Being Mama: Jenna Bush Hager
You know those women who make you want to be a better person? Well, Jenna Bush Hager is one of them.
Mom to two beautiful girls, Margaret (Mila), 2 ½, and Poppy, 6 months, the energetic 34-year-old is also a journalist, author, teacher, philanthropist and all-round lovely person. In fact, she’s practically perfect in every way… just don’t tell her that!
“Feeling like you need to be perfect is unrealistic and boring,” Jenna tells us from California where she is on assignment for NBC’s Today show.
“I want to do the best I can for my family, my work and myself but that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I mean, there are days when I’m in a sweater with two holes in it and my hair is in a crazy bun while Mila has her hair in perfect pigtails. She’s had kale and chicken for dinner while I’m having waffles with almond butter. But that’s part of being a mom, especially a working mom!”
Jenna returned to work on the Today Show three months after having her second daughter and she admits that while she loves her job, it is tough being away from her babies.
“I travel for work four days a week so thank goodness for Facetime,” she says. “I miss them like crazy and it’s getting harder to be away. It’s okay for now but at some point I’ll need to curb the travel.”
So how does she manage to juggle such a demanding job and a family?
“It’s a process and I never feel totally balanced but I think that’s okay,” she admits. “After Mila arrived, I had a problem. The show gives us the next day’s briefings the night before at 6pm – right when I have that special hour with my daughter, getting her ready for bath and bed. I’d be getting emails from work and I was trying to do both and it didn’t work. So now I don’t look at my phone for that hour and a half when I’m with her. It’s hard because we are so [technologically] connected these days but I just try to be totally present for my girls.”
Jenna’s honesty about not being able to do it all is refreshing, especially given that she is from a family of high achievers: we imagine that very few can boast having Presidents of the United States as a father and grandfather! Jenna credits her parents for giving her the kind of upbringing that has made her and twin sister, Barbara, so grounded.
“My mom had twins and even when she was the First Lady of the United States she never made us ever feel like we were anything but her first priority,” says Jenna.
“One of the things that my parents did well was allow us to be flawed, to grow as people, to be able to make mistakes safely, to find out who we are and to have our own opinions. People are always surprised to learn that my sister and I were able to form our own opinions, especially as adults, but my parents didn’t talk us into anything.”
Jenna says she can’t wait until her own children are old enough to have boisterous conversations around the dinner table and to disagree with their mom and dad. “We want them to be happy, healthy, creative little thinkers,” she says.
Despite growing up with a twin sister, Jenna says she never expected to have girls herself.
In fact, she was so convinced she was having a boy with her first child that at her baby shower all her friends were taking it in turns guessing the name of her ‘baby boy’. As if in protest Jenna’s waters broke right there and then and then and she was rushed to hospital. “I always laugh that it was Mila’s way of saying, ‘No! I’m a girl,’” she says. “My husband thought the whole thing was a joke when my sister called him to tell him I was in labor.”
Luckily expecting the unexpected comes naturally to Jenna. Both her babies were breach and despite trying everything from Chinese herbs to acupuncture to turn them, in the end she had caesarians. “It wasn’t how I planned it but you just want a healthy baby,” says Jenna.
What she did find helpful during her pregnancies, though, is exercise. Jenna enjoyed pre-natal yoga and soul cycle during both pregnancies, even working out on the days she went into labor. Jenna credits exercise with helping her bounce back quicker.
“With Mila I was consciously trying to lose the baby weight but with Poppy I went back to work faster and am running around after two children so I’m worrying less about my health,” she says.
Having more fun with her girls is actually one of Jenna’s New Year’s resolutions. She openly admits that when it comes to discipline she is the “enforcer” of the family but that could be her past as a teacher coming out. “I like to have fun but someone has to set boundaries,” she laughs.
Jenna enjoys having dance parties and singing songs with her daughters. “I don’t want to teach girls that materialism is the way of the world, I want them to be strong and creative and fun but they do look so cute in absolutely everything,” she admits when asked which children’s labels she likes. It’s Zara Kids, by the way.
Jenna’s other resolution was to make more time for her relationship. “After Mila I was shocked by how bonded we became,” she says of her husband of almost eight years, Henry Hager. “It is so empowering to have a man who supports you as much as you support him. He definitely is a modern dad. If I’m traveling, he’ll make sure to get home from work to put the kids to bed.”
While the busy couple love sharing pictures and videos of their daughters, Jenna admits that between work and parenting there are nights when they don’t get a chance to catch up about the most important things of the day. So now they carve out time just for each other by setting their alarm 40 minutes earlier every day and doing something together like going to the gym or having a coffee and conversation.
But Jenna’s favorite time of the week is on Saturday and Sunday when the family all get into bed together and read books and cuddle. “I try not to let them watch too much television so we read and chat. Mila is super verbal and clever. She loves to sing and Poppy is smiling like crazy. You can tell they both have a love for life,” she says.
No doubt they take after their incredibly talented mom who felt such a “surge of creativity” while nursing youngest daughter Poppy that she wrote a children’s book with her mom. “It’s about our national parks,” she explains. “When Barb and I were younger, mom would take us to national parks. Henry and I were engaged there and our family vacations were around hiking and nature, so I feel a real affinity towards them.”
The book celebrates the 100th anniversary of our parks and is about a little girl on an American road trip. Jenna worked on it during her maternity leave and even in the middle of the night while soothing baby Poppy. “The parallel of giving life to a person and a book makes this project so special,” she says.