I think that, at one point or another, only children learn to appreciate the value of the alone time they’re so accustomed to having. For me, I enjoyed reading books without having a little sister annoying me or an older brother threatening to beat me up (because that’s how it is with siblings, right?).

But all of us only children remember those days when we were little, feeling bored out of our minds, resorting to bugging our parents or lying on our bed as we stared up at the ceiling. Of course friends are always an option, but there’s just something special about the people who share your blood.

Because I am an only child, my sibling relationships involve the other children in my family: my cousins. The bond I have with them is stronger than the average familial relationship. I consider them my siblings because I grew up having them so close to me. They came over for sleepovers, our aunt took us on shopping trips and we took annual summer vacations together.

While having someone to play with while I was young was important, I think having someone to talk to now is even better. It’s one thing to have a friend to play American Girl dolls with, but it means so much more when I have someone to go to for the more important things as I got older. Growing up, experiencing new things, going through milestones: all of these moments that have happened and will happen in my life wouldn’t be the same without sharing them with someone. Thankfully, I have such a close family to share all of these occasions with; they cheered me on at high school graduation, they gave me advice for my college application process and they provided me with an endless amount of laughter and fun on every other occasion regardless of whether we were even together.

Getting together with my cousins — and the rest of my family — is what I look forward to most throughout the year. I feel so close to every family member because they are the next best thing to having a sibling. From our annual Christmas dinner to our summer trips to the beach, and every excuse to have a party in between, I know I’m going to have a great time.

But when we aren’t together physically, I’m texting one of them at least once a day. I ask for advice and send funny Buzzfeed articles to one cousin and I share funny Snapchats with another cousin. And the mutual likes on our Instagram photos are a given.

I don’t know where I would be without my cousins. I know I definitely wouldn’t be as happy with myself as I am now. Your family shapes you into who you are because of the values you share and the times that you spend together. And I am happy to say that who I am now is not only a product of the admirable adults in my life — such as my parents and my aunts and uncles — but my cousins as well. The amount of time we spent together throughout the years was not only filled with fun, but it was also filled with deep conversations and great opportunities for me to learn from them and grow.

As an only child, we sometimes feel like there’s something missing while we’re spending our time alone. But then we realize the importance of our extended family. My cousins are my siblings and I wouldn’t want it any other way.