Shelter-in-Place Affects Family Dynamics


Freshman Alea Marks and her four siblings have spent a lot of time outside together and often go on hikes during shelter-in-place. Photo Courtesy of Alea Marks.

Ella Hartmanis, A&L Editor

The shelter-in-place order in San Mateo County, which began March 16, has forced most families to spend far more time together than usual. For some families, this aspect of isolation has been positive because in normal times they do not get to spend a lot of time with one another, so the situation has brought them closer together. However, this extra time together can also mean that, at times, things feel chaotic and stressful with no way to escape. 

Every family dynamic is unique, and certain factors can cause the COVID-19 pandemic to have a different impact on each family. Examples include the size of families, the occupation of family members, the demands of their work and the relationships between family members, according to the New York Times.

 Freshman Alea Marks has four siblings, often making shelter-in-place feel hectic and crowded. However, she appreciates being able to spend more time with her family. “Mornings are always pretty hectic with everyone trying to get on their Zoom calls. I think we are all kind of going a little stir-crazy, but at least there is always someone to hang out with,” Marks said. 

Similar to Marks, sophomore Madison Peña also has a large family, with two siblings. Additionally, her mother is a nurse at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City. As an essential worker, she has recently had more demanding work hours, which has impacted her family. “She comes home from work often stressed and tired, but we’ve committed to spending a lot more time together. For example, we go on walks and help her with dinner and clean the house for her when she’s at work,” Peña said.

For the majority of students and parents, working at home is an unprecedented experience. With multiple Zoom calls each day and work to do, it may be hard to find a quiet space to focus free of distractions. Upper School Math teacher Danielle Jensen teaches three blocks and has four children, all of whom have a substantial amount of school work. She finds herself busier than before the shelter-in-place order because she now has to balance helping her children with school, doing household activities, preparing lessons from home and teaching classes. “I’ve never been so exhausted. There just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done. When I’m not cooking, cleaning or grocery shopping, I’m teaching or lesson planning from the early morning to late in the evening,” Jensen said.

Moreover, many college students have returned home during the health crisis. Sophomore Pippa Fortenbaugh has two older brothers who returned from college in March. Despite the crowded house, she is glad to have her brothers back. “It has been super nice having my brothers home and spending time with them during the past couple of months. Overall, I am just super grateful to have them back because, after they left for college, I realized how important they are in my life,” Fortenbaugh said.

Multiple members of the Menlo community have taken up new activities with family members. Jensen holds Olympics challenges, such as corn hole and basketball, with her family. Fortenbaugh goes to the beach and surfs with her brothers. 

Sophomore Pippa Fortenbaugh plays badminton with her brothers on the weekends. Photo Courtesy of Pippa Fortenbaugh.