The Emotional Labor of Kinkeeping: Why Men Should Call their Moms

by | Jun 12, 2020 | Uncategorized | 35 comments

The Emotional Labor of KinKeeping: Why Men Need to Call Their Mom

Who does the emotional labor of keeping relationships with extended family close?

We’ve been talking this month in our series about the work of emotional labor, and how that can contribute to women’s mental load–that feeling that we’re carrying all the details of the household in our heads, and if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. It can be exhausting.

We’ve talked a lot about housework, but that’s not the only detail that women  carry. Much of the heaviest burden is actually about relationships.

On Fridays, I’ve started highlighting comments from the previous week’s posts, and this comment was so epic and made such an amazing point, we had to share it with you all. This series on emotional labor has been generating really wonderful discussions in the comments and I’ve really enjoyed interacting with you all there!

Before I do, though, just a quick “shoutout” to my Sheila’s Spotlight item, an affiliate product that helps keep this blog up and running now that we’ve gotten rid of ads! If you’re looking for something fun and quirky for a Father’s Day gift, take a look at Grillmaster’s Club! it’s a monthly subscription box, and every month you’re sent a unique barbecue rub, sauce, recipes, and more. It’s a lot of fun, and if you have a husband (or a dad!) who loves grilling, this may fit the bill. And it’s COVID friendly, too, because it’s all at home.

On Monday’s post on setting standards for housework, Lisa made this really important observation about the important work of relationship upkeep and why it matters so much:

Like eating healthy and exercising, there are things that may not matter a lot when not done short term but over the long term have consequences.

“Kinkeeping” is one of those.

  • Making sure the grandparents or extended family get pictures, updates, or thanks for gifts.
  • Making plans for remembering birthdays and holidays of friends and family. (Christmas cards with a current picture are often part of this goal.)
  • Making arrangements for social connections for the couple and kids (a big part of extracurricular is social connection).

This stuff is the glue of relationships. If you don’t continue to do **reasonable** efforts to maintain and grow relationships you avoid the problem of over-scheduling but create a new problem of less connection with strong relationships which is, studies confirm, is the MOST important thing for happiness.

(And not doing some of this can cause hurt among family, particularly older family members who may not be as technologically savvy).

It’s important to not see this invisible work, so often exclusively done by women, as unimportant or women just having too high standards because of Instagram. Of course HOW it is done is the appropriate discussion.

Who remembers, plans and buys the cards and presents for the in-laws? Plans and organizes Christmas, Easter. Thanksgiving, 25th Anniversary, Mother’s/Fathers Day, Baby/Wedding celebrations etc. That’s the kind of thing that needs to be rebalanced. It’s so often the women who have to either do this stuff or continually remind/manage for EVERYONE not just her side of the family.

The work of kinkeeping is like eating your vegetables. Sure it’s easier and more fun to eat take out pizza every night but over time you will be unhealthy.

And to the goal of men seeing what’s in it for them to change, many men say they don’t have any friends outside their wife. This is part of why suicide rates for men are much higher than for women.

Rebalancing models the importance and work of “kinkeeping” for boys and men so they have the skill and habit of maintaining strong connections through an accumulation of these small things that connect people.

Connection is so important for good physical and mental health.

There is a decades long study of college men that showed that relationships really are the key.

This is not only about helping women live better lives, but men too. It matters.



When studies look into what allows people to have long lives, a major finding is consistently that people need both “strong bonds” and “weak bonds.”

We need the strong bonds of relationships with family and friends and that’s why it’s important to do the work of staying connected with those closest to us. And then we also need to so-called weak bonds of small social interactions – saying “thank you” to the bus driver, small talk at the water cooler at work, and so on. The data is in and it’s clear: loneliness kills.

As I added in the comments on Monday’s post,

So true! I think this is why men often die so soon after their wives do. What keeps us alive and healthy is connection to others, studies have repeatedly shown. And yet that connection work is largely done by women. So when she dies, suddenly he doesn’t have those natural times to connect with kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, friends, because she used to take care of that. And so he is suddenly alone.

