Kin keeping; who does it in your household?

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I read a fascinating blog post the other day. It was on the PickAnyTwo blog written by US-based writer Katie McLaughlin.

Kin keeping, relationships, equality
The look happy now, but wait until she asks him whether he’s written any birthday cards this year. Pic credit: Alex Holyoake on Unsplash.

The post was called The Invisible Burden That Leaves Moms Drained. In the piece, McLaughlin argued that jobs such as sending birthday cards, thank you cards and communication with out-of-town relatives are chores that mothers are expected to undertake.

Citing academic research, she argues these “kin keeping” tasks are a massive drain on women and that they go unacknowledged. The world is so obsessed with equality in the workplace etc., that who is in charge of the family calendar and social engagements doesn’t register.

Credit where it’s due, McLaughlin had the decency to refer to “many families” and “most moms.” She doesn’t write-off all men as dreadful kin keepers. Even so, the implication is that most guys simply don’t do this stuff.

I can’t say I agreed with everything Mclaughlin said, but I found myself wondering if she has a point. I pondered over her blog post for a while and it reminded me of a research project carried out by my old employer, Age Concern England.

I’ve mentioned this research in a previous blog post. It was into social exclusion of older men. What the charity discovered was that older men often find themselves leading very lonely lives if their wife passes away before them.

The study discovered many men rely on their spouse to arrange all the couple’s social engagements throughout their married lives. Men can be guilty of overlooking this fact and aren’t used to going out and making friends or maintaining independent friendships. As a result, if the husband outlives his wife, he often has very little confidence in social situations and will spend his days alone. It was a stark conclusion, but looking at older couples I know, I can see how it happens and it’s a depressing thought.

It struck me that Mclaughlin’s post is simply an extension of this. Social interaction is seen as a predominately female role. It’s something men aren’t always confident with.

This, however, is where I have to veer off course and disagree with the sentiment. In my gender-bending household, it is me, the stay at home father, who patrols the family calendar. If you want to organise a social engagement, come to me in the first instance.

That’s only part of the story. Mrs Adams is perfectly adept at arranging to go out and see her own friends, as I am with mine.

As for “kin keeping”, well, this is where the waters really get muddy. My extended family is very hot on this kind of thing. Thank you cards are expected, as are birthday cards etc.

My wife’s family, however is a little more easy-going. They’re often happy with a phone call or a thank you face-to-face. Surely who is responsible for kin keeping and to what level differs in every single relationship?

I have no doubt that kin keeping is, in most relationships, a task disproportionately carried out by women. I just think there must be a generational thing at play here. I imagine in many modern couples, women stick two fingers up to the idea of writing thank you cards on behalf of their husband (and quite rightly so).

And then we come on to social arrangements. With more women having careers away from the family home, surely men of my generation are used to making and maintaining their own friendships without relying on their spouse to play gatekeeper?

I quite understand there is an invisible burden. In fact I think it is an issue that should be discussed and debated in public, not least because it could stop men experiencing social isolation in later life. I may be too optimistic, but I like to think that times either have changed, or they are changing, and that most guys take some responsibility for kin keeping and social behavior.

What do you think? Who does the kin keeping in your household? If you’re a guy, who writes your thank you cards?

Pic credit; College Degrees 360. reproduced under Creative Commons agreement.

25 thoughts on “Kin keeping; who does it in your household?”

  1. An interesting post which has made me think in depth about who does this in our household! I think it is important to define ‘social engagements’. For example, I am very good at arranging my own social life, why would my wife arrange for me to go out for beers with friends? Likewise she has her social circles that I am not really involved in.
    For joint social engagements these usually involve other adults with children and I probably arrange these as, being a SAHD, I interact more with the parents and thus am in a position to arrange such things.

    For cards etc, we tend to be responsible for our own families – though I am rubbish and do regularly get reminders!

    However, thank you cards on behalf of our son (who is 18 months) generally fall under my remit.

    1. Na ha, you suggest it’s who has the main caring role as opposed to being gender issue? I’m inclined to agree with you.

