Who is the kinkeeper in your family? Who tends to its emotional well-being, remembering birthdays, organising social gatherings, honouring milestones? Who is always the one to phone or email, reaching out to bring life to a faltering connection? Who is the ‘family glue’?

I learned about this word from D, my partner in grandmothering and kinkeeper extraordinaire. She travels vast distances from the heart of Australia to do the work of keeping, strengthening ties with a large and scattered family as well as friends from her east coast life.

At first I thought kinkeeper was hyphenated, but when I checked, I found otherwise. How encircled and embraced one feels by this single word.

Canadian sociologist Carolyn Rosenthal coined the term in 1985 to capture the invisible work that mostly women do. A labour of love using any available means of communication, kinkeeping can include things like emotional caregiving, being there for a loved one in a crisis, or researching familial patterns of disease.

In our family, I became the memory keeper, writing the family history, collecting and curating photographs. My older sister Jan has always been the communicator. We both love words, but while my love is of the written word, her forte is the spoken one.

Jan’s kinkeeping web is immense; amazingly, she always has time for a phone call. When our mother died, Jan became the glue that held our family together.

As I’ve lived in many different places over the course of my life, I’ve been a kinkeeper too. Like D, I travelled long distances to maintain precious relationships, especially with friends. As I was the one who had moved away, I was willing to make the effort of visiting.

In my sixties, as my disease progressed, it became harder to maintain these in-person connections, even some of the virtual ones. While kinkeeping in its broadest sense (including friends) may depend on one person initiating contact, at its best it is an exchange. Mutual satisfaction wanes if the effort is one sided; this is inevitable.

With the worsening of Ken’s illness, I’ve thought about what providing and receiving support means. It’s another expression of kinkeeping and I feel that now, I’m a beneficiary.

Care and support can never be slapdash.

One of the things I love about these posts is that I get to hear what you think about what is preoccupying me at this moment.

I love it when friends in Canada and North America send me photos of their changing seasons and tell me a little of what it means to them.

I love it when friends who still travel the world send me photos – not too many, not too often, ones they know will interest me.

I love it when communication, however it happens, is about what is normal – your everyday news. That doesn’t need to be filtered for my sake – I can take the happy and the not-so-happy.

In return I will share with you what is happening in my life.

Kinkeeping »

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12 Responses

  1. OOOO…I love this word Ruth!
    You have been in my thoughts…sending out a strand of web through the ether.
    Much love, L

  2. Dear Ruth I’m so delighted to star in todays post. When I saw your post had arrived in my inbox, I steeled myself a little, choosing ‘the right moment to read, incase it was sadder, more difficult news. instead I found this heart-warming and somewhat up-beat reflection on the various ways we women stay at the centre of our webs. Im so relieved!
    And grateful that lovely ‘k’ word appeared in my web the day I last flew east, it was’s word of the day! Lucky it wasn’t Bravo!

    1. Deb, thank you for being my inspiration for this post – in finding the word, and being such an exemplar of it. When I think of you, I picture you in the skies, or traversing arid country in a 4WD! Keep kinkeeping.

  3. Ruth, this spider’s web image you have chosen for this posting is perfect. It encapsulates so much – the connections which are both fragile and strong, and the gaps which can open up. Its a good term “kinkeeper” and gives legitimacy and value to an important role many of us try to fill in some way or another. I acknowledge the value of your kinkeeping efforts in our long journey as friends. Thank you. Leigh

  4. This has made me think, my family lacks a kinkeeper right now, it’s something I think of a lot as I’m no longer up to the task, nearby relatives have all died and travelling gets tiring. There are still small webs that connect us like links in a chain though. It’s a great word and role to have…

    1. Vicki losing both parents reasonably close together in time as you did must have left a huge hole in your web. The formation of smaller webs as you’ve described suggests another way forward – I like that idea.

  5. In some ways my sister has been, inviting our small family up to visit in the country many times. And displaying much thought about our brother.
    Sometimes I think it’s me, with phone calls, presents and other things. And my son taking a tripod up to Tamworth, to record those of us there in a group photo- which we all cherish.

  6. Such a strengthening role, kinkeeping, dear Ruth. It is my role in my vast extended family and happened serendipitously because I emigrated. It is something I recommend to people struggling with issues close to home, in their nuclear families, or personal health challenges. The bigger picture can be mind and life-saving. The unseen choir surrounding you and Ken at this time must be sustaining you, even if not evident. Thank you, Ruth. I value your thoughts on daily life, and wish you both continuing courage.

    1. Cecile, I know how important social media is to keep you in touch with your vast network, and how that contributes to your well being. And thank you for the ‘unseen choir’ – what a beautiful image. It occurs to me that it might be unseen, but it is not unheard! We all need one.

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