Often people say if women feel overwhelmed they just need to say “no”. But this stuff matters. My relationship with my cousins was the most important of my life when I was a kid, but they lived a few hours away. Nevertheless, we made the effort. Family reunions matter. Anniversaries matter. We just need to find new ways to redistribute this work.


I once heard a study (I’ll have to look for it later again) that said that, to be cared for very well in your old age, you need a combination of 3 daughters or daughters-in-law. It wasn’t sons that mattered; it was simply that you had daughters or daughters-in-law. That really does have to change. 

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COVID 19 has been many things, most of them horrific. But one of the more poignant realities of life in a global pandemic is that it highlights the profound importance of other people in our lives. The staff who work with me are having a bit of a baby boom – two babies have been born in the last two weeks and another is expected in early August. I know how stressful it is for the women who work with me trying to juggle their desire to see friends and family while navigating the pandemic recommendations and requirements, especially as they try to keep their babies safe. It’s a lot.

But COVID has also provided lots of us with a slower pace and an opportunity to examine what’s working and what’s not working in our lives. Joanna, who works with me, and her husband, Josiah, have found this to be true. Here’s Joanna, who is co-authoring the upcoming The Great Sex Rescue with me (and running all the stats!)

My husband lost his job just before Easter due to the pandemic and so we found ourselves in a hugely stressful situation: job hunting in the era of a global pandemic and the economic downturn that came along with it. My husband found out recently that he got an amazing position as a public service lawyer doing policy work with the government of Nunavut, so the stress has had a happy ending. We’re now enjoying a slower pace but keeping busy selling our house, preparing for a new baby, and I’m still busy behind the scenes on the book project.

We lived for the first 4 years of our marriage in Saskatoon, where my husband’s family is. I found it relatively easy to keep up with my family in Pittsburgh from afar and we visited quite frequently. In September 2017, we moved out to Ontario and have lived in Kingston and Belleville ever since. We’re a 7 hour drive from my family and a 3 hour flight from my husband’s, so we don’t get to see family nearly as much. While Josiah was very good at connecting with his family when we were in Saskatoon, it wasn’t his forte when it all had to be digital. But this “new normal” we’re enjoying for the next few months has really changed that. Josiah talks with his parents a lot more, as he FaceTimes with them so they can talk to our toddler. They’ve been able to read books, sing songs, and generally enjoy each other across the miles. Our two-year-old is rather rude on the phone (we’re working on manners…) but it’s been so sweet for them to be able to connect across the miles. While the busy times will return in September when we move and my husband begins in his new position, I’m confident that Josiah will be better about connecting with his family. Sometimes, life just hands you a reset button and the emotional energy to make some changes that will make your quality of life better.


I do think it’s important that men take on some of the work of nurturing relationships. It doesn’t bode well for them in the long run if they don’t. Men need friends, but they also need their families. It’s not just that the weight of this falls too much on women (although that is a factor); it’s also that it’s not healthy for men not to engage in this.

What about you? Have you found that the pandemic changed your family dynamics? How do you keep up with relationships in your family? Let me know in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Phil

