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It hasn’t all been glamorous, public moments for media mogul Arianna Huffington. There have been plenty of messy, painful, private moments. And her daughters, Christina, 27, and Isabella, 24, have had a front row seat to all of it.
“You see the blooper reel as well as the highlight reel, and I think with a lot of well known people, we only look at the highlight reel so we think that things were always easy for them,” says Isabella, on the phone with Entrepreneur. She watched her mother found and run the Pulitzer Prize-winning website Huffington Post, which was sold to AOL in 2011 for more than $300 million.
Isabella says her intimate awareness of the full spectrum of her mother’s life during this period of what was perceived from the outside as wild success served as a guidepost. “We were very much able to see my mom’s entire life, which has been helpful when we are planning our own careers,” says Isabella.
For example, the day that the Huffington Post launched in 2005, it was met with some fairly intense vitriol. Christina and Isabella were both teenagers at that time.
“It’s really important, especially for two young girls, to really watch their mother be brave and be vulnerable and fail and get back up again, because we were really able to watch her career trajectory,” Isabella says. “If something doesn’t work out in my life, I know things that my mom has done that haven’t worked and she didn’t say, ‘Oh that didn’t work, I am done.’ Or someone would criticize her, and she didn’t give up, so I think that has been really important to both of us.
“When you watch someone go through an entire career, you can see that things aren’t always perfect,” Isabella adds.
The result of seeing their mother’s persistence in the face of struggles and criticism is that both Christina and Isabella are more fearless to pursue a profession with an uncertain future, Arianna says.
“Both of my children are doing things that another parent might say are risky,” says Arianna, 65, who is also the author of 15 books. “Both my children are doing something entrepreneurial and they have my full support because that is how my life has been, both before Huffington Post and after.”
Isabella lives with her mother in a New York City apartment. When Christina, Arianna’s older daughter, moved out, Isabella turned her bedroom into her painting studio. She’s now a full-time artist.
Christina is producing a video series, Talk To Me, which chronicles conversations between celebrity parents and their children. But it didn’t take a video series for Arianna and her daughters to start an honest conversation. Arianna and Isabella both say that they make it a priority to share their struggles with each other.
“As a mother, you may want to shield your children from difficult times you may be going through, but my daughters have always encouraged me to share everything with them and that has been amazing,” says Arianna. “They are really my best friends, and I think that it is great when you see that transformation from you being the mother and the protector, which in many ways you always remain, to also the relationship changing to being best friends.”
Hearing firsthand about the struggles that go into success is empowering for Arianna’s daughters.
“It’s incredibly meaningful for parents and mothers especially to share when they are going through something difficult with their children, especially if they are successful, because it’s incredibly important to see no matter what life you are in, there are going to be ups and downs,” says Isabella. “And I think that builds grit in your children just because they are able to see that you were able to overcome, that it wasn’t smooth sailing, to show your vulnerable side, your human side — and not have to be Superwoman.”
Arianna’s experience as an entrepreneur has affected the way she parents, but being a mother has also affected the way she handles being an entrepreneur. Having children grounds her and keeps her connected to a sense of purpose outside of her work.
“In my life as an entrepreneur, there were a lot of ups and downs. There were hard moments, like the day we launched the Huffington Post to terrible reviews, including one that said, ‘The Huffington Post is the movie equivalent of Gigli, Heaven’s Gate and Ishtar all rolled into one,’” Arianna says. “But for me, my children were my foundation of my existence, so whatever else happened could never shake me.”
Having children didn’t come easily for Arianna, who was recently named the 61st most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. She was born in Athens, Greece, and grew up in London where she went to Cambridge for school. In London, Arianna fell deeply in love with journalist and writer Bernard Levin. Levin, however, didn’t want to have children, says Arianna, who had always known that she wanted to be a mother. After all, her mother had been the foundation and the absolute center of her life.
When she turned 30, she left Levin and London and moved to New York. She married at 35. Her first baby was delivered stillborn. She finally gave birth to Christina when she was 38 and Isabella at 40. For all of Arianna’s life, after the age of 11, when her mother left her father, family had been three women: her mother, younger sister Agapi and herself. Now, it’s Arianna, Isabella and Christina.
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Arianna Huffington learned a voracious resilience from her mother, which helped guide her over her life. When she was in middle school, living in a one-bedroom apartment in Athens with her mother and her sister, Arianna found a picture in a magazine of Cambridge University and decided that was where she wanted to go to school. Arianna’s single mother, with hardly enough money to make ends meet, was fearless in her response to Arianna’s dream, despite the fact that Arianna spoke no English and everybody else in the community chided the ambitious girl. “Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t go there. You don’t speak English, you have no money, and it’s hard even for English girls.” Arianna’s mother’s response was, “Oh! Let’s see how you can go there.”
“That sums up my mom — it was the combination of ‘Yes, you can go for your dreams,’ and, ‘If you fail, it doesn’t matter, I won’t love you any less’ and ‘Don’t let failure define you.’ Which is kind of a great entrepreneurial approach,” says Arianna.
Indeed, that encapsulates Arianna’s mother — and it summarizes Arianna as a mother herself, too.