Joanna Gaines and Jenna Bush Hager on Why Motherhood is 'Everything'
"You have got to meet my new friend, Joanna," my mom said. It was about five years ago, before the world fell head over heels for Chip and Joanna Gaines. My mom had heard about this home-design store owned by the new HGTV stars, which was close to my parents' Texas ranch. She showed up to shop, Secret Service in tow, and after that one afternoon, developed an immediate girl crush. When I asked Joanna about that day, she remembered it a bit differently: "I was covered in paint and wearing my pajamas, Jenna!" That's the real and authentic Joanna, the one the world has fallen in love with.
Since Mom's first encounter, I've spent a lot of time with Waco's sweetheart at the Magnolia Silos as well as on the Gaineses' farm. When you strip back the shiplap and all of her career accomplishments, you'll discover the one constant for the mother of five: her family.
For this interview, we caught up on the phone, and it was like chatting with an old friend. Joanna—who's known for her impeccable home designs—ended our talk by saying that life doesn't need to be perfect and, though her world may seem flawless, her house was currently a mess. "It's so important that we resist the temptation to compare our lives," she added. "We need to give ourselves a break." Here, we discuss motherhood, making mistakes (yes, she does too!), and the secrets to a happy home.
Jenna: Someone once told me that they realized after having older children and then having another baby that the diaper changing, the lack of sleep, and all the tedious things are really the beautiful part of life. Is that true?
Joanna: Yes, and looking through the lens of my older children has really helped me see that. When I had the first four, it was a whirlwind. This past weekend, Crew was sick, and I took him to the doctor—just me and him. The simplest things are highlighted to you. Before it was "I have to get through it." I've learned so much through this season of my life because I'm experiencing it through the eyes of my other children, especially Emmie, my youngest girl.
Jenna: Do you write it all down?
Joanna: I write it in my journal. One of my regrets is that I don't remember things from the other four. It was such a crazy time. Now it's the little moments that stop me in my tracks, because that's what life is all about.
Jenna: There is this guilt around parenting with moms. How do you get rid of those emotions?
Joanna: I've been through plenty of stages of guilt. It always creeps in. It paralyzes me. I don't want to waste a second of emotion on something that doesn't create any good. I think, "What can I do to show my kids that I love them?" Even if it's making a cup of hot cocoa, which takes a few minutes. It's about finding little ways to connect.
Jenna: How do you learn from your kids and celebrate their uniqueness?
Joanna: I learned early on that in order to connect with my children, I need to watch them. My older kids are so different. I see what makes Drake tick and notice the things that make his eyes light up. I tuck that stuff in my mind and away in my heart. He is 14 now and can really articulate his thoughts. He sees that we're noticing what he's interested in. As parents, we need to help our kids express what they're passionate about and challenge them in the things that are hard, knowing they probably won't appreciate this until they're about 40 years old. It's a balance of both.
Jenna: Your new children's book is all about gardening, and I think, in many ways, it's a metaphor for raising kids. You told me how much Emmie and Duke love to garden. Why is this so important to you right now?
Joanna: You can find healing and learning and so many other gifts in having a garden. I'd spend a day pulling weeds, and the children would come out and help. Soon, they started loving it too. Nurturing plants together does something, and it was a simple way to connect with my kids—and I think that's the reason for this book. We have this large garden now, but the size of it is not what's important. The point is if you have a little box outside your door that you and your children are tending to, then it does something to your heart as a mom. It also does something to your kids' hearts. Nurturing her plants is teaching Emmie something that I can't on my own. My hope is that families will read this book together and children will ask, "Can we have a garden?"
Jenna: What does being a mom mean to you?
Joanna: Motherhood means everything to me. Everything else in my life can go away, but that's my thing. That's what wakes me up. It's my heart – these kids.
Jenna: What surprised you most about motherhood?
Joanna: How much they would affect me. You just think kids will fit into your life, and then I had these babies and didn't realize how they would have every string of my heart. Everything I do, from the moment I get into my car to drive to work, I'm thinking, "Did I do everything I could to make those kids know that I love them?" I'm a segmented person, but there is not a moment when they're not in my mind. I never thought it would be like that.
Jenna: When you think back to when you were younger and feeling the happiest, where were you? Who were you with?
Joanna: I was a homebody. Just being with my family at home is when I felt the most loved, the most known, and the most valued. That was my safe place – and I loved it. Even in college, when I lived in an apartment in Waco with friends, I longed for home.
Jenna: When you think about life right now, what's your favorite thing?
Joanna: This baby! I love being a mom to a newborn. I'm not sleeping. I look older but feel like I've been given a gift all over again, and I'm feeling it more than ever before. I can't imagine it any other way. I just love this sweet stage of life.
Jenna: Any other takeaways to share?
Joanna: Since having Crew, I've been so much more sensitive to all of this. I feel like I was born to do every single thing in my life that I am doing now. And I have a lot of help. I want to be that person who encourages other moms. I remember those times when I was home and couldn't even take a shower. When you're on social media, you need to step back and say, "My life is going to look different—and it should look different." Celebrate others doing little things as well as big things, and celebrate yourself by saying, "This is what I was meant to do." I really want women to feel encouraged. Know that you are doing enough. Own yourself.
Jenna: We are so hard on ourselves, but we need to lift one another up. Perfection is not the key.
Joanna: Comparison is the worst thing in the world. Contentment is the goal and the greatest gift in life.