    Sundays is call Grandparents day. I typically take on that task of making sure that gets done. Here is the thing: I wrote last week that this series had been a real eye opener. I have always known my wife takes on a lot but never knew what to call it. I have been working on taking some of the mental load from her and I will admit it is tiring. The pandemic has changed our relationships with our parents for sure. Long story short my in-laws got trapped on their trip and ended up at our house for 5 weeks. So much positive came out of it. There were plenty of dynamics for everyone – for me the biggest take away was improving my relationship with my M-law. We have generally always gotten along but there were issues and we had a big blow out 10 years ago that cleared the air. However we still stuck with the 3 day rule when it came to over night visits. Now we had to live together for 5 weeks! After 4 years of dating and 20 years of marriage I found out my M-law can be calm and is not the witch on a stick I believed her to be. So it was a huge impact having them here during the pandemic. I got to see my real M-law who is not stressed on a trip or having us at her house. So that was HUGE. My Mom hasnt faired so well during the pandemic and isolation has impacted her. I started calling my Mom more during the week to keep tabs on her. She has been having paranoia events that are quite concerning and she lives alone. We are 450 miles from her and I have to depend on my brother to keep closer tabs on her. This has brought my brother and I together a bit more too. So negative creates positive I guess. My brother has a history of “disappearing” for small time periods and has dropped the ball on being there for my Mom so I have to trust him more than ever now. He promised me he would take care of Mom since he is closer. So lots of structural changes and or maybe mental load stuff has taken place for me/us during this pandemic. In addition: yesterday was my brothers birthday. My wife apologized for not sending him a card. I said and I quote. “ Thank you but he’s not your brother. Thats my responsibility”. While I did not send my brother a card I made sure we called him. Lastly on Lisa’s comment – it really is epic. I have a friend who is maybe not a friend any more because we haven’t talked in 5 years. I watched him screw up his life with booze and women. It was quite ugly for him. After his divorce he was out fishing even more so than he always had been. He would catch these monster fish and I would admittedly be jealous. But you know what? When holidays came around guess who he was calling? ME. Why? He had no one else. His kids where with his X and his relationship with his parents where estranged. He has no one. Except his fish. While that example is not necessarily the mental load example it is an example that human nature seeks others. Hence why God created Eve for Adam. So we are not alone. We must take care of our relationships from all angles down to mental load. Thanks All – have a great weekend.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Wow, Phil, what an awesome comment!
      I have to admit I laughed at your predicament with your mother-in-law–breaking your “3 day rule” like that. Not just breaking it, but smashing it to smithereens! I love how God has used something as awful as this pandemic to heal so many relationships. And I love how you’re getting closer to your mom and brother too. That’s beautiful.
      Great insight about your friend, too. It is sad that you are all he has. People make really dumb choices when we don’t realize that relationships are the glue of life. That’s how God made us.

  2. Kya

    I handle kin-keeping for my own family, and I do the Christmas cards because I love having the annual record of our family that they provide, but my husband is responsible for kin-keeping his own family. I’m the introvert, and he is the extrovert, and kin-keeping two families is just too much for me! I think that his parents raised him just like my parents raised me, and they should hear from their son, not a daughter-in-law trying to cover for him. This Mothers Day when I bought my mom a card, I made sure to buy one for his mom, but I wrote and mailed mine and his is still sitting on the entry table. I don’t nag him about it; he can write and send it whenever he wants to or has the time (and he probably will eventually). He is the one who calls his parents on their birthdays and holidays, and he spends the majority of the time talking when they call us. I have always believed and acted as though kin-keeping needs to be shared (especially if your wife is introverted).

  3. Chris

    Sheila, have you ever heard the saying “Your daughter is your daughter all your life. Your son is your son until he takes a wife”? Its very true. I have a good group of friends from my youth but in all honesty, none of our wives give us any free time to see eachother. Although we have been Zooming a little bit. Men tend to just get pulled into the vacuum of their wife’s family and friends to the detriment of their own. Or atleast that is what I have observed.

    • Lisa Johnson

      I was going to quote that same proverb so I’m glad you brought it up!
      I have experienced it among people I know as the emotional labor of the in-laws often falls to the daughter in law as the son focuses on his work or other interests.
      It sounds like your circle of friends has a different experience.
      I’m curious what you mean when you say that none of your wives “give you any free time” to see your friends. What does that look like for her to give you time to do things? (Not being snarky genuinely trying to imagine what you mean).
      I think it important to balance all this stuff so everyone has reasonable amounts of time to maintain their friends and family.
      And if it’s unbalanced to favor one side of the family that needs to be addressed and not just go along with. What happens when you bring that up?

      • Brenda

        Slightly tangent, but as the one who makes all the holidays and birthdays special in our family, when it finally is a day for me I’m often really disappointed by lack of initiative and thought my husband puts into them. I found myself very depressed last month as I planned special parties for my children which fall right around Mothers Day and my birthday knowing nothing would be done to honor me. Maybe that’s selfish. But birthdays and holidays and anniversaries are a big deal to me. It makes me feel like my husband does not think they are special or that I am worth some effort to do something nice- even just letting me sleep in, feeding the kids for the day and handling the cleaning chores.