      1. This opens up another discussion about gender specific roles in the household. Having taken over being the main carer does this mean I now have all the jobs associated with caring and if so can I pass other jobs over to my wife? For example I have always done ‘man jobs’ like car maintenance and odd jobs/diy and generally fixing things and still do.

        1. This is one of the most overlooked areas of being a SAHD. It isn’t a simple gender swap in the majority of households. My wife can’t change a plug or a car tyre. She’s never started the petrol lawnmower. I don’t wish to make sweeping generalisations as each relationship is different, but most SAHDs remain liable for the stereotypical “man jobs” in addition to taking on the “mum” jobs. It is an addiitonal burden people fail to recognise.

  2. Another interesting topic. It’s a discussion we’ve been having in our household post Christmas as it’s been me who has been pushing for kin relationship things to happen – we’ve had birthdays in January, thank you cards from the kids etc. And I do find it’s me who pushes this.. But I don’t know if it’s a gender issue or a attitudinal issue..
    My OH wouldn’t think a family aunt would need a Thank You card (and I use the word ‘need’ on purpose) Whereas I think the family aunt would like and appreciate a card, and it engenders an attitude of being grateful into the children. ‘Need’ and ‘Appreciate’ is the difference – is it a task or a generous thought?
    However, when it comes to things like managing Parentmail, kids birthday party calendars etc this does fall to me – even tho we both get the info from school. My experience has been one person needs to take overall responsibility otherwise dates clash, but I’m not sure why that’s fallen to me. Hmm, need to think abot that!
    However, I don’t send cards/letter/birthday cards to his family – this I think is a step too far because personal relationships are so important and should be maintained, right? It’s interesting that you talked about the Age Concern research because I can see how social isolation could happen by looking at my own extended family, certainly amongst the older generation. Something to watch out for.
    Thanks for the discussion

    1. Exactly the situation we found ourselves in Tracey! We didn’t have a family calendar of events until our eldest was three. I took it upon myself to institute one to avoid clashes. My wife now uses it but I have an exceedingly strict rule: if it’s not on the calendar it isn’t happening.

      This is where I question Mclaughlin’s stance. It is as much about attitude I think as gender. There’s defintiely a gender issue, but is it as big as is made out? And do watch out for the social isolation issue. Easily avoidable yet so simple to slide into it.

    1. I think the importance of kin keeping comes to the fore when you have two young children are in need of an urgent place to stay that is safe. Someone regarded as kin, say close family friends, offers refuge only to pull that option at the eleventh hour, a brutal, self-satisfied smile upon their face. Hark ye, just before the strike of midnight, someone else steps into the breach. This someone has an expensive yacht moored on the the River Thames and says “it’ll be a bit of a trek, but you’re welcome to use this place. Just be careful of the helipad and don’t drink any of my 1972 vintage Bordeaux”.

      The person with the yacht, they’re real kin.

  3. I appreciate your thoughtful response to my original post!

    I, of course, realize that my argument doesn’t apply to EVERY single household/relationship out there. But the fact that some people defy this phenomenon does not mean that the phenomenon doesn’t exist, right?

    I think it’s very important that we remain open to critiquing inequality in our society even as that inequality is getting better for some people/relationships. Just because it’s better for this person over here or that family over there doesn’t mean that the fight has been won. My post, then, is part of that continued fight.

    I do think that kin-keeping is inextricably linked to caregiving; therefore, the person doing most of the caregiving is likely the person doing most of the kin-keeping. However, I think we are making a big mistake if we then erase gender from the equation. Again, despite the fact that there are some stay-at-home dads and some working dads who are equal partners in caregiving, the scales are NOT equal yet. Those dads are, sadly, still in the minority. So gender is still a relevant and important piece of the conversation. Gender and caregiving must both be considered.

    Finally, I would say that in general (again, not in ALL cases, but most) when kin-keeping tasks are neglected, it is the woman who takes the heat. Women in our society are far more likely to be chastised (via outright negativity, passive aggressive comments, etc.) when these tasks are ignored. That further indicates that gender is not irrelevant here.

    The research you mention on social isolation is new to me, but makes a lot of sense. I’d like to look into it more!

    Again, thanks for writing this. My main goal with the post was to open up a dialogue on this issue, and that has certainly happened!

