a woman kinkeeping by showing her daughter a family album she created

What is Kinkeeping & How Can It Impact Women’s Mental Health?

9 min read

Are you familiar with the term “kin keeping”? According to Danielle Freedman in an article for The New York Times, “A kinkeeper is someone who cultivates a sense of “family solidarity or connectedness.'” In many families, kinkeeping falls to women and is yet another facet of the emotional labour or “invisible work” women shoulder. As it is Mental Health Awareness Month, we are bringing women’s mental health issues to the fore. Throughout the month of May, we will assess whether virtual therapy is as effective as in-person sessions, sift through the horrifying history of hysteria “treatments,” consider the impact of creativity on psychological well-being, and much more. In this article, we will delve into both the value of maintaining family relationships on behalf of others and the emotional demands of kinkeeping that often burden women’s lives. Read on to learn all about this time-consuming role, and please let us know in the comments below how kinkeeping impacts your own lives or the lives of women in your family.

Kinkeeping Definition: What Exactly is It?

Kinkeeping refers to the often invisible labor undertaken to strengthen intergenerational relationships, maintain family cohesion, assist family communication, and protect emotional health. Those who take on this role often plan family gatherings, manage celebrations of major life events, remember and act on birthdays and anniversaries, facilitate communication among relatives, and sometimes mediate disputes to heal familial division or provide emotional support.

Women as Kinkeepers

The term originated from family studies to describe these activities that are crucial for upholding family traditions and bonds, often going unrecognized in terms of their intensity and impact. Historically, kinkeeping is a role predominantly undertaken by women, deeply embedded in family dynamics across various cultures and societies.

Quoting a viral TikTok about the impact of these maintenance activities on female family members in an article for Metro UK early last year, Tanyel Mustafa notes that kin keeping is still a “‘root of stress in most women’s lives.'” Despite shifting roles within family and greater society, women today continue to do most of the kinkeeping work. The persistence of this phenomenon can be attributed to several social and cultural factors.

Gender Roles and Socialization

Traditional gender roles and societal expectations often shape how men and women are socialized from a young age. Women are typically encouraged to be more nurturing, empathetic, and responsible for the emotional well-being of others, qualities that are central to kinkeeping.

Expectations and Norms

In many cultures, there is an expectation that women will take on caregiving and emotional support roles within the family. This expectation can lead to women assuming the bulk of kinkeeping duties as part of their perceived responsibilities.

Skill Development

Because women are often socialized to manage interpersonal relationships and emotions, they may develop skills and inclinations that make them more adept at or more comfortable with kinkeeping tasks compared to men. From a young age, girls are often encouraged to engage in activities that involve caregiving and emotional management, such as playing with dolls or taking on household chores, while boys are steered towards more task-oriented or competitive play.

This early socialization not only develops specific skills conducive to kinkeeping—such as empathy, communication, and multitasking—but also sets the expectation that such responsibilities naturally fall within the female domain. The psychological reinforcement of these roles through positive feedback, such as praise for being caring or organizing a family gathering well, and societal approval, further cements these responsibilities as predominantly female duties. Consequently, women often internalize these roles as part of their identity, wh

Feedback Loops

As women take on more kinkeeping tasks, they become more experienced and efficient at these roles, which can reinforce the expectation that they should continue to do so. Similarly, if men are less involved in kinkeeping, they may have fewer opportunities to develop these skills, perpetuating the cycle.

The Value of Kinkeeping

Kinkeeping holds significant value for both the family members who benefit from these efforts and those who perform the kinkeeping roles themselves, despite the associated burdens. For both older and younger family members, kinkeeping fosters stronger intergenerational bonds. Regular family gatherings, celebrations of important milestones, and effective communication help maintain a sense of unity and belonging. This sense of connectedness is crucial for emotional support, especially during times of crisis or significant life changes.