      • Chris

        Lisa, most of our wives just have long lists of things they want done. Thats it really. Just can’t do anything until that list is done. But it just keeps getting longer. This is not unique to me and my friends, i think its common in most marriages.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Chris, it may very well be. But have you asked yourself WHY she has that long a list? Do those things need to be done? If so, why is it that she has to compile the list? Can you not compile part of it? Can you see how “owning” part of the household mental load could decrease the list?
          I just have a problem with people complaining that women have lists without addressing whether those tasks do need to get done. IF they do, then perhaps the problem isn’t with the list, but with the dynamics in the marriage where she has to compile it in the first place? Most women don’t actually like having to compile all of these lists. Most women are not doing it to be mean. It’s just that it needs to get done.

          • Chris

            Sheila, I wasn’t complaining about my wife having lists, i have accepted that. My complaint is that the items on the list are not prioritized. And when the tasks are completed, the method or results are criticized. I think in my situation its more about control tgan actually getting some of these things done that she wants.

          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            May I just make a suggestion, then?
            If it is a control issue, you can take initiative and do some research of your own. Print off a chores list from a homemaking website and say, “These are the required chores to keep a house going. Is there anything else we need to add for our particular household?” You have the conversation, have a discussion, and honestly listen so that you create a personalized chores list for your family. Then, you take ownership of a fair amount of those chores where she doesn’t need to think about it, remind you, or criticize how you do it because you also research how to properly do those things. It’s not just about “doing the dishes,” it’s about making sure there isn’t water all over the countertops that’s going to seep through and warp the counter and the wooden cabinets below.
            I know that in my marriage I felt I had to micro-manage for a while because my husband hadn’t been taught how to think about what needs to get done, so he’d change out the garbage in the bathroom for instance but not replace the plastic bag. So yes, I’d have to go around behind him and make sure everything was done and both of us hated it. When he took initiative and learned how to do it, I was able to completely step back. But if you think she’s being too controlling, the answer isn’t to just not do what she wants or complain about it–it’s to take initiative to introduce a healthier way of doing things. And that means doing research, talking to other friends who seem to do housework really well, and then taking it upon yourself to learn how to execute these things to acceptable minimum community standards.

    • E

      That is sad. You guys should advocate for more time together. Most men it seems like don’t bother keeping up friendships. My husband doesn’t have any friends. I have tried to connect him with other men (husbands of my friends), but while they get along ok he never hears from them again. Nowadays he no longer contacts them Kindof as a test, which is silly. He used to have amazing friends, but I guess got bitter that they no longer contact him. I’m that case he was always the one to contact everyone. I guess he got tired of being the initiator. It sounds like your friends still have a bond and that is amazing! Coronavirus has been hard on me too because I only ever hear from friends when I contact/call them first. The chat is always edifying, but in my heart it doesn’t feel like a true friendship.
      All that to say don’t lose those friends! Even if it’s plans once every other month.

      • Phil

        @ E – and All – this is a very interesting comment. Me and my friends have had the conversation about how true a friendship is if you are the only one initiating. I have come to the conclusion that my theory is this: there is truth in how strong your friendship is based on initiation. My friend no longer talks to his best man from his wedding because they just never called or initiated. So he lost contact. I did the same thing to our shared friend. I am snarky and even sent them a toy phone with a call me haha on it. I am not mad at them. It just is what it is. We used to see them at the store from time to time and we would pick up right where we left off. I would say call me as they walked off and we would all laugh. Here is the thing. Take this mental load thing and apply it to this discussion. @ Chris – it may not be control by the wife per se, although in some cases it could be. But maybe it just appears as control. What about this: as we have learned many men are mental load lazy. Initiating friendship and relationship maintenance may have fallen on the wife and it appears she is controlling things. I want to tell you this quick story about my M-law. I determined that she carries not only the mental load but the Mother Load of everything in her relationship with my father inlaw. It has always been that way and it has gotten worse as they age. At this point after 51 years of marriage I cant envision this changing. But as an outsider who hangs out at TLHV I can see this stuff in others. My Father Inlaw had heart surgery 5 years ago and doesnt get around super well. While they were at my house during the pandemic I over heard my M- Law ask my Father In Law Did you go to the bathroom this morning?” I was chuckling in the other room. REALLY? He is not that bad off you have to monitor his bowel movements. Yes she is retired nurse so its in her blood – but do you see how she is carrying the mental load? Literally. While I love my Father In law the bottom line is that he is lazy when it comes to mental load. And because of the way their marriage is set – she carries it and oh yes she even keeps his friendships together. All that being said I cant argue with a marriage that has lasted 51 years. All that being said I dont want that for my self when I am 80 years old. Super interesting conversation.

