An image of family members.

How My Cousins Helped Me Through the Pandemic

Quarantining during COVID-19 has really emphasized for me the importance of family — especially as an only child.
August 9, 2021
6 mins read

COVID-19 has made us consume media like no time before. Throughout quarantine, I have spent thousands of hours binging Netflix and scrolling through Instagram. I was laughing at the recent Vin Diesel memes about the power of family and how his character in the “Fast and Furious” movies shoehorns the word “family” into every important scene in the franchise. While the memes were funny, they sent me down a rabbit hole of thought about my own family.

This might be the first time that a meme has genuinely made me think existentially about my life. I also recently started re-watching “Modern Family.” Of course, I laughed at the awkward humor and the funny characters, but it also made me miss my extended family a lot. These pieces of media made me think about how during the pandemic, our immediate family was all we had.

I am an only child, and it certainly has its pros and cons. One nice part is the fact that you don’t need to share things with siblings. That is convenient when you are little and can play with all your toys without having to share; however, as you get older, the value of having a sibling becomes more visible. There is some kind of generational bond that makes it easier for people of similar ages to talk to each other and having someone like that in your family is extremely special. Since only children like me don’t have those immediate family members, cousins are very important to us.

I love my parents, but I definitely envy having someone in my immediate family who knows what Tumblr is. It’s generally easier to relate and talk to people your own age. That’s not just true about teenagers. When I see two adults talking to each other, it’s usually about boring things like the weather, taxes and getting up in the middle of the night to pee. I’m more used to talking about things like college applications, parties and “Stranger Things.”

On top of having a more relatable person to talk to, growing up is hard, and it helps to have someone close to you to go through it with. Unfortunately, not everyone is close with their siblings, and many siblings have difficult relationships. However, I know plenty of siblings that have a very tight relationship, and a lot of that has to do with being there through all the chaos of growing up. As you get older, the negative aspects of having a sibling are diluted.

You become less upset about sharing things with your siblings, and you develop a bond. You become a team against the trauma that adolescent life has to throw at you, be it bullying, a breakup or a parent’s divorce. Sure, you can talk about these events with your friends, and it may help, but it’s not the same as a family member. Friendships will come and go, but family lasts your whole life.

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The difficulties of being an only child were exacerbated by quarantine when I lost physical contact with everyone but my parents. Quarantine changed a lot about everybody’s lives. Staying inside caused us to spend way more time with our family than we all probably wanted. That is difficult for anyone, and I’m not saying anybody had it easy, but it was especially hard for only children like myself. I underestimated the value of talking to people my age.

My daily routine looked something like this: wake up, eat cheerios, watch Netflix, eat a turkey sandwich for lunch, more Netflix, dinner, then repeat. It got boring and I developed severe isolation anxiety. Meanwhile, I saw my friends making TikToks with their siblings. Even little things like that made me jealous. I think I wouldn’t have suffered as much from quarantine if I had someone my age living under the same roof. I lost touch with a lot of my friends, which made my anxiety even worse, since they were the only people from Gen-Z that I talked to at home. I felt lonely and hopeless. As I said earlier, nobody had it easy, but it was an especially long pandemic for me.

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Since I don’t have siblings, my cousins are the only members of my family that are a part of my generation. Cousins are great in many ways. They are generally around your age so they can talk about much more relatable topics, and since you don’t live with them, you don’t need to always share everything with them. I lucked out by having three cousins — one older, one slightly older and one younger — and I am grateful for them all.

When we were younger, we all shared the excitement of being excused from the dinner table to go play with Legos while our parents talked about their jobs. I’ve built Lego sets with them my whole life. We always play Mario Kart when I see them. They even influenced the activities that I did when I was young. One day, I saw my cousins playing basketball and I wanted to try it. This led to me playing basketball for another seven years.

It’s not just the fun things that my cousins have influenced me on. I have been asking them for advice my whole life. Growing up slightly younger than two of my cousins allowed me to ask them about transitioning to high school and college when the time came. I distinctly remember the advice my older cousin gave me about not pressuring yourself to force friendships. It really calmed me down for my first days of college. It’s no secret that life is hard, especially the first 20 years. We all go through drama, betrayals and breakups, but family stays through it all. If you come away with anything from this article, it should be a greater comprehension of the importance of cousins to only children. If you are an only child, reach out to your cousins.

Elliot Jackson-Ontkush, Skidmore College

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Elliot Jackson-Ontkush

Skidmore College

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