I love baseball. I love family. I love taking my baseball-obsessed family to baseball games. I loved this story about Adam LaRoche taking his kid with him to spring training when he was with the Nats. It was a cute little novelty, a quirk one of our players had that we marveled at.
And then I saw that he was quitting because the White Sox asked him to dial back the amount of time his 14-year-old son was spending in the clubhouse. Why was I irked by his quitting?
I think it comes down to this: It’s not really about the baseball player who left $13 million on the table and took his glove and went home when his boss told him to stop bringing his son to his workplace every day. It’s about inequity, and the exhaustion of millions of working parents fighting to be able to take the afternoon to go to a parent-teacher conference, or even to have a few weeks off after giving birth. It’s the stress from always trying to find a “balance” (what is that?). And that the majority of us don’t have the option of walking away if the work/life balance isn’t just right.
LaRoche is coming from a place of privilege, and I don’t fault him for that. Lucky, talented guy. Of course the rest of us can’t bring our kid with us to work every day. (And would you want to?) This is obviously a different case than the situations we mere mortals face.
But his situation is a bit like a caricature of our lives as working parents. And when something like this lands among the headlines, it reminds us that we still don’t have any sort of guaranteed paid leave in this country. That those who have flexibility at work so they can find some sort of equilibrium between work and family actually pay for that flexibility in many ways. That women have been fighting to have the ability to have family and career for so long, but when a dad comes along and does this, he’s deified.
We all want a better “work-life fit” as Julia Beck, founder of the It’s Working Project, puts it. Not balance, but fit. That’s likely what LaRoche wanted, and he was applauded for it in the stories about his son joining him. Without clear guidelines, it’s no surprise someone will try to find that fit and likely go all in, as LaRoche apparently did. There should “be a policy so there’s a clear understanding across the board, whether you have a child or not,” Beck says. “You’re supposed to know what the ground rules are, where the organization comes in. And therein lies the problem. Is he right, is he wrong? That’s for someone else to say, not me. This is why we need policies that really take into consideration the whole of the ecosystem.”
The White Sox didn’t have ground rules but were trying to add them, apparently. White Sox President Ken Williams said in reports, “I just felt it shouldn’t be every day, that’s all. You tell me: Where in this country can you bring your child to work every day?” He also pointed out that, like any workplace, if the team let LaRoche bring his kid in, they’d have to let everyone. And what happens then?
There isn’t a week that goes by when one of my kids doesn’t ask why I can’t pick him up early, why I can’t be on every field trip or read to the kindergarten class every day. Most mornings I wish, when they skip off with their backpacks and I say, “See you after school,” that I really mean right after school, and not a couple hours later, when I get home from work. And I’m fortunate. I have a fairly flexible work schedule. But this episode with LaRoche just brought up all the feels.
Not to mention that just because your kid isn’t coming to work with you every day, or you can’t be home more, that doesn’t mean you’re neglecting your child. Many of us need to work to make ends meet. Many of us also, in addition to paying the mortgage, need to work for more ephemeral reasons. Our kids need to understand that and will, I believe, respect that.
That said, this is different. If we’re looking at LaRoche himself and not the age-old question of how to balance family and career, he is balancing two precious things with a limited lifespan: his baseball career and being a dad to kids still at home. They are simultaneous. Parents who want to have careers tend to weigh the notion of delaying or downgrading them for a while after their kids are born — if they can. Professional baseball players, physically, can’t really do that, can they? I know, because I’m in my 40s and had a hard time keeping up with the boys last night. Where we were, in fact, tossing a ball in the front yard. After I got home from work.
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