        • Lisa Johnson

          Really important comments about what looks like control can often be that the wife is trying to deal with unbalanced mental/emotional load!
          When you are trying to just get things to happen so you can mentally take it off your list of things to think about.
          It’s amazing Phil that now you can see so much of how this affects relationships we see.
          I think it is the root of a lot of relationship conflict and frustration. Men feel controlled, women feel overburdened.

  4. Lisa Johnson

    This topic is one of the hardest things we have had deal with in our marriage.
    Thanks for highlighting the importance of kinkeeping!
    I think it can be especially difficult with family that isn’t “easy”. If you don’t look forward to talking or spending time with your parents or other family it can be even harder to maintain ties and show love.
    If you know you mom will criticize you for not calling more often when you DO call, yeah that’s takes more willpower and energy to be consistent.
    Or if you have relatives that have very different values than you do about theology or politics or parenting or whatever things that affect daily life and your values. It’s hard to talk about any thing “real” or develop true intimacy if you can’t be vulnerable in discussing differences.
    Let’s be honest many people (including me) don’t possess the maturity level to be thoughtful and loving when it’s seems to sap the limited energy you have available without avoidance or resentment.
    So there’s the challenge to be more loving and Christlike!
    I had to be very patient with my husband to change the patterns of avoidance he had with his family. And to set boundaries to not just take it all on myself. And that takes even more energy.
    But small steps consistent over time. And while it’s certainly not the relationships we long for, all those small acts of love (and boundaries) do often help relationships grow healthier over time. Love, generosity, and boundaries are a powerful combination for change.
    If not, you can still take pride in doing the right thing on your side no matter what others do. Character matters.
    The rewards of the labor are when my mother in law realizes that her son picked out the card and her present himself. Something he put thought and effort into. Her joy is touching. Getting married should cause your family to grow not “lose” your son. The relationship changes but should stay as close as we can pull off with respective maturity levels allow.
    I hope the model we are trying to build means I won’t lose contact with my son when he gets married. It’s so sad to see how common that is.

  5. Lindsey

    I have a different perspective on this. Not to say that the wife should maintain the husbands kin relationships. She shouldn’t. But as a mother of sons (and daughters), there is no reason why a mother shouldn’t call her son when she wants to talk to him. It seems like – at least in the south – there’s a huge entitlement issue with the older generation with regards to what they should expect from their adult children. Especially considering how few children were actually raised with open, loving, meaningful relationships to begin with. Why would they suddenly grow up and feel like they could have an intimate conversation with you if that wasn’t something you encouraged or even allowed as children?
    This is especially bad when the disparities between sons and daughters are viewed first hand. Both my mother and my mother in law would call their daughters (even ones living internationally), on a very regular basis. Neither one called their sons with any consistency, of at all.
    When we moved away from the area he grew up, my husband called his family once every three months or so – his parents never called him. When his sister was living in another country they went out of their way to buy international calling cards and call at a time that worked for her – even though it was such a huge time difference.
    I support my husband’s apathy towards maintaining a relationship with his family, because they didn’t consider it worth it to maintain a relationship with him. As a mother I cannot understand it, I pray I never do.

