We’ve all heard the phrase that cousins are your first friends. And for some people that is true. But not everyone has that kind of close relationship with their extended family. I don’t.
For a long time, I was envious of my friends who have a close relationship with their extended family. I’d see their posts about having family dinners or spending holidays together, and I’d wish I had that. But soon, I began to realize this image was an idealized version of extended family. And I only wanted it because I didn’t have it. I can almost guarantee that if my family were that close, I’d hate it.
As much as I sometimes wish I had a relationship with my extended family, I know I don’t actually want one. Because over time I’ve come to realize that it would never be the way it looks on TV. Happy families only exist on television. Even seeing my friends who have seemingly close relationships with their cousins, I began to realize that there’s so much we don’t see about those families.
All families have cliques. There are unspoken allegiances between certain family members. Drama is bound to happen, and it’s better to just avoid it altogether.
On my dad’s side of the family, I have a ton of first cousins. But my dad had me much later than my older half-siblings, who are closer in age to our cousins. I’m significantly younger than everyone else in the family, which means that, for the most part, I’m the odd one out. Since they’re all closer in age, my siblings and cousins grew up together, and they have more of a relationship with each other. In reality, some of my cousins have kids I’m closer to in age. Now, as my cousins approach their late-40s and 50s, everyone is suddenly all about the extended family coming together. An older cousin started a group chat earlier this year, and so one of my sisters added me. Group chats are my literal nightmare, so I muted it. Apparently, they want to put together some sort of family reunion for the extended family. And while I can appreciate the sentiment, I’m not participating.
You can’t make family come together just like that.
Most of my extended family has never made an effort to get to know me. I’m 33, and it’s not like I’ve been hiding my entire life. When I was younger, I was kind of isolated from everyone. Aside from the age difference, my dad and his siblings weren’t exactly close. But as we all got older, especially with social media, they could have reached out. Because they all seem to know about me, but I don’t know them.
Most of my cousins only began reaching out to me in the last six years since my son’s birth. Suddenly, they all wanted to claim family. And even then, it was only because one of them had also had a baby. I temporarily accepted everyone’s social media requests. But then I realized something. Having a baby isn’t my only contribution to the family. Yet here they were, wanting to video chat and talk on the phone. People I had only ever heard about in passing suddenly had way too much access to my life. It made me super uncomfortable, so I put a stop to it.
Basically, that’s the main reason I’m still ignoring the group chat. I understand that as we get older, our values change. For a lot of people, that means more of a focus on family. Which is great, but you can’t expect everyone to be on board. Taking an interest in my life only because you’re beginning to atone for your past choices isn’t my problem. I refuse to be a part of their midlife crises. Count me out.
Does this make me sound like an asshole? Yup, and honestly, I can’t care. Not wanting a relationship with my extended family is totally my choice. We don’t owe people access to our lives simply because we share “blood.” That’s a narrative that needs to go away — this idea that we must put everything aside for family.
There are many ways to describe who makes up your family. To me, family are the people who you give access to your life, and they don’t have to be blood relatives. Both sides of my family have so much dysfunction and drama that I chose distance from it all. Because my extended family is so fractured, I choose to embrace the idea of found family. Choosing who is going to be a part of my family gives me comfort.
So now I have a close group of friends who are my family. My oldest friends are my son’s aunts and uncles, and their kids are his cousins. I know they will be there for us if we need them, no matter what. They make me feel more loved and supported than my biological family ever has.
As I get older, I realize that extended family isn’t a guarantee. There are a lot of reasons they may or may not be in your life. And that’s totally fine! But the most important thing I’ve learned is that you don’t need to feel guilty for not having a relationship with your extended family. Blood doesn’t mean they get an automatic pass into your life.