kin-keeping

Week ago Saturday, I arrived home in the evening after a full day of Girl Scout adult enrichment. First, My Sweetie checked to be sure I’d eaten dinner—absolutely: I can get from Killeen to Round Rock without my supper, but not all the way to Oak Hill-!—then assessed my lunch choices, and the learnings of the day.

After I’d wound down my telling, he commented, “I talked to my brothers and sisters today.”

Oh?! Is everything OK? What’s going on?

“Oh, everyone’s fine. I just wanted to talk with them. Catch up. You know.”

Um, yes, I do know. What I didn’t know was your paying attention to it-!

 

My Sweetie is warm, caring, and deeply family-oriented. Both of us operate with a generations-deep code that if a family member is in need, we will figure out the wisest way to ease that need.

But in the 25+ years of our association, much of the kin-keeping has devolved to me*. It’s unsurprising; for reasons I haven’t researched (nor do I know whether anyone has), across cultures the responsibility generally rests on women. It’s one of the signifiers of the matriarch, I think—a recognition of the familial hub, that all rely on her (!) keeping communication tendrils alive.

Me, I’ve been pretty Gen-X feminist about our kin-keeping. I value it, so I make sure it happens… to an extent… but the tendrils I’m most consistent about are with my children and my family of origin. And then with a lean in the direction of my father’s side of the family, since that’s where my first cousins are. My Sweetie’s family? It’s always seemed more than a little odd to me that I would be the one insisting he keep in touch… what if he didn’t want to?

I mean, their communication style has always seemed pretty similar to my family-of-origin’s—apparently cold, with long gaps between chats; nevertheless, when the talking starts it’s as if no time has passed—but what if it’s not? Who am I to push a connectedness that for all I know might be unwise? (There are depths over there.)

And, but. There was a conversation this spring that I heard about later, between My Sweetie and one of his sisters. Heartfelt, long, thoughtful—so I gather. (I was out of pocket that time, too.) Sometime after, he asked me to look up our niece and nephew’s detail-dates… not the birthdays, for which we sent cards when they were growing up. But their anniversaries. The birthday of the baby. How many years was that, now?

 

One of the things I started pushing on, as the girls left the house, was any assumption that I would be a news-relay. I do a little, it’s conversational, but overall I try to encourage them to call their dad directly. And vice-versa. One: I’ve played Operator one time too many to trust myself very far as a relay. Two: When for a while I don’t speak directly with someone I care about, my connection to them feels muted, as if they’re under a blanket… even if I have social media updates to paper over the cracks. I don’t think I’m going to be unique in that way, either, even if I do pay more attention to it than many.

Three: If something is important, it’s worth making time for. Your own time.

I’m glad that My Sweetie is making time for way more than just me. Very glad.

 

*reference is to “Kinkeeping in the Familial Division of Labor,” Carolyn J. Rosenthal, Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Nov., 1985), pp. 965-974.

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