Darlene Cunha’s six-year-old twin girls are not doomed quite yet — but the window is closing. So it is refreshing to find Cunha, “a former television producer turned stay-at-home mom,” writing in today’s Washington Post, “I’m a diehard, bleeding-heart liberal. And it’s ruining my parenting.”
Cunha wants her daughters “to think critically, to fight for fairness and justice whenever they can . . . [and] to value equality above all else. But sometimes, I also need them to do what I say.” That she calls this a “contradiction” suggests that Cunha herself is not the most critical of thinkers — but it is to her immense credit that she draws a straight line from her ideological loyalties to the “ruthless, time-consuming battles” that now define her relationship with her children.
Cunha does not use the word “entitled,” but that would not be an inapt description of her daughters:
My daughter wanted me to buy her candy but had not behaved well enough to warrant an extra treat.
“Mom,” my daughter said, “people without money need help, and people with money need to help them.”
“Yes, that’s right,” I said.
“Well, I don’t have money, and you do, so you need to help me and buy this.”
“I’ve taught the wrong message,” Cunha confesses: “that life should be fair and there is no other acceptable option. . . . Fair became ‘what I want right now because I want it.’”
Cunha has apparently stumbled onto the knowledge that children are selfish. “I myself have seen and known an infant to be jealous though it could not speak,” St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions 1,600 years ago. “It became pale, and cast bitter looks on its foster-brother. Who is ignorant of this?” Alas, thinking she could appeal straight to the better angels of her daughters’ nature, Cunha neglected its devilish part — until it began to wreak havoc in the form of unreasonable demands and perpetual tantrums. Now Cunha is having to reconstruct her relationship with her daughters, because “the lessons I’ve taught them have led to two very dissatisfied girls who don’t know if their mother is their friend, their adversary or their keeper.”
Cunha is not quite willing to follow her argument through to its end, namely, that the on-the-ground troubles created by her ideological constraints suggest something wrong with the ideology itself. Instead, she hedges, blaming not the message but the timing: “I [taught the message] before the girls had the capacity to understand the meaning of fair.” Could she have a do-over, she says, “I’d wait to start on the grand-scale ideology until the girls were 10 or so.”
Still, if in the four years between now and the time the girls reach double-digits Cunha makes indisputably clear that “life isn’t fair, and I call the shots,” her daughters should thank her.