Parenting in a Pandemic: One Local Family’s Journey Through Unprecedented Times

. August 17, 2020.

Meet Jen Sheely, Findlay resident, and wife, mom, payroll extraordinaire, crafter, baker, and cancer survivor. Married to husband Matt since 2008, who works in IT security for Marathon, and mother to 7-year-old Savannah and 4-year-old Jameson, Jen’s navigated the twists and turns of the Covid-19 pandemic with her signature humor and by embracing some degree of chaos. 

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Case in point: she responded to our introduction by asking for a minute to collect herself and her home because her children had toilet papered her basement, an occurrence which seems incredibly relatable these days, in homes all across America.

What were your work and home situations like going into this pandemic?
Jenn Sheely: I am a full-time work-from-home mom. I work in payroll and was processing for ten thousand plus people at the time the pandemic started. I had been working from home since 2018, which was great because it gave me a lot of flexibility to get my daughter on and off the bus, help out at school, be a Girl Scout leader, and take my daughter to her extracurricular activities. She got off the bus on March 12; I knew then that as of the following Monday, her education was in my hands for the foreseeable future. I remember her getting off the bus, and I thought, “She has one more day with her people, and then her world is going to change.” It would later come out that the 12th was her last day. There were no real goodbyes to her friends and teachers. She was confused and scared because she had been told that we are all going to die once the virus is here. I quickly assured her that wasn’t the case, but it was still hard on my social butterfly because she couldn’t grasp the concept of why.  If she felt fine and her people felt fine, why couldn’t we go to places and see people? My son got to stay in school for a few more days, I think, although it’s honestly slowly become one big blur. You see, I did something that a lot of people may not have done. I took in a third child, an 8-month-old boy. His mom and I are sorority sisters, and over the past few years, we’ve become very close. Both my friend and her husband are essential workers and high risk. She had expressed concern in our group chat about what she would do with the boys should the situation deteriorate. She knew her oldest would go to his great-grandmother’s home. That’s where I stepped in and said the baby could come to me. Through this experience, I discovered I was not a mom of three material, but I loved that little dude with all my heart. He stayed with us for a total of six weeks. At the time, I was working 45+ hour weeks as my company was transitioning to another, and I was the senior-most person on our team. Once my husband transitioned to full-time work-from-home, he would retreat to his office in the basement, and Jameson would get full access to the basement. Savannah would float between being with me and working on her school work.

Have you had to adjust your arrangements at all as the months have passed?
The days were hard in the beginning. The kids didn’t understand why we could only roam our neighborhood. We did the best with Savannah’s school work that we could. However, as the weeks went by, the attitudes grew, and the fighting got worse. By the time Mother’s Day rolled around, I knew I needed quiet. I sent my family to my mother-in-law’s and had Coke Zero and Kroger fried chicken legs, completed some puzzles, watched a little television, and just enjoyed the silence. The kids got tired of each other, so we would take turns passing them between grandparents. Once our son’s daycare opened back up at limited capacity, things got much better between him and his sister. Fighting became less, which helped reduce my stress, and we started to go on some adventures and create fun at home. 

What kinds of adventures? How did you sprinkle fun into your days?
We got a “car wash” for their bikes. Instead of going to South Carolina for vacation, we went to my mom’s (she lives on a big plot of land with a pool) and a couple of state park adventures. Things slowed down at my work, and we’ve been able to start getting the house back in order. We’ve experimented with all sorts of entertainment, including squirt gun art, obstacle course creation, sidewalk chalk activities, lots of forts and tents, movie nights galore, special baths, took a broken down big box and taped it to the stairs for the best slide ever, danced in the rain, and planted a vegetable garden. And that’s in no way an exhaustive list. There’s actually a great deal of new stuff we’ve been willing and able to try since we’ve had to slow down and enjoy our time together more.

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What qualities have you recognized in yourself that have been important during the last few months, particularly regarding parenting?
Over the last few months, I’ve really had to dig deep into my creativity to find ways to help my kids stay entertained and keep their minds off the fact that we can’t go anywhere. We’ve rediscovered “jobs” (chores), and I’ve come to find out that sometimes it is better to just cuddle on the couch or in bed with one of them and let things wait. We, as adults, “get it” – they don’t. Finding new ways to try to get them to understand new and hard things has been challenging, but it is helping. They still hate the bubble life, though. 

How are you feeling about your children’s school plans?
I’m okay with Jameson being in his daycare. They were super strict on cleaning procedures before and even more so now. It is refreshing and appreciated. Jameson needed this as he understood it the least. As of right now, Savannah is going the traditional route back to school. Yes, she is 7, but she understands the risks and she needs to be in as normal an environment that I can give her at this point. She’s a stubborn little thing, and she needs to be with her people.

How do you feel you have demonstrated your flexibility and/or resiliency as a parent during all of this?
I have definitely been more flexible, especially with regard to letting unacceptable behaviors go. But we are slowly getting back into our normal. My hours have dropped drastically at work, which has helped all around. I’ve learned to let things go and that not always having a plan isn’t necessarily bad. The kids will lead you if you let them. It has been a long and hard road and some days, I think the worst is yet to come. But we know what to expect now and I feel like, even if it comes to that, we will come out better than before.

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