Cathryn's Articles for Stepmom Issues and Relationships


Feeling Powerless?- Compilation from BB
Do you ever feel powerless?

This is a compilation of a thread about powerlessness. There were so many feelings and ideas shared that Ali (A SMOM from the very beginning of SMOMS) kindly offered to edit, condense and de-personalize so we could post it here as a Special Smommentary.

Do you ever feel powerless?

Posts by SMOMS and Cathryn Doyle, Edited by a SMOM named Ali.

When I read Bulletin Board posts about feeling powerless, I often reflect upon a long ago work experience where heavy-handed senior management made line managers feel “all the responsibility but none of the authority.” It is reminiscent of being a SMOM to work days, nights, and weekends for others who might rarely acknowledge your successes but quickly and publicly rail on the perceived shortcomings. An additional frustration is an upper (or outer / BM) “leadership” penchant to usurp decision-making from the so-called day-to-day business “manager” (SMOM) who gives her heart & soul. To be purposefully excluded, and have one’s knowledgeable opinions and insights ignored is painful. Like the company that I worked for and quit, it is no wonder divorce when Skids are involved is also incredibly high.

To help us feel better, it is critical to practice good self-care and not lose sight or forget to set personal goals. Meeting one’s personal goals is really the only thing a SMOM can have power over because respect and appreciation for your positive contributions to the Skids will not always be forthcoming. The SMOMs Bulletin Board is one place where we can be at ease to speak up when we have something to say with confidence that people will try to respond respectfully.

The following summarizes the negative mind-set of feeling powerless and provides some practical SMOM advice*.

Topic: Does Anyone Ever Feel Powerless?

Does anyone ever feel totally powerless? I ask because it is becoming more and more clear that I only have so much say in my skids lives yet they have monopolized my whole entire life these past 6 years. I can spend hours and hours a day on kids stuff (15 hours yesterday alone and I got none of my own work done) but when it comes to making specific decisions, guiding them a certain way, disciplining, etc. I must abruptly stop because otherwise I am crossing the line.

I am feeling so down and out this week that I really don't know what to do. I hate to say it but I am becoming very resentful of them because they have prevented me from achieving my goals and dreams in life. I am not saying that I don't love the skids because I most certainly do and it was my choice to marry into this but it certainly is not what I bargained for. I am finding it more and more difficult to love the skids or even enjoy spending any kind of time with them.

A SMOM’s feelings of powerlessness are not about a losing obsession with being “in charged” of everyone (although I am sure many SMOMs have been stereotyped and maligned like the mythical wicked stepmother megalomaniac). A Smom’s feelings of powerlessness emerge when a husband or Skid’s behavior is disrespectful, demonstrates a lack of consideration for her input, and purposefully ignores providing an appropriate level of appreciation. Disregarded simply because she is the wife of the father, but not the mother of the children can make a SMOM feel powerless.

When I read about Smoms repeatedly bearing the burden of having all the responsibility but none of the authority I go back to that long ago work experience.

Empathetic SMOMs reassure that such feelings are far from unusual. SMOMs said they often feel incapable of setting an appropriate tone in their own homes and that prioritization of skids “needs” can subordinate or obliterate their own goals.

One SMOM responded:
I've seen a lot of postings where SMOMs say that they love their skids as their own. I can't say I do. I love them yes. Do I wish they were my very own birth children?Yes. But they are not and unfortunately that creates a barrier. I'm in the same boat as you. I'm expected to be there for them, go to all their functions, feed them etc., etc BUT when it comes to T.V rules, sports vs. school, even haircuts I too cross the line. Sometimes it's not said but my opinion being blatantly ignored...how do you take that? I feel like a glorified babysitter at times.
I have refused to take a back seat to my goals though. Sure I do need to take my goals slower and when they require financial means I do give the skids priority. Don't give up your dreams. The last thing these kids need is to feel resented by their SMOM. When it comes to turning a dream into a goal, I always set a date. It works every time. Even if you only accomplish it halfway it's a goal on its way.

Another SMOM very astutely described that negative feelings of powerlessness have more to do with not having personal power over oneself, then so-called power over other people:

I find this to be the absolute hardest part to deal with [feeling powerless]. I don't need to feel in control of others, but I do need to feel in control of myself and my life.

Cathryn offered the following post for ways of dealing with feelings of powerlessness:

There must be something going on in the airwaves because you are the fourth SMOM who has expressed these very feelings in the last week. All four of you have devoted so much time and energy to your skids and have opened your hearts too.