    1. It was, Katie, a very thought provoking post you wrote and my response has created some interesting discussion. Not least the number of women who have replied confirming they are the kin keepers in their households!

      I hope you picked up on the fact that I do agree with you in part. There is a definite issue to be addressed and one well-worth exploring. The Age Concern research, which is over 10 years old, simply confirms there is an issue to be addressed.

      I do, however, feel that the dynamics of each individual relationship have a large part to play here. If I even suggested to my wife she write a thank you card for a birthday present on my behalf, she would laugh at me.

      While I appreciate this is a gendered issue, a guy in my position, as a stay at home dad, fights gender stereotypes every single day. In the UK almost 10% of single parent households are headed by men (181,000 households). A minority, yes, but a sizeable one. On top of this you have the stay at home fathers such as myself and the divorced fathers with custody of their children some of the time, parents raised in single sex relationships with two dads etc. This means a lot of dads are doing at least some, if not all, kin keeping.

      You make a very good point. I don’t believe I get judged to the same degree as mums I meet in the school yard. As a SAHD you can get away with more and that is sexist in itself. As a SAHD I think you are less judgmental because your situation forces you to have empathy with others and you are an outsider, usually ignored and not a part of cliquey groups of mums (of the politics of the school yard!!).

      This leaves one question unanswered. Just what is a fair division of kin keeping? Let us assume that one parent is a stay at home parent and the other working a 12 hour day, five days a week (let’s ignore whether it is mum or dad who works full time, it could be either). It’s six o’clock in the morning when they leave home and 8.30pm at night by the time they’ve returned and helped put the children to bed. Is it correct to expect them to do 50% of the kin keeping?

      ANyway, delighted to have been introduced to your blog. I will be returning!

      1. Your question of what a truly fair division of labor looks like is an excellent one, I think! In the end I do think this is where individual relationships are the judge; it doesn’t matter to me who does what, exactly—just that both parties feel good about the division of labor. If there’s one thing my post brought to light, it’s that a LOT of women/moms do not feel good about the way things currently stand in their relationships.

        I have no doubt that as a SAHD you are forced to fight gender stereotypes every day. I am thankful that you are doing it, because the more you do, the more dads will feel free and comfortable to make that choice for themselves, if it’s right for their families.

        I look forward to connecting more!

        1. Indeed, according to Prof Michael Kimmel of Stony Brook University, the happiest relationships aren’t necessarily those with the greatest equality, but those where there is parity between the couple. There is a subtle difference and we need to be very, very careful about going down the “men don’t do their share of labour in the home / women do it all” route. I don’t know what the figures are in the US, but in the 1970s men in the UK, on average, spent 15 minutes a day doing direct childcare.

          Fast forward to the present era, and that figure has increased 800%, yes, 800%. Guys now spend three hours a day with their children and yet there is very little debate about how men struggle to handle careers and family life. It’s ain’t black and white, it’s all shades of grey!

  4. This is a very thought provoking post. My family, much like your wifes, are very laid back about this sort of thing. As kids me and my bro were never made to sit and write thank you cards (although we were absolutely expected to show gratitude first hand). My husbands family are quite the opposite. Yet, now in our married life, I have adopted the role in our family unit, so I write to his family in America I have never met, I cash birthday gift cheques, write thank you cards, send birthday cards etc etc.
    Thanks for sharing with #coolmumclub – love the new look blog!

    1. That leaves me curious as to why you write to in-laws you’ve never met? If I asked my wife to do something like that she would refuse. It simply wouldn’t happen. I kinda meet Mclaughlin part way. I think there is a gneder thing at play here but I don’t think she’s given enough thought to the dynamics of individual relationhsips. Thanks for hosting #coolmumclub and glad you like the new look blog.

