Britney Spears Returns: Rolling Stone's 2008 Cover Story

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Ever since she was a little girl growing up in Kentwood, Louisiana, Spears dreamed of having her own children. She considered the experience "the closest thing to God," she said in 2004 in a note on her fan site. "To be a really good mom, I feel your child needs to be your full-time job. I want to raise my kids and share all of those precious moments with them."

But things haven't turned out like she imagined. "I didn't think my husband was gonna leave me," she says, deadpan. She laughs to break the tension. "Otherwise, I'd be with my babies 24/7. But since they're almost like twins, they both take care of each other. I think they look like me," she says, going from affectionate to bitter as she gets distracted by thoughts of Federline, whom she sees only when one of them is picking up the boys. "They don't look like their father at all," she continues. "And it's weird 'cause they're starting to learn words like 'stupid,' and Preston says the f-word now sometimes. He doesn't get it from us. He must get it from his daddy. I say it, but not around my kids."

Of course, Britney hasn't quite turned out to be a model parent, either, and it was her own erratic behavior that led to her losing custody. During Britney's second trip to the psych ward, when her dad, Jamie, wanted to convince her to let him take control of her life, he told her he would help her get her babies back. He and attorney Andrew Wallet filed for a legal conservatorship that makes them responsible for overseeing her finances and her personal life — Britney today has about as many legal rights as when she was in the Mickey Mouse Club. She is watched over day and night by security guards Jamie hired (and she's paying for); it's also rumored that Britney's phone calls are closely monitored and that she's not allowed to drive her own Mercedes. Recently, says one source with ties to the Britney camp, Jamie fired a guard who let the singer use his phone. (Her rep denies the claim.)

"There's no excitement, there's no passion," the singer says in a rare outburst in Britney: For the Record, a documentary executive-produced by Spears' management team that is airing on MTV November 30th. "Even when you go to jail, you know there's the time when you're gonna get out. But in this situation, it's never-ending. It's just like Groundhog Day every day." She also says, "If I wasn't under the restraints I'm under, I'd feel so liberated."

Britney has clashed with her parents on and off for years. "She was scared they were going to come in and take away everything she had worked for," says one former friend. The real problems, however, go deeper: As her mother, Lynne, documents in her recent memoir, Through the Storm, Jamie's alcoholism had led to "knock-down, drag-out fights" during Britney's childhood, and he was often absent from the household, out drinking. "She felt like he was this scary guy who she didn't really know because he was never around," says one Britney pal. In 2000, Britney paid to have a house built in Kentwood for Lynne. The couple divorced in 2002 but have never fully severed their ties, and sources close to Britney say she felt betrayed by their reconciliations. "Sometimes she would call Lynne's house, and Jamie would answer the phone," says one source. "It made her feel like she was being taken advantage of."

Under Jamie's rule, however, Britney's career has risen from the dead. In April, he rehired her former manager, Larry Rudolph, a straight-talking Bronx native who started in entertainment law before discovering Britney in 1995. The singer had parted ways with Rudolph in April 2007, accusing him of joining with her parents to force her into rehab. Rudolph compares his own relationship with Britney to Elvis Presley's and Colonel Tom Parker's, but he gets uncomfortable when asked to explain how Jamie helped her get better. "I can't talk about him, because I'm not allowed to talk about the conservatorship," Rudolph says. "The only thing I can say is, in a general sense, there's a stability in her life right now that I think is a positive thing for her."

Within weeks of the conservatorship's being implemented, Britney started working out again. She and her dad went to Costa Rica on vacation with Mel Gibson, another recent rehab alum, and his wife, Robyn. For her good behavior, she earned expanded visitation with her sons in May. And by the end of the summer, with some 30 songs recorded for Circus, Britney Spears was officially back in business. "Some people are skeptical about her icon status at this point," Rudolph said in September, a couple of weeks after she received three awards at the VMAs. "But this ­album tells everybody that she's here to stay. This is going to be the album that cements her legend status."

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