“She has a grace about her. She’s unflappable, so even in the midst of trying times, she’s been the rock, the steady force that has kept our family calm in moments that were unspeakably turbulent.”

By Mimi Read
April 14, 2020
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As the daughter of former President George W. Bush, Jenna Bush Hager grew up in various Texas towns and cities amid the tumble of politics and the glare of news cameras. When she looks back, she says it’s the tone her mother set at home that kept everyone centered.

“My mom isn’t one for dispensing advice, really,” says Hager, who is cohost of NBC’s Today with Hoda & Jenna, as well as a former teacher, an Editor-at-Large for this magazine, and an author. (Her new book, Everything Beautiful in Its Time: Seasons of Love and Loss, comes out in September.)

“My mother led by example,” Hager says. “She has a grace about her. She’s unflappable, so even in the midst of trying times, she’s been the rock, the steady force that has kept our family calm in moments that were unspeakably turbulent.”

It’s as if Laura Bush created a feeling of serenity in the very walls of the house, Hager says. “Nobody was ever tense. Nobody was walking on eggshells. What she always conveyed is that we have the power to create the kind of home we want our kids to remember.” Hager notes that though she has a higher-key personality than her mom, the older she gets, the more she has the ability to summon that kind of thoughtful calm to bestow on her two daughters, Mila (7) and Poppy (4), and son Henry “Hal” (9 months).

“My mother never once compared my sister, Barbara, and me, and I try hard not to compare my girls. If they are sad, scared, or confused, we let them feel those feelings and encourage them to talk about them with us. We tell them that being who they are is great and makes their dad and me so proud and happy,” Hager says.

Wise maternal advice also trickled down the generations from Jenna Hawkins Welch, Laura Bush’s mother, who grew up in far West Texas in the Chihuahuan Desert; raised her own daughter in Midland, Texas; and died in May 2019 at age 99.

“My mother was interested in the outdoors and was a knowledgeable self-taught naturalist,” says Laura Bush. “Her best advice was to look up at the sky and the stars. I can still remember bird-watching with her and lying on the grass on a blanket in the summer, looking up at the constellations. In fact, Midland’s motto is ‘The Sky’s the Limit.’ Isn’t that great? It was so good to grow up there.”

If Laura Bush were sharing wisdom with her grown daughters now, it would be similar to her mother’s, she says, even though they have already absorbed it from a lifetime of experiences with their grandmother. “I’d tell them to look out to the beauty of the natural world,” she says. “Right now, that’s particularly good advice because everyone’s looking down at their screens.”