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Fearless and Fabulous

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By Jill Hudson Neal
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, December 5, 2006; 3:43 PM

Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist, best-selling author and now successful blogger, whose huffingtonpost.com Web site has become a go-to site for political opinion and social commentary. Born in Greece and educated at Cambridge University, Huffington gained prominence in the mid-1990s as a conservative pundit, but morphed slowly into an outspoken liberal critic and activist, promoting causes such as opposition to SUVs, the Iraq war, and, well, all things George W. Bush.

Her many critics deride her as a camera-hogging, issue-of-the-moment lightweight. But her supporters say she is a brilliant and principled thinker, debater and polemicist. Earlier this year, Time magazine named her as one of the most influential people in the world. Through it all -- the books, the causes, the television appearances and a lucrative, high-profile divorce from oil heir and failed senatorial candidate Michael Huffington -- she's managed to raise her two daughters and her political profile while juggling a very busy life. Her latest book, "On Being Fearless: Love, Work and Life" takes a clear-eyed look at how leading a fearless life can lead to success and happiness. At age 56, Huffington remains as ambitious and savvy as ever -- a modern working mother who practices what she preaches.

What is it about motherhood that inspires so much fear?

Everything! I'm kidding, but not really. All of my biggest fears revolve around my children -- fear for their well-being, fear that I might be doing the wrong thing or making the wrong decision. There is nothing like becoming a mom to fill you with fear. I often think that when the doctors help take the baby out, they replace it with a combination of fear and guilt. There's no love more intense than the love we have for our kids -- and where there is intense love, there is also intense fear lurking beneath the surface. I'm making motherhood sound so appealing, aren't I?

But, in fact, there is nothing that can bring you closer to fearlessness about everything else in the world than being a parent -- because everyday fears -- like not being approved of -- pale by comparison to the fears you have about your children.

How does the Supermom myth instill such fear in so many women? Intellectually, most mothers know they can't do it all, but the tendency is there to want to attain perfection. And why is it important to purge the guilt that comes with being a mom?

Well, if you don't get rid of the guilt you'll never be fully present for your kids. You'll spend so much time handwringing and obsessing about your own issues that you won't be able to help your children deal with theirs. It's a lose-lose.

Trying to be Supermom is as futile as trying to be Perfect Mom. Not going to happen. But that doesn't stop us from feeling we should be, just like our intellectual knowledge that the beauty myth is a crippling one doesn't stop us from looking in the mirror and comparing ourselves to Angelina Jolie. And, of course, that creates fear -- the fear of not being good enough.

And it doesn't help that our culture reinforces the Supermom concept by putting so many expectations on us as women and mothers. I think many of our motherhood-related fears stem from a desire to control the outside world. All too often, we take it upon ourselves to try to be everything to our children that society refuses to be -- not just nurturers, but educators, media critics, protectors, spiritual guides, etc.

The fastest way to break the cycle of perfectionism and become a fearless is mother is to give up the idea of doing it perfectly -- indeed to embrace uncertainty and imperfection. We need to accept that we won't always make the right decisions, that we'll screw up royally sometimes -- understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it's part of success.

We also have to realize that we can't mother alone, that we need the support of what I call our "fearless tribe" -- those friends and family members we surround ourselves with, who are there to help us through the hard times, and to share in the good times.

What do you think are the top three fears every mother faces? Are those fears different for stay-at-home moms and working mothers?


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