Kinkeepers often play a key role in upholding family traditions and important family events, which are vital for creating a shared history and identity. This continuity is important for giving members, particularly younger generations, a sense of heritage and belonging. Through those family interactions, younger family members also learn social skills, values, and behaviors that are important for their personal development and social integration. By ensuring regular communication and interaction among family members, kinkeepers help maintain a robust support network. This network is crucial for emotional well-being, as family members have a reliable source of support and understanding.

How These Activities Benefit the Family Kinkeeper Herself

Many kinkeepers find a deep sense of fulfillment and purpose in their role, deriving satisfaction from bringing family members together and ensuring the well-being of loved ones. This sense of accomplishment can be a powerful source of personal contentment. Kinkeepers sometimes receive social recognition and respect from family members for their efforts, which can enhance their self-esteem and social standing within the family. This recognition can affirm their role and importance in the family structure.

The responsibilities involved in kinkeeping also help develop and refine various skills, including organizational abilities, leadership, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence. These skills are valuable in many other areas of life, including professional environments. Perhaps most importantly and although the kinkeeping role can be demanding, it also offers that family member the opportunity to forge enduring family ties and personally close relationships with family members. Helping the family maintain these relationships can be deeply rewarding, providing emotional enrichment and a strong sense of community.

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The Burden of Kinkeeping

Clearly, kinkeeping contributes significantly to the emotional health and unity of the family. However, it can also degrade the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of the kinkeeper herself. Managing the emotional and logistical needs of a family can lead to stress, mental fatigue, and unique financial commitments that other members are not required to make.

Impact on Mental Health

Kinkeepers are often the central figures in planning and coordinating family activities, mediating conflicts, and maintaining regular communication among family members. This continuous responsibility requires a high level of emotional engagement and can be draining, especially when balanced with other personal and professional obligations. The logistical aspect of organizing events, remembering important dates, and ensuring everyone’s needs are met can create relentless pressure to perform without errors.

Over time, this relentless stress can evolve into chronic stress, which is known to have serious health implications, including increased risk for anxiety, depression, and even physical health issues like heart disease and weakened immune systems. The emotional toll of being perpetually ‘on call’ for family needs can diminish a kinkeeper’s ability to recharge, leading to burnout and reduced overall mental well-being.

Lack of Recognition and Support

The invisibility of kinkeeping as ‘real work’ significantly affects the self-esteem and recognition of those who undertake these tasks. Despite the crucial role kinkeepers play in maintaining family cohesion and support, their efforts are often undervalued or overlooked, as these activities are typically expected and seen as natural extensions of a woman’s role in the family. This lack of acknowledgment can lead to feelings of being taken for granted, which can impact the kinkeeper’s self-worth and satisfaction.

Moreover, minimal support or appreciation from family members or broader society exacerbates these feelings, potentially leading to resentment or emotional exhaustion. When kinkeepers do not receive adequate emotional or practical support, the burden becomes heavier, and the ongoing undervaluation can lead to decreased motivation and increased dissatisfaction, affecting their overall mental health and well-being.

Sacrificing Personal and Professional Goals

Kinkeepers often face the daunting task of juggling their kinkeeping responsibilities with professional duties and personal life, a balancing act that can place immense strain on their mental health. This challenge is compounded for those who work full-time or have other significant obligations, such as parenting or caring for elderly relatives. The effort to maintain excellence in all these areas can lead to chronic stress and time pressure, significantly increasing the risk of burnout.

Burnout manifests as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment, which can further lead to depression and anxiety. The continuous pressure to meet the expectations in all facets of life can also result in neglecting one’s own needs, including adequate rest, social life, and personal hobbies, which are essential for mental and emotional well-being.

How Other Family Members Can Shoulder Some of That Burden

All members of our team and many of our readers are women with rich professional, creative, and familial lives. As such, we are fierce advocates for more equitable distributions of kinkeeping tasks and emotional labor within families. Below are a few ways in which other family members can share the workload while supporting women who shoulder many responsibilities at home and at work.

