Brenda Barnes became a national figure 20 years ago when she quit her job as a top PepsiCo executive to become a full-time parent. Some people celebrated her decision, and others criticized it. But everyone seemed to agree that she was doing it for her children.
Barnes died last week, from a stroke, at the age of 63. She died at an unfairly young age, but lived a deeply fulfilling life. She reminds me of what the psychologist Amos Tversky said before his own early death: “Life is a book. The fact that it was a short book doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good book. It was a very good book.”
Barnes always described her decision as a personal one, more for her own benefit than for her children’s (although they quickly came to relish it). She hated judgmental debates over women’s choices about work and family.
Yet there was really a larger wisdom in what she did. In her own graceful way, she called the country’s bluff. She made clear that our society demands impossible choices from parents — and pretends otherwise.
Society enables, nay positively celebrates, people taking decisions which they themselves feel leads to a good life well lived.
And this is society demanding impossible choices?