In Praise of Cousins (and teaching for resilience)

I think cousins are underrated. We devote entire days to mothers and fathers. Hallmark would have us also do the same for grandmothers and grandfathers, though honestly, did that ever really catch on? Has anyone or anyone you know ever received or sent a Happy Grandparents Day card? I didn’t think so. Our children are told that “every day is children’s day” but they know a crock when they hear it, but we do celebrate them on their birthdays in any number of lovely and/or over-the-top ways. Where’s the love for cousins?

Last week I got to spend a few days with my cousin Lori and her wonderful husband Lou in downtown Philly. As trips like these are wont to evolve there were “mini-events”, a dinner here, a photo album sesh there, a group photo at the beer garden, a chance to catch up, but also reminisce. To tell stories of our growing kids’ childhoods and relate stories of our own. It’s special with cousins because you have a shared personal history – “I remember once when you came to the Cape…”, “Your mom always made the best…”. More than a few “I’ll never forgets…” and “Did I ever tell you….”. But you also have a shared family history. We can look at a sepia and coffee-stained photo of my grandfather standing in front of a farmhouse in 1900’s Europe and that’s your grandfather too! A shared history that dates back decades, centuries, millenia.

Anyway, as much as the time spent with Uncle Freddie and poring over a family tree with Aunt Doris is treasured, and how dear it was to have dinner with cousins Mariann and share a pint with Al and Joe, it was such a treat to have time to just hang out over coffee with Lori during the in-betweens. Lori’s a bit ahead of me when it comes to grandchildren with three, so she has experiences I’ve yet to had, namely playing this new role. It seems to be glorious, a time to re-kindle that visceral love we can really only feel for our children. But at the same time, there was an acknowledgement that what parenting looked like 50 years ago for our moms and dads, 25 years ago when it was our responsibility, and today has changed. Grandparents tread carefully with advice, and I would guess that’s no different than ever. Same as it always was. I told Lori one of my favorite articles over the last few years was entitled, “I’ll Tell Grandma You Don’t Like Chicken” (though ten Google Search pages is yielding no results) which highlighted the misguided efforts some parents undertake to make sure their children are never put in a position that’s outside their comfort zone. I think at this point the term “helicopter parenting” is cliche and being replaced by newer terms such as “lawn mower parenting” (the removal of obstacles in front of your child) which will be passe next month. Lori relayed a story of a day-care center she had heard of that sent live updates to parents of what the child had consumed for food and drink during their day. “Four ounces milk, half-slice cheese, three maybe four, no definitely three Cheezits, etc…” Note: I am not making this up. I was curious to know if there was a concomitant diaper-change livestream but was afraid to ask. But even as these shenanigans may point to the nadir of bad parenting, supported by indulgent day-care centers, there are encouraging signs of growth. I hear the term “resilient children” trending more and more. Raising a strong and capable person who reacts to a setback with grit and determination, not a nervous glance for an adult is emerging as a priority. When the conversation turned to the best environment to support those more positive attributes, Montessori was of course our final destination. For well over a century now, our environments have had as their prime directive the development of children to adulthood. A classroom that holds the dignity of the child in highest regard and consequently puts strength and grace as a centerpiece, not a special “unit” taught over a few days, but inherent and daily; it’s baked into what we provide. It’s a form of trust in the end, isn’t it? Our own confidence in our students, in our children, that given the opportunity, these qualities will emerge naturally.

Certainly the conversations I have during the Admissions process at the Cornerstone School increasingly include more and more questions about independence and self-reliance and how those qualities can be nurtured at home and at school. The hype of how bad parents are “these days” is just that. We’ll move on. The kids are all right.

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