The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: family life

Women, ADHD, and expectations of kin-keeping

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 Chaoswhich 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.



Do what works

The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution. -- Bertrand Russell

It’s so easy to nag, demand, berate, or give up on our ADHD loved ones. I mean, really, how hard is it to…

  • get home from work on time?
  • stay sitting at the table for dinner?
  • stop picking fights?
  • keep track of your keys?
  • take out the trash?

Before I go on, let me tell you, it’s okay to feel frustrated.

But then ask yourself this: am I trying to solve the right problem?

Is getting home from work on time really the issue? Physically sitting at the table? Or do we need to dig deeper, discovering that our true meaning is really…

  • I want to feel like you value our family as much as your job
  • I want to connect as a family
  • I want a peaceful, effective morning routine
  • I want to trust that you’ll fulfill your commitments to our household

When we consider what’s really bugging us, the conversation shifts. It becomes about us and our feelings, not others and their faults.

Next time you’re tempted to nag or criticize, pause. Challenge yourself to open up about the real issue and listen to your ADHD’ers’ suggestions.

Of course, you’ll need to prepare for the “I don’t know” answer, too. Working from honest feelings rather than accusations, assumptions, and judgments creates a safe space for you to solve the problem as a team.

These conversations require self-awareness and emotional availability — two tough spots for ADHD folks. If you struggle with communication, I suggest reading Difficult Conversations as a family.

Experiment, observe, and find what works

When troubleshooting in an ADHD household, be prepared to experiment.

In a science experiment, you don’t work from what you want or what you think should happen.

You observe what is and you work from there.

For example, we don’t do family dinner at our house. I grew up with family dinner, and everywhere I looked, someone was holding it up as the gold standard for healthy, functional, connected nuclear families.

Well, guess what — family dinner doesn’t work for us right now.

Did I fret over how I could make it happen so we could be a “real,” “normal” family?

I sure did. But did it help?


Eventually, I realized family dinner wasn’t the problem. It was the need for a family meal.

The solution: we eat family breakfast together seven days a week. My husband gets our son out of bed and dressed, giving them extra time together in the morning. Our weekly family meeting happens after breakfast on Saturday because that’s when we know we’ll all be together.

It’s a little unconventional, but it’s what works for us.

 Forget expectations

If you’re still obsessing over how “normal” or “responsible” people solve problems and organize their lives, try to let it go. Step back, observe, and look at what really works for your family.

Make sure you’ve defined the real problem, then work on a real solution.

Don’t let external judgments and expectations define how you run your home and family.

Find what works and let go of the rest.


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