  5. Interesting one eh? Glad my prompt gave you some food for thought and blog material 🙂 I have to agree that it is a bit vague – I know I source, buy & wrap all Christmas presents, including in laws, I buy his mum flowers and card for Mothers Day, I source, book and organise kids birthday parties. I source and buy their birthday presents. I actually bought my own christmas present and he gave me the money. I was going to wrap it myself but that seemed pointless so it wasn’t wrapped. We’re not very good at thank yous I’m ashamed to say. As to social engagements – yeah that’s not part of my kin-keeping. Nice to see that Katie picked up on this and commented too! #thetruthabout

    1. It is an interesting one and much as I will always fight the man’s corner, I think there is something in it. But….I don’t think you can simply say “men don’t fo kin keeping, it’s a heavy burden for women”. Every relationship is different and a couple’s behaviour will reflect this. I concede I’m awful at sending birthday cards but my kids’ll never get away without writing thank you cards and that’s my influence, not my wife’s. I organise 90% of their birthday parties etc. Yet, the Age Concern research does show there is a gender thing at play here. Over time I can see this being less of a gender thing. I think it has to as more and more couples are both working.

  6. Hello,

    Another aspect is the critical response of it being done “right” as if one style trumps another. Kin care, parenting, household care are all opportunities to participate together as long as there is communication and acceptance of other styles and methods.

    Couples need to allow for the other partner’s method to be accepted. We need to stop rearranging dishes in the dish washer, refolding clothes, redressing the kids…in otherwords, don’t edit your partners efforts.

    Yes, you would/could do it differently but then you would be doing it…..stop, and share the care how it makes sense for your family.

    Thank you for your thoughts on the important subject.

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  8. Interesting post and I quite like the phrase “kin keeping” – it’s a good way of describing it. I don’t write thank you cards for my hubby but pretty much all the birthday cards and Christmas cards, and most of the present buying falls to me and I would say I’m more in contact with his extended family than he is. Part of that is down to being at home and more aware of things on the family calendar and part of it is also who I am. My family is close and my parents drummed the importance of family into me and I’ve carried this through into married life and making sure that my own children build relationships on both sides of the family. Hubby’s family is a little less close-knit and I think it just comes a little less naturally to him. With regards to social arrangements though he is quite capable of organising this himself and is much better in social situations than I am – he is more outgoing and finds it much easier to make conversation with people he doesn’t know well. So whilst I agree that it is probably true that a lot of mums do most of the “kin keeping”, I think all of these things depend very much on who you are and what your family situation is. Social interaction is probably much less skewed though. #coolmumclub

    1. Well Lousie, it sounds as if there is some balance to your relationship. I find it terribly depressing to think of huge numbers of men relying on women to fulfill what can often be described as admin tasks! Yes, I know there are men out there who are happy with such a situation, but I’m not among them!!

  9. oh yes it is totally up to me (the wife), I plan our social life, I send the cards, I buy things for his mum, I actually force him to write on his mums card though as I want her to see his handwriting. His extended family send us cards and I send them back. You know what though it really doesn’t phase me, I guess when it comes down to it (although we are both introverts) I am more out going than he is. There is plenty of things in our relationship that he does for me (he is a far better cook). We both work from home so we both sound loads of time with our kids, so if arranging the kids or our social life falls on me I’m cool with that. Great post though as I have never thought about this subject. Always the sign of a talented writer when they can make you think or challenge your thoughts.

    1. Thank you for your kind compliments there. Interestingly I would not even think of writing a card to my wife’s mother. That’s down to her. Likewise, I’d never expect her to write to mine. There’s only so much I’m prepared to do!

  10. This is really interesting! We don’t yet have kids so, interestingly I think, the onus on ‘kin keeping’ should fall very much equally on both my husband and I. It doesn’t. We got married last year and it was me that pushed on getting all the thank you cards out (including having to have a few meltdowns on it). If I think about my wider social circle, it’s usually always the woman who will write a thank you email or a thank you card after we’ve hosted a dinner party etc.

    However – I think a big part of this is that I think society ‘blames’ the woman a lot more for lapses in this sort of etiquette. It’s historically never really been the man’s role to send thank you cards so, if my husband and I – as a couple – don’t drop someone a thank you email for a nice meal, I do feel that I’ll be judged more harshly for that oversight than my husband will. That’s pretty much the biggest reason why I nag more than he does on this subject, I generally feel it’s not his a** on the line! 😉

    1. Yeah, that is a very fair point. I can appreciate that women are under more pressure in this way and that is unfair.

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