Parenting During the Coronavirus: New Stresses and Silver Linings

Jennifer Wray
Jennifer Wray and her son, Sam

When I packed up my breast pump, lunch bag and laptop to lug to work a little over two years ago, I was melancholy. The 12-week maternity leave I’d just taken, unpaid, after my son’s birth was a gift—albeit one with difficult moments—that many parents aren’t able to experience. I returned to work expecting that I would never again get such a large chunk of time to spend with him.

Enter Covid-19.

Very quickly, my day-to-day life made a radical shift, as did my plans and expectations for the future. As soon as the novel coronavirus made its presence known in Central Ohio, my employer allowed those of us who could work from home to do so. And when the virus’ impact on the vulnerable became apparent, my husband, Kyle Sowash, and I made some tough decisions. No longer would our toddler, Sam, spend some of his days with my 71-year-old mother while we worked. Staying with his home-care provider was not an option, either. Because not only is my mother at higher risk from this virus due to her age, but so am I. In October 2019, I suffered a major heart attack, went into cardiac arrest and am now the proud owner of one stent and one partially damaged heart. 

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By mid-June, Sam and I had been at home together for three months—longer than that 12-week stretch during maternity leave. My husband splits his time between working at home and the office, so while we try to divide child care duties, sometimes—more often than either of us would like—I’m the lone adult with Sam. I have not yet taken advantage of the CARES Act provision that would allow me to get partial compensation while I take time off to care for Sam. With the future so uncertain, it seems unwise to give up even a fraction of my pay, even though the stress of full-time work, coupled with the constant demands of a well-adjusted but nonetheless needy 2-year-old, are brutally exhausting and make me worry for my overall health.

I know that I come from a place of privilege. I can work at home. Ihave a home. I can afford to buy groceries and to generously tip the person who shops on my behalf. I have a strong relationship with my husband, and access to technology—FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom and the like—makes it possible to connect with friends and family across the country. My child is healthy and good-naturedly adjusting to this new (and hopefully temporary) reality. 

Yes, the last few months have been scary and stressful. But amid the sadness of watching the virus-related sicknesses and fatalities tick upward, I have experienced moments of joy, too. I’ve watched Sam develop a love for splashing in puddles until he’s soaked and mud-spattered from head to toe. I’ve witnessed him slowly acquire more and more language, adding new words to his vocabulary and piecing together increasingly longer sentences. I’ve spent time with him curled up in a cardboard box, playing peekaboo and sitting outside our house, chatting with our neighbors from one porch to the other.

I try to hold onto those moments, those gifts with strings attached, as much as I can. The future feels tenuous, but thenow is real. It is here. It is a pudgy toddler grasping onto a dandelion that has gone to seed, blowing and then watching intently to see what happens next.

This story is from the Summer 2020 issue of Columbus Parent.