How does she do it? Maryland delegate Jolene Ivey juggles work, parenting five boys

Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly said that Md. Del. Jolene Ivey’s son Aaron attends the French immersion program at Robert Goddard Montessori School in Seabrook. Aaron is a student at the Robert Goddard French Immersion School, which is a different school in the same building. This version has been corrected.

When Jolene Ivey approached her husband, Glenn, with the idea of running for the Maryland House of Delegates in 2006, he wasn’t exactly overjoyed. At the time, Glenn was the state’s attorney for Prince George’s County, and he knew how grueling a political campaign could be.

More important, though, Jolene had spent the previous 16 years as a stay-at-home mom to their five sons. Her going back to work would mean a major overhaul of their life.

Although Glenn was initially hesitant, he quickly came around to the idea, she said, and has supported her “200 percent.”

Now Jolene is running for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler. Glenn has left public office for a private law practice in the District. He’s handling much of the work at their Cheverly home, including cooking and grocery shopping. He also makes appearances at campaign events, either with or instead of Jolene.

When all of this started, Glenn said, his dinner repertoire consisted of spaghetti and chili. The boys quickly tired of that menu and pooled their money to buy him a cookbook. Now he’s mastered Dijon chicken, paella and some Mexican and Asian dishes. (He gives bonus points for one-dish meals and entrees in which you can hide vegetables.)

“Glenn went from being a dad who didn’t know where the pediatrician’s office was to knowing the pediatrician as well as I do and knowing all our kids’ friends,” Jolene said. “It’s been better for Glenn and the kids and the whole family for me to do something that required him to be more engaged as a parent. It’s not that he didn’t love the boys, but he didn’t have to be as knowledgeable about their lives.”

So for Jolene, the “how” she does it is pretty simple: Glenn’s support, at home and at work, makes it possible. But why did she jump back into the work arena after 16 years at home? “There’s a lot of things you can do when you go back to work, but I didn’t feel like I was looking for a job,” she said. “It’s more like this came up as something compelling to do, and I like challenges. Whenever I see a challenge and I think I can make something good happen, I like to do it.”

So she dove in, much as she does with everything. When the family needed to renovate their home on one income, Jolene learned how to rip out plaster and put in drywall herself. When she felt lonely at home with the boys because all of her friends had gone back to work, she helped start a support group, Mocha Moms, to connect with other stay-at-home mothers of color. Running for office was no different, really. She decided to do it and worked to make it happen.

Jolene and Glenn were married in 1988. They met through a mutual friend who went to high school with Jolene and law school with Glenn.

The younger three of the couple’s five sons — Alex, 24, David, 21, Julian, 18, Troy, 16, and Aaron, 14 — still live at home. Glenn also has a 26-year-old daughter, Joanna, from a previous relationship.

Alex graduated from Columbia University a few years ago and has a job and his own apartment. David is a junior at Duke University and is studying in Madrid this semester. Julian graduated from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt in 2013; when his “gap year” ends this summer, he will go to college, possibly at the University of Maryland. In the meantime, he’s playing the stock market with the money he earned playing Simba in “Lion King” on Broadway and helping with the campaign.

Troy is a junior in the Science and Technology Center at Eleanor Roosevelt. Aaron attends the French immersion program at Robert Goddard Montessori School in Seabrook.

Spare time is an elusive concept these days, with the demands of campaigning. But when it’s over, Jolene is looking forward to going back to quilting, baking (particularly the German chocolate cakes her sons love) and catching up on television, which for her means “Scandal.”

Ivey has never taken the easy route. She planned home births for the boys beginning with Julian and had to fight with her insurance company to get them to pay for it. Her policy covered a midwife, but only at a birthing center, so Ivey appealed until MDIPA-Optimum Choice changed the policy. It’s how she approaches many things. She’s not afraid to tell people what she thinks, or to fight for something she wants.

In other words, she’s feisty. Just ask the mom in the parking lot of a store who was screaming at her toddler one day in Jolene’s presence. Jolene said she walked up to the woman and gave her an earful about how she shouldn’t yell at the baby. Glenn said that is typical Jolene, recalling a time in 2002 when she pulled her car over to talk to some young men who were messing with one of his campaign signs late at night.

When she first ran for office, people would come up to her at campaign events and ask what was going to happen to her children if she won. She politely told them that she didn’t remember them being so concerned when her husband was running for office, pointing out the double standard. She is similarly outspoken on the subject of her race, which she said was a topic of conversation then and is still on people’s minds now.

“After I got enough questions about it, I actually posted an essay on my Web site that was called ‘My Number One Issue,’” she said. “People would go to my Web site and they would click on it, and it was about how people didn’t understand that I was black. And that, on the one hand, it shouldn’t matter, but on the other hand, it does, so I just wanted to clarify things and explain things.”

The daughter of an African American man and a white woman, she grew up in Northeast Washington with her father and stepmother. Her mother left when she was 3, and her father raised her and her older brother alone before remarrying when Jolene was 7.

“I don’t even buy into, for myself, the biracial thing,” said Jolene. “I don’t care if other people define themselves that way, but that’s not how I was raised. That’s not how I identify myself.”

She and her brother were latchkey kids until her stepmother retired from a government job when Jolene was 12. Having her stepmom home in the afternoons made such a tremendous difference to her that she decided she would stay home with her own children. So when Alex was born, she left her job as press secretary for Sen. Benjamin Cardin, who was a member of the House of Representatives at the time.

It meant that they drove two used cars and didn’t take family vacations most years, but it was worth it to her to be home with the boys. They did what they had to do to make it work. Would she make the same choice if she had it to do over? Probably not, she said.

“I don’t think I could go do it again,” she said. “It’s hard. It’s really hard, and the day-to-day payoff can be kind of difficult to see when your value to the rest of the world is not acknowledged. You meet people at a party and they ask what you do and say it’s the hardest job, then go off to find someone more interesting to talk to.”

Mari-Jane Williams edits community news for Local Living.
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