Acknowledge the Work

Acknowledging the work involved in kinkeeping is essential for creating a supportive and appreciative family environment. This step involves all family members recognizing the effort and time that kinkeepers invest in maintaining family relationships and organizing family life. By understanding and valuing these contributions, family members can better appreciate the emotional and logistical challenges involved. This recognition helps validate the kinkeeper’s efforts, reducing feelings of being undervalued and fostering a more supportive atmosphere where the contributions of kinkeepers are seen as important and necessary.

Divide Responsibilities

Dividing kinkeeping responsibilities can alleviate the burden on a single individual and distribute the tasks more equitably among family members. This process involves a collective discussion where family members identify all the kinkeeping tasks—ranging from organizing family events to managing communications. Each task can then be assigned based on each member’s abilities, availability, and interests. Such an approach not only lightens the load for the primary kinkeeper but also involves others more deeply in family dynamics, fostering a sense of responsibility and participation.

Scheduled Check-ins

Regular family meetings or check-ins are crucial for managing kinkeeping tasks effectively. These gatherings serve as a platform for discussing upcoming events, dividing responsibilities, and addressing any support the primary kinkeeper might need. Scheduled check-ins also provide an opportunity to reassess and reallocate tasks if necessary, ensuring that the burden does not become overwhelming for any one person and that family dynamics can adapt to changing circumstances.

Leverage Technology

Utilizing technology can significantly streamline kinkeeping tasks. Family group chats, shared online calendars, and management apps can facilitate communication and organization with minimal effort. These tools ensure that everyone stays informed about important dates and events and can take proactive steps without needing constant reminders from the kinkeeper. This technological approach reduces the cognitive load on the kinkeeper and enhances efficiency in managing family logistics.

Rotate Roles

Rotating kinkeeping roles periodically is an effective strategy to prevent burnout and ensure that various family members develop the necessary skills for these tasks. This could involve alternating who is responsible for organizing family gatherings or who manages communication with different branches of the family. Such rotations not only provide rest periods for regular kinkeepers but also democratize the skills and responsibilities associated with family management, making the family unit more resilient and adaptive.

Educate and Empower

Empowering all family members to participate in kinkeeping tasks is crucial. This involves educating everyone, including men and younger members, about the importance and value of these tasks. By mentoring and involving everyone in these roles, families can foster a more inclusive and supportive environment where kinkeeping is viewed as a shared responsibility rather than a task for a select few.

Offer Emotional Support

Kinkeeping involves significant emotional labor, and recognizing this aspect is crucial. All family members can contribute to this dimension by being more emotionally available and supportive to each other. Sharing emotional support duties can prevent the primary kinkeeper from feeling isolated or overwhelmed and enhance the emotional well-being of the entire family.

Celebrate Contributions

Regularly acknowledging and celebrating the contributions of all family members in kinkeeping tasks is vital. Recognizing these efforts through verbal appreciation, celebratory gatherings, or small rewards can motivate continued participation and investment. This celebration helps to reinforce the value of everyone’s efforts and promotes a culture of appreciation and gratitude within the family.

Resources for Women Dealing with Kinkeeping Burnout

We leave our readers with a few resources that can help women cope with the stress and exhaustion of kinkeeping and emotional labor, providing pathways to greater well-being and a more balanced home life. For the readers, we recommend Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley and Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski. These books offer insights into the dynamics of emotional labor and practical advice on how to manage stress and negotiate the division of labor at home.

Websites like Reddit and Facebook host numerous support groups where women can discuss experiences with kinkeeping and emotional labor. Groups like “Women’s Emotional Labor League” on Reddit provide a space to share strategies and receive support from others facing similar challenges. Organizations like The Gottman Institute and local community centers often offer workshops and webinars on managing household stress and improving family dynamics. These can provide both education and practical tools for dealing with kinkeeping burdens.

Therapy can be a powerful tool for managing burnout and stress related to emotional labor. Websites like BetterHelp and Talkspace allow users to connect with therapists online, making mental health support more accessible. Apps like Headspace and Calm offer guided meditations and mindfulness exercises, which can be beneficial for managing stress and improving overall mental health.

We hope these resources offer support as you navigate kinkeeping and seek a more equitable distribution of family responsibilities.