Several months ago, I caught part of an NPR interview about kin-keeping. Kin-keeping describes those little things that keep family and friends connected: sending birthday cards, planning vacations, setting up regular Skype dates, purchasing Christmas gifts. It takes time and energy, and it’s a burden usually shouldered by women.
I immediately thought, wow, what about women with ADHD? If this makes the average woman feel overstretched, burned-out, and inadequate, what about me?
Kin-keeping requires exceptional organization, memory, and executive functioning. The emotional cost of failure is high. And yet, I look at my own family and see, yes, I am the one doing this for us. My grandmother sometimes phones to thank me for it, actually. She tells me she doesn’t know how I do it, or where everyone would be without me.
I don’t know, either, but this simple thank you means a lot. It’s not easy. And the fact that it’s not easy? That’s not easy, either.
People, not projects?
I’ve folded kin-keeping into my obsessive organizing habit. “Remember my sister’s birthday” can become a project in my GTD system. When I want to check in with a friend going through a tough time, I sometimes put a sticky note on my phone before bed to remind me to text them in the morning. Most days, this makes me look like a good friend.
I don’t feel like a good friend, though. I wish I could remember important events in the lives of people I love — on my own. No matter how much I love you, without my calendar and to-do list, you’d get the impression I never thought of you at all.
Maybe no one cares how I get there, because the end result — someone feeling loved and remembered — matters most. But women still suffer under societal expectations. We’re supposed to look put-together. We’re supposed to send birthday and Christmas cards on time. We’re supposed to let a friend know we’re thinking of her on the anniversary of her brother’s death. And it’s supposed to look natural. The machinery isn’t supposed to show.
In other words, I don’t give myself credit for remembering these things at the right time. My calendar and GTD systems do it for me. When people say “you’re so organized,” I don’t feel it as a compliment. If I’m organized, it’s only because I need to be. Shouldn’t I just remember, without a whole system of sticky notes and project folders and calendar reminders?
I’m sure everyone needs reminders, just like everyone has experienced ADHD-like symptoms at some point in their lives. But to be effective kin-keepers, women with ADHD need more — more than it feels like we should.
To meet the baseline expectations of “good friend” or “reliable family member,” I need to do more. I need to set up more task management systems. I need to rely more heavily on my calendar. My memory is shorter, and my proclivity for distraction and overwhelm stronger. Managing life in general takes more effort for people with ADHD. Managing kin-keeping, and making it look natural and genuine, feels like walking a tightrope while being circled by vultures.
My family needs me
And yet, without me playing the role of kin-keeper, where would my family be? Because I need to stay so much more organized to meet the basic requirements of being an adult, I’ve made myself a perfect fit for this role. Everything gets dumped into my organizational system, from the electric bill to my sister’s 18th birthday. While that may sound cold in its egalitarianism, I never forget the electric bill, do I? My GTD system will poke me every week to make sure I have a plan for my sister’s birthday, just like it reminds me to look for the electric bill in my email. Ironically, because I can forget so much, I end up forgetting relatively little. I maintain a more airtight system than most people I know.
Maybe, then, this effort of remembering isn’t hollow. Maybe I should honor all of it — my bullet journal, my GTD system, my Google Calendar, my sticky notes — for what it is: the glue that holds our family’s social bonds together. So what if it’s not all in my head? It’s better for all of us this way.
I talk a lot about this and more in my organizing book, Order from Chaos, which is available for preorder on Kickstarter right now. If you appreciate my posts here on The ADHD Homestead, please support this project and help bring it to life.