    • Phil

      Hi Lindsey – yet another interesting side of this conversation. My Mom rarely calls me or my brother. Usually when she calls there is a problem or an important update like a death in the family or something like that. Its been like that since we moved out of her house 25+ years ago. She says “I dont want to bother you and your family or interfere. I tell her she is welcome to call and btw the phone has 2 ends. She still never calls. Occasionally we will get busy and miss calling on a Sunday night. You can bet I hear about it. Thats when I pipe up and repeat to her that she is welcome to call anytime and the phone has 2 ends. She always agrees with me but nothing changes. But you know what? My Mom is my Mom and she taught both me and my brother that no matter what; family is family and you love them. This is not some friendship that just because they dont call you or initiate You give up. Not sure of the cultural differences between the South and The North on that. I grew up in the North and Live in the South so I guess I am hybrid. I really thinks its parenting here – as you say. Although I dont recall having intimate or close conversations with my Mom growing up. It just wasnt there. She was my Mom and I was the angry kid. But I retained something…that was: family is family no matter what….(understanding that in some families boundaries must be set to the point of no contact if necessary).

      • Madeline

        I appreciate your acknowledgement that there is a point where no contact is appropriate. My husband really tried to have a relationship with his dad for years. My husband told his dad he was tired of doing 100% of the work of carrying the relationship and his dad not giving him the time of day. He stopped trying and his dad didn’t reach out to him for over a year..when he did he tried to put all the blame on my husband for “cutting him out.” My husband told him that he would’ve taken his call had he picked up the phone. His dad made up excuses and tried to make it all his son’s fault. There are other factors that went into my husband cutting his dad out that aren’t necessary to go through here. My point is that I agree that contact with a parent isn’t something to just give up on, but like you said, it reaches a point..

    • unmowngrass

      All of this is fair, but it’s worth remembering that a husband’s mother calling too often is also a problem, and very often a worse one. So I think it’s reasonable that the majority of the load of connection there has to be on the son/husband, and not vice versa, but of course the majority is not everything. To take Phil’s example: he usually calls on a Sunday night. If say, that is usually 5pm, but then once every two months their afternoon plans get upended and then it gets to 6pm and still no phone call, is it reasonable for her to phone him? Of course! Is it reasonable for her to phone every day at 6pm? Probably not.. (Sorry Phil.)

      • Lindsey

        Phil, I think that’s great that you have a standing phone call with your mom every week.
        Family is family, and you do love them anyway…but you can lose someone and realize that you’re investing way more than they are – and that you aren’t a priority. When that happens, it’s ok to take a step back and meet their standard of only calling when there is a big life update.
        My husband is also a bit of the pariah because he was the difficult child, and because of refusing to follow cult like rules/devotion of the denomination we were raised in. This has set him at odds with his family. I don’t push him anymore towards a relationship because I’m tired of him being hurt over and over again by people who will always choose devotion to their leaders over their own child – even when he is obviously right.
        It’s really nuanced, but as a mother I will say again, if I miss my boys, I’m going to call them. Not every day, obviously, but I will call. You won’t see me ignoring one of my children for 18+ months except for when they call me. Because I’m the parent. I love first and I love most. That’s MY job.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I totally agree, Lindsey. I don’t understand parents who cut off their kids over stuff like what denomination they choose to attend. That’s a whole new level of crazy. That’s really heartbreaking. And I love my girls. I will keep that relationship going no matter what, because they’re my daughters.

  6. unmowngrass

    “What are you getting your Mom for Christmas?”
    “Well I thought we could get her…”
    “Well no, *I* am getting her something from *me* because I know her and like her and love her in my own life, separate from you. What are *you* getting her? But she’s your Mom, you get first choice of the good gift options!”
    ^Is that a plan that would work? I feel like that is a plan that would work 🙂

    • unmowngrass

      On a semi-related note, as a single person, is it wrong to want that level of thought from my married relatives?
      If I buy separate presents for them, separate thought for each, but they sign their’s together (and probably only the wife put thought into it, or at best the husband approved the idea she already had), am I wrong to think that’s unfair?
      Single people need MORE thoughtfulness from their relatives, not less!

