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The following is an excerpt from the book On Becoming Fearless 
by Arianna Huffington
Published by Little, Brown and Company;
April 2007;$12.99US/$16.50CAN; 978-0-316-16682-9
Copyright © 2007 Arianna Huffington

On Becoming a Fearless Mother

Motherhood brings out reserves of courage we never knew we had. Huffington Post commenter Deborah Daniels Wood writes: "Being a mom is probably the one thing that will make most women fearless. We would gladly step in front of a speeding train, a bullet, a raging mad dog, whatever it was that was threatening our children."

That's how I got through Isabella's eating issues. What helped me at the time, and has always helped me in dealing with my fears, is that I have to be fearless for them, because there is nothing that strikes fear in a child's heart faster than a fearful parent. Knowing that you have to at least appear fearless for your children -- to convey the assurance that everything is going to be all right -- can have the effect of actually making you fearless.

Huffington Post reader Lia Hadley sent me an e-mail about a trip she took to London with her then nine-year-old daughter: "When we arrived at the airport, it was late in the evening, and we had to take a long train ride into the center of the city. As we were waiting for the train (with not another child in sight), my daughter began to cry because it was all so strange, there were so many people, and it was dark and way past her bedtime. Trying to show her that she didn't have to worry because, hey, she was with her mom and a world traveler to boot, we had a discussion, which at least calmed her to the point that she stopped crying. By the end of the journey (five days later), she had had such a good time that she said she wanted to move to London when she grew up."

Some time later, Lia asked her daughter what had changed the London adventure from being scary to being fun. "I think," she said, "it was because I realized that despite the fact that you got lost all the time, we always managed to get to where we wanted to go. You would ask all sorts of strangers for directions, and the people were so friendly and so helpful, and we had such interesting conversations, that I realized being lost can be a lot of fun."

When I look back at my own childhood, my mother looms large as a teacher of fearlessness. Some of the ways she taught fearlessness to my sister and me were more eccentric than others.

One night when my sister and I were in our teens, we were on our way to see Chekhov's Three Sisters. We walked out of the house, closing the door behind us. My mother immediately realized that she'd forgotten her purse inside -- the purse containing not only the tickets to the show and her money but the key to the house. Any normal person would probably have rearranged the night's priorities, canceling the theater and getting a locksmith to open the door.

Not my mother. She didn't blink an eye. She went to the superintendent's apartment, knocked on the door, and asked him for some cash. We all climbed into a taxi, and when we arrived at the theater, she went up to the box office and explained what had happened.

They had us wait until everyone had been seated, and then they gave us three empty seats. My sister, Agapi, and I kept asking how we were going to get back into the house, to which my mother would say, "Don't think about it, just enjoy the play [which we did, by the way], and it will all work out."

It so happened that our apartment in Athens was on the third floor, opposite the fire station. My mother had a plan. When we got home, she went over to the firehouse and, in her charming way, asked the firemen if they could please bring a ladder over to a window of our apartment. Which they did. In short order, the window was open and we were in the house. Of course, my mother then served them soup, and we all had a great time!

I remember that night whenever I'm faced with canceled flights, lost wallets, and plans gone awry. My mother was a master at not ever panicking and trusting life to always give her solutions. She preferred to live in the moment -- even if that moment was one in which she was not in possession of the keys to her apartment -- with the assurance that it would all work out. The ability to trust is an amazing quality, and it was deep in her DNA. That trust and lack of fear paid her back well, keeping her open and receptive to solutions.

For Diane von Furstenberg, the most powerful lessons in fearlessness also came from her mother. Diane took the fashion industry by storm in the seventies when she designed a little wrap dress that launched a billion-dollar business. Thirty years and many ventures later, she still credits her mother. "My mother," she told me, "always said that fear is not an option. When I was eight years old she put me on a train from Brussels to Paris on my own. I was very afraid, but I was also proud to arrive safely at my destination. My mother was a Holocaust survivor, and when she was freed from the concentration camp by the Russians in 1945, she weighed forty-nine pounds. It took me a very long time to realize the enormity of what she had been through and of my heritage -- and the way she had been able to turn such pain into something positive. I grew up with a legacy that life is a miracle and that I'm the daughter of a survivor, not a victim. So when I'm in pain or in fear, I look through it for the light and the fearlessness."

When there are dead ends there are also U-turns, and if we don't panic, bridges can appear -- we just need to trust that there is a way. And there is always a way. That knowledge is a gift of fearlessness we can model for our kids.

Not All Fears are Created Equal

If courage is the knowledge of what is not to be feared, there is nothing like becoming a mother to help us prioritize and recognize how trivial many of our fears are compared to what really matters.

Janet Grillo, a writer-producer living in Los Angeles whose son has autism, told me: "The biggest fear a mother has is that her child will become damaged. That the perfect wonder of her baby will be undone somehow. That she will turn her head just at the moment he slips. That the spill of scalding coffee, the outturned handle of a pot, the stray pill, will find her child. I don't know if the vaccines I insisted upon, as a responsible parent following responsible medical advice, caused him harm. Or if the antibiotics prescribed to fight off strep did him in. Or if the toxins in the air and water that pervade everything we eat and breathe crescendoed, after generations, to a breaking point. Or if it was none of this, but maybe my son's genetic destiny, a ticking clock that would strike when he turned two no matter what I did or did not do. Or perhaps my fear itself called it forth, as some sort of extraordinary response from an unkind God.

"What I do know is that when my alert, engaged, charming, and vivacious son turned two, he began, hour by hour, day by day, to drift away. As if by helium, he lifted away from us, from our family, from our world, and inward toward a remote and private place."

It was the hardest and most frightening thing Janet and her husband, film director David O. Russell, had ever faced. But, Janet told me, "Ultimately, faith and fear could not coexist. One had to eventually prevail out of this eternal pull. I simply did not have the luxury to feel fear. Fear had become, in the face of my child's immediate need, an indulgence. He was here and autism was engulfing him, and I could either reach beyond myself and into the fog that gripped him and pull him out or I could continue fearing that I would lose him. Fear had to fall by the wayside. And faith is what emerged in the tiny triumphs of his returned gaze."

Children clearly help us tap into this faith, the source of the life force that vaporizes fears. They help us see the world in a more trusting way and discover a love we did not know was possible. 

Copyright © 2007 Arianna Huffington