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Juggling Act

Help for the Harried : New Mother Needs to Create Time for Herself and Family

August 12, 1996|KAREN KAPLAN | Special to The Times

As responsibilities pile up at work and at home, it's hard not to feel overwhelmed by it all. Sometimes it seems impossible to juggle the competing obligations of a job and a personal life. If only you could find someone--your own panel of experts, perhaps--to help you get a handle on your frazzled life.

That's the opportunity three of our readers got when they volunteered to share their daily routines with us and our three specialists in organization, stress management and work-life issues. Our candidates for make-overs were:

* Phyllis Badham Alzamora, a new mother in Newport Beach trying to grow a home-based business while she raises her son

* Sharon Arkin, a self-described workaholic from Foothill Ranch who devotes so much energy to her job as an attorney that she has very little left for her family

* Allen Lissauer, a single working father in Los Angeles who is struggling to hold everything together for himself and his two daughters

Our panel of experts were Leslie Godwin, executive director of Parent Support Services, a Calabasas consulting firm that advises employers on how to help their staff balance work and personal life responsibilities; Susan Silver, an organization and time-management consultant who is president of the Los Angeles-based firm Positively Organized and author of "Organized to Be the Best: New Timesaving Ways to Simplify and Improve How You Work"; and Zora Em Speert, a Santa Monica-based psychotherapist who specializes in stress management and relationship issues.

Perhaps their advice will apply to you too.


Phyllis Badham Alzamora has 14 years of experience in the public relations field. Before she quit full-time work to rear her son, she managed the public affairs offices of major companies. Working 45 to 55 hours a week and managing a staff of three to five people was never difficult for her.

"I enjoyed my work very much, and most of my social life and personal life all revolved around work," Alzamora said. "I never seemed to feel like anything was out of balance."

Alzamora stopped working when her son, Simon, was born in October 1994. She and her husband, Antonio, agreed to sacrifice and live on his income alone so she could devote herself to motherhood. As Simon grew, though, so did the family expenses. After eight months, they decided Phyllis should start working again, but on a part-time basis. Although she was eager to restart her career, Alzamora found she was still making the mental adjustment to her new lifestyle.

"I was married and had a baby all within a year and a half," she said. "With my lifestyle being completely different, I felt fatigued at the end of every day."

Nonetheless, Alzamora converted the dining room into a home office and took on public relations clients on a part-time basis, working mostly while Simon napped. But running her own business turned out to be more demanding than working for a company. The payoff is much smaller too--Alzamora has seen her contribution to the household income drop to one-fifth of what it was before Simon was born.

"It's a constant job search," she said. "When I finish one contract, I just have to pick up the phone tomorrow and search for a client for the next project. It's frustrating to feel like there is no real completion."

Alzamora has looked for a part-time job but has not found anything with the level of responsibility she is accustomed to. Besides, part-time positions often pay only a little bit more than what it would cost for her to get child care for Simon in that case. Full-time jobs are available, but she does not want to spend her days away from Simon while he is so young.

Her work can be unpredictable, with unexpected meetings that necessitate last-minute searches for day care. When there's an activity such as a doctor's appointment or a play group to fit in, the schedule for the entire day must be rearranged.

The feeling of instability is stressful for Alzamora.

"I am frustrated because everything is constantly changing," she says. "When you have a child in your house and you're trying to juggle your work and family, you have to be extremely adaptable to change. The anxiety can make me very tired. That's where I start to feel overwhelmed. It makes me wonder if I'm losing track of what's important."

Alzamora has about 15 minutes to herself each day--when she takes her morning shower. Time for exercise has dropped by the wayside. Her husband is suffering too. Most of their time together is spent with Simon. If they are lucky, they can spend an hour and a half by themselves at the end of the day.

"It's such a busy time that it's very hard to feel good and relaxed with one another," she said. "Even talking about our dreams for the future makes us nervous."

Her top priority is her son's health and well-being, and she is prepared to continue to make sacrifices to stay home with him. Her other top priorities are her husband and her friends and family, although she admits she doesn't spend enough quality time with any of them.

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