      • Lynsi

        Unmowngrass, not every married couple or family can afford to buy multiple presents for all the people they want to buy presents for, especially if it’s a single income home and there are children. Unless you’re super close with each member of that couple, individual gifts seem strange. Our single friends/family members are usually closer to one or the other of us, so your suggestion that we each should buy a gift seems bizarre and borderline inappropriate. And what about the children? Do our kids each owe you a gift too? Gift giving is about wanting to bless others and show them love, not see what you can get and evaluate if it’s a “fair” exchange. Count yourself blessed in getting any gift at all.

        • Lisa

          Yes!! Your gift comes out of one household budget. When my husband and I buy a Christmas or birthday gift for my single sister, we buy her one gift from both of us, the best one our budget allows. We could split the budget and buy two inexpensive gifts she doesn’t need, but our family has always valued quality over quantity. And we never balk if someone chooses to gift a single gift for us as a couple or family. (One movie? One board game? Thank you! This looks like a lot of fun!)

          • Madeline

            Exactly, Lisa. If someone gave both of us one gift, we wouldn’t think anything of it.

      • Madeline

        Ummm, yeah, I think it’s a little much to expect separate gifts from married couples. Is that what you’re asking?
        My husband and I will usually sit down around the beginning of the Christmas season and make a list of ideas for both of our families, so it’s very much a joint effort to give a gift, not just one person’s. Not to mention we share our finances completely, and it’s already hard some years to not feel like we’re giving cheaper gifts than we would like to.

  7. Rachel

    I appreciate this!
    My husband is Brasilian and I’m Australian and we lived in Australia. We live in Australia, thousands of kilometres away from my family… So no family nearby!
    Because of the language barrier (I only speak conversational Portuguese) I mostly just message my in laws occasionally with photos or a chat (I don’t call them). My siblings and my husband are in touch occasionally (with no hubby’s from me!) which I appreciate.
    It’s interesting though. We have a 3yo daughter and anytime I call anyone from my family she runs to the phone and starts chattering away. And often suggests we call [Grandma, uncle, etc].
    But if my husband tells or daughter, let’s call [one of his siblings] she gets all shy and upset and didn’t want to talk to them! He gets so frustrated with her. But I realised, I’m sure it’s because he rarely calls them so she really doesn’t know them that well! I tell him so often, it is almost completely up to him to help our daughter build those relationships. Also, with the language, I CONTINUALLY remind him to speak Portuguese to her… So while she understands it mostly, she rarely speaks it, so she actually can’t really communicate very well with that side of the family. So I am always reminding him to speak Portuguese and it’s at the point now that he rolls his eyes at me when I remind him!!! I feel like this is not something I should even have to think about. Again, I told him, it’s totally on him to speak the language with her… But he “forgets”.
    That’s just my story!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a really interesting example of mental load and responsibility, isn’t it? Even if you wanted to take it on, you can’t, but it’s not getting done. That’s sad for your daughter in the long run, but you’re right–your husband has to do this one.

  8. Nathan

    > > Men tend to just get pulled into the vacuum of their wife’s family and friends to the detriment of their own.
    I’ve observed this myself from time to time. Mrs. Nathan, thankfully, isn’t like this, and she’s okay with me seeing my friends from time to time.
    But in a few cases (not many, but some), I’ve noticed that when people get married, it’s all of a sudden all about the wife’s family, and the wife’s friends, and there’s unlimited time for that (which the husband is excepted to attend also), but somehow there’s never any time for HIS family and friends.
    To be fair, though, I’ve read many stories on the internet about super-controlling husbands who won’t allow their wives ANY social activity of any kind. I’ve never known any such men in my life, though, but stories of them are everywhere.
    The only advice I can give in that situation is to bluntly ask your spouse, why is okay for us to spend an enormous time with YOUR family and friends, but I never get to spend any time with mine?

