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Juggling Act

Help for the Harried : Single Dad Should Set Limits, Start Routines for Family Life

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.

*

Allen Lissauer is a single father who shares custody of his daughters, 8-year-old Helena and 5-year-old Chanel, with his ex-wife. The girls spend Wednesday through Friday and every other weekend with their father in Los Angeles.

Mornings are frenzied in the Lissauer household, as he scrambles to help Helena and Chanel get ready for school and drop them off before 8:20. The joint-custody arrangement means he often finds out about school projects and field trips at the last minute. Breakfast might be a toasted bagel or a Pop-Tart in the car on the way to school.

The girls are in an after-school program until 6 p.m. When he picks them up, they often head to dinner at McDonald's or Denny's.

At the end of the day, Lissauer needs some time alone to unwind. Then there are bills to pay, clothes to wash and other household chores. Meanwhile, his daughters watch television. If he's lucky, he can squeeze in time to play harmonica, a game of checkers or read with his daughters before they go to bed.

Lissauer works full time in sales and marketing for a long-distance telephone company. His job requires him to visit potential customers in their offices, which gives him some flexibility with his schedule and makes it easier to run errands.

Compared with his family responsibilities, his job "is almost a relief," Lissauer said. "I know what I'm doing, and there are not a lot of surprises." His manager is "pretty understanding" when Lissauer must beg out of a meeting because of a family crisis.

On weekends, Lissauer takes the girls on hikes, to the library and to the movies, although the options are limited by his strapped finances. Shopping, cooking, haircuts, doctor's visits and school projects often get done then too.

"I don't remember seeing my father this much when I was growing up," he said. "Most fathers might be willing to let the mother raise the children, but I'm not."

When Helena and Chanel are with their mother, Lissauer uses the time to call friends, read and do paperwork.

Before his divorce, Lissauer enjoyed the challenge and responsibility of owning his own business, a video game company. He misses the mental stimulation but says he has neither the time nor the energy to devote to such a demanding job now that he is a single parent.

"I never wanted the children to feel that I'm too busy for them. That is at the base of all my decisions," Lissauer said. "I'm willing to give up long hours and a 'career' to have some time with my children."

That is not the only lifestyle sacrifice Lissauer has made. "As much as I love my children, I was really cut off from other people, especially women," he said. "As much as I'd like to date, I don't have the time or the energy, or the money." Lissauer also would like more time for exercise, for eating more healthfully and to attend synagogue.

Solutions

Lissauer is clearly overwhelmed by the day-to-day responsibilities of single parenthood, in part because he devotes so much time and energy to his daughters, our experts say. Their advice: He must set limits with Helena and Chanel for his own sake as well as theirs.

Lissauer should schedule his family's time and include at least an hour a day for himself, said Leslie Godwin, executive director of Parent Support Services. He also should set aside time for the girls to help with household chores such as folding laundry and picking up toys.

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