. We grew up, some moved away, and most married and had kids of their own. Society also changed. Nuclear families in general became more self-sufficient, technology-oriented and less dependent on extended relation.   We all got busy focusing on the faces and tasks immediately in front of us—our careers, our kids, our aging parents, our siblings, and our friends. This left us with little time or energy to think about nurturing connections with peripheral relatives.   Life happened, and our priorities shifted elsewhere.

When I think about it, even during the years of my “Cousin Camelot,” my parents were not spending much time with their dozens of cousins. They were focusing on their careers (mostly farming), their siblings, eldercare, and most of all on raising the next twigs on the family tree.  Perhaps my generation really isn’t that different, after all.

On the surface, it would appear that the extent of my connection with my extended relation has come down to an occasional chat in the aisle at Walmart or a polite conversation at a funeral. Or has it? Though I might not see them often, something rises in my heart when I cross paths with a relative. I have been known to reach out and hug an aunt or cousin—right there in the middle of the produce section. We might not know every detail about one another’s lives, but we share a proud heritage that will always bind us. We come from a hardy stock of immigrants who are known for their frugality, hard work, perseverance, laughter, strong faith, and yes, large families. I think that’s why there’s always such a good turn-out at funerals. As we gather to say good-bye to a member of the family tree, we all feel the loss. And we can’t help but see a little of ourselves in the faces around us.

I wish I knew my cousins better, but I haven’t given up hope. Not long ago I spent quality time with two cousins who came from out-of-state for an uncle’s funeral. Their warm, caring spirits and fun-loving antics immediately made me feel right at home. Maybe it’s because I was “home,” in a way that can only happen with family.    Even if we don’t see one another very often, I’ll always believe in the power of cousin connections.

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“Cousins are different beautiful flowers in the same garden.” – Anonymous

“Cousin to cousin we’ll always be, special friends from the same family tree.” – Anonymous

“We’re just a few cousins, wearing the same crazy genes.” – Anonymous

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Your turn:  Tell me about your connections (or lack thereof) with your extended family!

10 thoughts on “The Cousin Conundrum, Part 2”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights with your cousins and extended family. For me, my cousins, because my parents moved from Hawaii to the mainland (CA, then OR), are geographically separated. At one point, my aunt and three cousins moved in with us, while my uncle was in the Army and stationed elsewhere. That was a mixed bag–didn’t really bond with them since they were so much older than me. Any cousin contact for me over the years was brief–visits on vacations, etc… As an adult, I find I’m more connected to my cousins who hold similar beliefs–and, when I see them, we have a wonderful time together. So, I am so thankful for that. I think also, my connection to other cousins are limited because my mother had 8 siblings–so, just due to the fact that there are so many, with no personal connection, and frankly, my own mother isn’t connected to her nieces and nephews well–I just don’t know them or really desire to know them. My life is full.

    I think you are correct in how life has changed and stages of life make it more difficult to stay connected or get connected with extended family. Since most of my relatives live in Hawaii, we don’t even get to funerals.

    Well, that’s a little of my story and experience. 🙂

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  2. Another beautiful blog .. Its so sad how times have changed but so true . And I too felt that sense if home when I see my cousins or my sweet Aunt Dorothy. Thank you Jane 💜

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  3. I did something crazy…but connecting last January. I took a road trip to see my aunts/uncles/cousins and families in Kan. It was a quick run but very meaningful. I sure miss them at times.

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  4. Dear Janer,

    I appreciated your insights into how families can split and fragment once the “older generations” are no longer around to keep up on the family reunions, etc. I have experienced that in my own family. Each nuclear family tends to develop their own traditions to carry on, which is a good thing. However, sometimes I miss the extended family gatherings.

    I have watched even Christmas become more difficult as children marry and more in-laws are added and expectations of who will go where to celebrate the holidays can add stress to what should be a time of joy. My Mom’s sister, my Aunt Marjorie, used to bring her family to visit around Christmas, or we would visit them. Now Aunt Marjorie is gone and we haven’t celebrated Christmas together in years. The cousins are all grown, with families of their own, and we just never seem to get together, except for big occasions like weddings or funerals (more often a funeral will bring more people–sad commentary). I once had a friend who told me she wanted to hold a big birthday bash on her 75th birthday and invite everyone to come that would come to her funeral! I think that is a great idea. 🙂 Celebrate the living instead of the dead.

    Those are some of my own thoughts and experiences. Thanks again for sharing from your heart. I enjoy your gift of writing so much.

    Love, Lorna

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  5. Thank you, Lorna, for sharing about the dynamics of your extended family. It sounds like what my family is experiencing isn’t too different from yours! Love you, friend.

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  6. Hi Jane,

    I am lovin your writing! Thank you so much for using your gifts to express your heart so beautifully. I treasure the connection made with you this summer

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