The Importance Of Maintenance Of Kin Ties
Despite many changes that have come with modernization, urbanization, and industrialization, the family remains a fundamental basis of social organization and a vitally important part of life for individuals of all ages. Kinship ties are important to older adults for a number of reasons. Family members are usually the first ones to whom people turn when they need help, whether this be emotional support (someone to confide in or to make you feel better when things get you down), practical help (someone to take care of you when you are ill, to help with home maintenance and repairs), or advice. At a more symbolic level, the family provides people with a sense of belonging and a sense of personal history. Families often have special rituals that are passed down through generations (Rosenthal and Marshall). Family reunions bring widely scattered kin together.
As individuals move through adult life—as they get jobs, marry, have children, and perhaps move to a different geographic area—staying in contact with kin may prove difficult, and families may have a sense that they are drifting apart. To counter this, individuals make their own efforts to keep in touch with relatives, but, in addition, many families have someone who takes on the challenge of keeping the various family members in touch with one another. The kinkeeper maintains communication links with and among family members through telephoning, writing letters, visiting, and holding family gatherings (Rosenthal). Family kinkeepers are most commonly female, and are typically in late middle age.
While kin relationships are important to people at all stages of the life course, they may be especially important to older adults. Kin, especially adult children, are a major source of help for older adults, particularly those who are widowed. Ties with siblings may become more important than they were in mid-life, providing opportunities to reminisce about the distant past. Grandchildren provide a focus for enjoyment and for a sense of passing on a legacy. Older people also derive meaning and purpose from the contributions they make to the lives of their children and grandchildren. In old age, the caregiving efforts of adult children may help elderly adults in poor health remain living in the community, rather than in nursing homes.