A Chat With Jenna Bush Hager

a-chat-with_jenna-bush-hagerIn her 7 years as as a TODAY correspondent, Jenna Bush Hager has landed some impressive interviews like ohyouknow President Obama, Michelle Obama, Prince Harry, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Reese Witherspoon, and Chip & Jo, to name a few.

But unlike your typical broadcast journalist, Jenna is all heart, which is why she’s so successful in her role. Her subjects open up to her warm bubbly, personality, always delivering a compelling interview. It’s also why she makes a perfect co-host for Blair Underwood in the new Saturday morning show Give (think Extreme Makeover Home Edition but for nonprofits). It’s heartwarming television, and yes, you will cry.

TV isn’t the only thing keeping Jenna on her toes – she’s a mom to daughters Mila (3.5) and Poppy Louise (15 months) with husband Henry Hager.

Chatting with the poised yet totally approachable morning show veteran is like hanging with someone in your inner circle. We bonded over books (she’s an avid reader – see her recommendations below), relationship challenges (we’ve already adopted her brilliant tip), and  the truth about exercise. Meet the down-to-earth, truly warm and kind Jenna Bush Hager.

On Her TODAY Co-hosts

People say we are a “family,” and it sounds so cliche. I have made some terrific life-long friends and had incredible mentors. Savannah is my next door neighbor (literally, we can see into each other’s apartments!), and our girls are such dear friends. We went trick or treating together this year, and Vale wouldn’t let go of Mila’s hand!

Tips for Parents Who Travel

1. Thank goodness for facetime.
2. Even if it doesn’t logistically make sense, I come home any nights I can in between travel.
3. There are all these studies about parents being on their phones. One says parents who look at their phones while parenting have a more frustrated tone with their kids. Another says kids feel less interesting when their parents are attached to their phones. I started putting my phone away when I’m with the kids – It’s just a couple hours a day – and it has really helped make our time together more joyful. We are programmed to constantly be checking it, and truthfully it’s nice to put it away.

Dream Interviews

I like to interview people who are change makers or legends. I interviewed Beverly Cleary on her 100th birthday and she was so witty and hilarious. I interviewed Maya Angelou about parenting, which was a dream come true. On my list (which was supposed to happen today!) is Willie Nelson – he has a new Christmas book out – I can’t wait for that one. I would love to interview Ellen Degeneres and Oprah because they are such strong, positive women who are used to leading the interview, so I think it would be fun to switch things up.

Parenting Style

My parents really wanted Barbara and me to be independent thinkers. They didn’t steer us down any certain path; they encouraged healthy discourse around the table and wanted us to be curious and have discussions where we disagreed on things. They let us figure things out for ourselves. I want to be like that.

Relationship Tip

We put the girls first, and we both work and travel so much, so finding time to focus on my relationship is hard. It’s important to have time together, but we also want to see friends – it’s challenging to make time for both. This is our key to staying connected: When we can feel like we aren’t totally in sync (you can just feel when something’s off), we get in bed, turn off the lights, and just talk instead of watching tv that night. If one of us is away, we will do it on the phone, just lying in bed in the dark checking in with each other. I always feel so much better after one of those chats.

Bookworm

I read a lot, probably a book a week. Bel Canto is my favorite book ever, and I loved Ann Patchett’s new one Commonwealth. I recently read A Little Life and loved it, but you have to be careful who you recommend it to – its tough stuff. I get starstruck by great writers and met my new girl crush Emma Taub recently; her novel Modern Lovers is so light and fun. Next up is Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple’s new book – I loved Where’d You Go Bernadette.

Family Night

On Sunday nights, Henry makes his homemade specialty pizzas – his one and only dish! They are really delicious and healthy. Then we dance around to different music. Each person gets to pick a song, usually Rolling Stones for Henry, Willie Nelson/Garth Brooks/Fleetwood Mac for me, and Frozen or Cats for Mila. It’s so fun.

Relax & Unwind

I’ll go for a long walk or jog along the West Side Highway when I get home from work, and I feel so much more lucid and less stressed afterwards. Opening a bottle of wine sounds great, but exercise relieves anxiety in a way alcohol just can’t.

Career Highlights

So This Happened

During my first interview back at the TODAY Show after having Mila, I went too long without pumping and leaked milk through my shirt while interviewing Taye Diggs. True story.

#Momfail

I went to Oklahoma with my sister for work three weeks after having Poppy. Halfway through the flight, I got the travel pump out to show my sister how it was done. Neither one of us could get the thing to work because it was “broken”. I rented a regular pump when we got there. Turns out it wasn’t broken, I just had no idea how to work it.

Off The Cuff

Favorite family meal: Rosa Mexicano has the best kids meal ever – milk, main course, rice, beans, and dessert – for $8. And the margaritas are great!
Favorite kids’ movie: Mila watched her first full-length film recently, Garfield, who was one of my favorite childhood characters. It was so fun. We popped popcorn, and she was laughing out loud – it was just magical. Next up, The Little Mermaid.
Can’t stop listening to: Sturgill Simpson, old school Johnny Cash
Favorite kids book: All The World, one of the most beautiful books ever
Guilty pleasure: Cheese. Bury me in a wedge of brie, and I will die happy.

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