Adding a Child Won’t Fix It

Have you ever heard one of those heartbreaking stories where a couple struggling with their relationship suddenly decides to have children — thinking it will bring them closer together?

How often does that work out well?

Yeah — it’s a terrible strategy that virtually never works. And yet millions of couples have done it! Kids can’t automatically make your marriage better. In fact, kids often reveal the weaknesses in your relationship, and almost inevitably make things harder. After all, the Army has nothing on parenting being the toughest job you’ll ever love.

We do the same thing in our careers.

When frustrated, unhappy, or disrespected in their job, I have watched many decide to “have a baby” — in other words, take on a huge responsibility in order to prove to themselves or their superiors that they’re committed. Sometimes this strategy works; but very rarely is a great new work experience or a wonderful marriage forged in the flames of this “new child.” Far more often, a stressed system exposed to an even greater stress breaks under the pressure, and there are almost always innocent bystanders harmed in the process. Employees or clients will suffer if you are unable to meet your new or old commitments, just like a broken marriage hurts children, family, and friends.

If your job is causing you stress or self-doubt, adding to your pile of responsibilities is not the solution. Instead, work to connect with the job and responsibilities you have now.  Name the problem accurately, identify where, when or how you are feeling disrespected or invisible or devalued — whatever the real issue is. Seek help.Perhaps you can talk with your boss, who, being equally as stressed and/or unhappy, hasn’t been able to notice your struggle. Perhaps in doing so, you shine light on a problem no one had been courageous enough to name, but by doing so, you set in motion a powerful change.  Maybe seek a coach or a counselor to help you ask a better question and figure out how you can be showing up differently to have a more positive effect on the environment and your experience.

Rather than adding something to the relationship, think about what can be cleaned out, removed, repaired and improved to make it lighter and more agile. If in the end nothing changes, perhaps this isn’t place to give more. But if it does, imagine how much stronger the relationship will be and how much more enthusiastic you would be to take on additional responsibility for an organization that now respects and honors you and with whom you have forged a stronger relationship. That’s what happened with Katrina, who showed up to coaching ready to quit because her boss was so toxic. We worked on how she was showing up and, 5 weeks later, they were nearly best friends and the entire work environment turned around. In the end, however, the actual environment changed very little, but how she engaged with it changed a lot. And because she was willing to work on the relationship rather than adding an external element to the equation, it felt like a monumental change.