  9. Lisa Johnson

    Interesting spectrum of issues in the comments which reminds me of the recent post about not all advice is universal to every situation.
    The original convo was about men owning kinkeeping responsibilities and staying in touch with friends and family in reasonable ways so it doesn’t all fall on the wife. A very good general rule.
    Obviously there are circumstances where modification of the general rule is required. My take of how I try to keep track of modifications required in different types of relationships.
    1. If the wife (or other family) is not “allowing” or making it difficult for to spend time for friends and family that is then a problem in the marriage (or other) relationship that needs to be addressed.
    2. If the extended family is dysfunctional that requires modification of the general rule with reasonable boundaries set. (Abuse or severe dysfunction may require cutoff of contact).
    3. If the extended family has an entitled attitude that you must serve them with no reciprocity that’s requires reasonable boundaries to navigate. It varies family what that would look like as a modification of the general rule.
    4. If the family is only quirky or annoying but not severely dysfunctional that requires another different modification to the general rule.
    5. What I read and see most often appears to me to be people who don’t do the work to modify the rule. Cutoffs in families or avoidance because it is difficult to do not because it is the mature and healthy thing to do.
    6. Or husbands who leave whatever contact there is to the wife because it’s easier to do that. My husband was like that until the put boundaries in to say “I am full up on crazy on my side of the family I’m not going to take on two batches of crazy!” (We had the category of mostly just annoying/quirky but sometimes not treat your well enough relatives so it’s not abuse).
    It was a lot of effort to do the boundary with him but it was the healthy thing to do for our relationship and in general. It’s a daily thing though. Wish it was all something you can do once and it’s all fixed. Anytime people are involved it’s a constant flux.
    Thanks to all for the thought provoking discussion!

  10. Julia Childress

    I have noticed a good news/bad news trend among millennials. The good news is that millennial men seem to be much more engaged in wedding prep i.e. sharing the invite addressing and thank you note duties, as well as the cooking, cleaning and childcare. The bad news is, millennial women don’t have as much interest in communicating with the husband’s family as prior generations. Thus, if the husband doesn’t pick up the slack, then his parents/family may be alienated from the couple. I treasured my relationship with my in-laws and I know several millennial couples who live this bifurcated life where the wife does things with her parents and siblings, but she isn’t terribly interested in doing things with the husband’s family because there has been little relationship cultivated. I know this is anecdotal and I’m wondering if others have heard of this trend.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s interesting, Julia! I think you may very well be right. I wonder how those of us who are parents of adult children should respond to cultivate the relationship? My rule of thumb has tended to be that the people with the easiest lifestyle should help the others, so my husband and I tend to try to do things that help our kids and their husbands. But maybe parents also expect a lot, and that hurts the relationship?

      • Madeline

        Maybe I’m jumping too quick to defend millennials, but it feels like there’s a lot more expectation put on young daughter-in-laws than son-in-laws by the older generations still. Perhaps more detrimentally to the relationship, some future in-laws seem to expect the woman their son is dating to put forth all the effort into getting to know them, rather than initiating anything themselves. My now husband’s stepmom was offended that I hadn’t been reaching out to her when we had only been dating for a few weeks. No exaggeration.

    • Ina

      I think you’re on to something, Julia! I know that in many talks among me and my married friends there seems to be very distinct blocks, especially in the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. I’ve heard so many wives say, “I couldn’t ask for a better mother-in-law and it’s STILL awkward and hard to get used to!” If the initial awkwardness of adjusting to the new family dynamic isn’t tackled head on, I think the gap widens and is harder to bridge. It’s not even necessarily due to feelings of animosity but the new couple might feel a little intruded upon in the early stages, the daughter-in-law automatically pushes back a little wanting space and then, bam! You’re on a downward projectory pretty much by accident. I haven’t seen with mother-in-law/son-in-law relationships.

      • Madeline

        This is so true, Ina! I like my husband’s mom; I’d say for the most part we get along pretty well. But there’s still this sense of..awkwardness? Distance?
        My mom has totally adopted my husband as one of her children. She’s really invested in who my husband is as a person – his interests, his opinions, his well-being. My MIL is more just okay with me and prefers talking about herself and her kids rather than get to know me. I don’t mean that to diss her or complain, but it is a difference in the quality of interactions. I wonder why this is??


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