It seems that somehow things have been twisted around. We are willing to take the responsibility for skids with the extra, thoughtful “oomph” needed to make things special and yet somewhere along the line the respect and authority didn’t follow.

I am so sorry to hear about what you are experiencing. It’s an awful feeling. Emotions of despair and some (self) rage can be triggered by awareness that one is devalued in the eyes of those they hold dear. It is stomach wrenching and heart breaking.

When something like this happens, we need to break our healing plan into a few steps.
1. Finding a way to regroup and find your peace of mind.
2. Creating as many options as you can for a plan of action
3. Making some new choices and decisions

By breaking the situation down into the right now, the soon and the eventually, you will take the pressure off of yourself. When we are in pain, it can be overwhelming to think we need a plan to fix everything and part of us fears the pain will continue unless we do something big. By giving yourself a 2-3 part plan, we give us permission to focus on one thing at a time, knowing we will eventually get to everything.

Here’s a bit of elaboration on each step:

1. The very first thing to do is to look for ways to take care of yourself right now, for today, this week. Ask yourself, “What do I need to do, right now, in order to get some space from this pain?” What can you do, given each specific situation, to create a sense that energy is flowing into you and nurturing you instead of draining out of you in the pain or anger? “How many ways can you think of, to give yourself some emotional, recuperative, down time?”

2. When you are feeling a bit more grounded, less like you’ve been hit by an invisible Mack truck and more rested, it is a good time to begin to gather your options. Talk with trusted friends and family who you know will support your goals of finding a whole bunch of solutions that might be right for you. Avoid people who are going to imposed their views or judge yours. What you need right now is TLC and lots of it. Begin to think about all the ways things can be different. A good question to start your flow of ideas is this, “What needs to change in order for me to feel better right now and down the road?”

3. Once you get back on strong emotional footing you can take the time to make some decisions. When you are feeling strong and wise and like the amazingly wonderful woman you are-let your important choices come from that place of grounded power.

It’s also a good thing to give yourself a chance to have short term decisions- meaning just for now. Have the skids do something different-for now. You can go somewhere; do something different-for now. Look for ways to make temporary changes, for now, to give yourself a break and some time to see how you are feeling. The more choices you have, the better you’ll feel about the future.

Dear SMOMs, it seems like we need at times to find some ways to generate some hope for ourselves. When emotional exhaustion sets in, it is fertile ground for despair. You may want to take a look at my article, “When you’re at the end of your emotional rope…” On the other hand, you may just want to take a good book to bed or see a movie or think about nothing for awhile and that’s AOK as well.

An update: One of the SMOMs, I referenced earlier, just called to say that today she made a decision to be “courteous” to her skids. I put it in quotes because she means courteous in the superficial, but not sarcastic way. She decided she couldn’t take anymore arguing, anymore hurtful comments, anymore pain. For today, she wanted to be her normal, natural self, which is courteous so all day today she just pretended that there was no history and when the skids called or asked something, she was the epitome of cheerful courtesy. When she called, she was laughing as she relayed how quickly the conversations were as she was to the point with her answers and at one point simply said, “OK, I’ve got to run, Bye Now.” And cheerfully, almost with glee, she hung up the phone. Yes, an encounter that didn't even sting.

How about that? She was not hostile (we know how that feels). She just raised her emotional Teflon shield and refused to let the Skids purposefully ruin her day. She said it gave her an influx of energy to have her plan and realize that she was not going to be at the mercy of any cruel behavior. It was quite a shift to make from one good idea.

Please do everything you can when you feel powerless to turn your attention to what you need to do to restore a positive point of view. I know that it is not many SMOMs’ nature but it is a timely focus-for now.

Another SMOM described how she is restoring her own feelings of personal power by not subordinating her interests:

I completely understand about feeling powerless. Not able to discipline, not able to make a final "major" decision when I make a hundred other ones because BM is only in their life 20% of the time, oh I understand.

I feel like my life is on hold right now and I am currently trying to change that. We have been together for 4 years and I use to due a ton of crafts and art projects for my own pleasure. Since we have been together I have not done anything because they might need me or my stuff might get in the way. I am changing that and recently started doing some projects and things that I like. Imagine that....... thinking of myself and doing something I want to do....... sounds weird even typing it.

* Note: I edited some postings to shield Smoms privacy and where necessary to improve readability.

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