The truth about Barbara and Jenna Bush’s relationship

Born on November 25, 1981, twins Jenna and Barbara Bush have experienced a life unlike any other. Though they were raised in Texas, the Bush twins had a national spotlight thrust upon them at an early age thanks to the political career of their grandfather, Former President George H. W. Bush. In 2001, that spotlight became even brighter when their father, George W. Bush, became the 43rd President of the United States. 

Despite the rare circumstances surrounding their lives, both Jenna and Barbara Bush have managed to maintain a sense of normalcy, each giving off the vibe that they could easily be your BFF or cool, older sister. Though they’ve certainly experienced stress and scrutiny surrounding their father’s presidency and their own choices as college students trying to get away from it all, the Bush twins have adapted well to life as former first kids. And according to the twins themselves, they have each other to thank for that. Here’s the truth about Barbara and Jenna Bush’s relationship. 

"We have our own, unspoken language"

If you weren’t lucky enough to be born a twin, you’ve probably held out hope for some time that you’d meet your long-lost twin at a sleepaway summer camp, in total Parent Trap style. Unfortunately, having a twin is simply not in the cards for the majority of folks. Luckily, we can live vicariously through Jenna and Barbara Bush, who never hold back their enthusiasm for one another. 

In an essay for Vanity Fair‘s “Sisters” issue, Barbara Bush reflected on her childhood with her twin sister, and how their relationship has evolved and strengthened even more in their adult years. Referring to Jenna as her “point of reference,” Barbara writes, “What a magical idea the universe had in giving each of us the luxury of a partner.”

Perhaps the best thing about having a twin is the ability to communicate with one another without using a single word. “We have our own, unspoken language,” writes Barbara. “A look that makes one of us fall on the floor laughing or the slight inflection in our voice that conveys everything.” 

The two could not be more different

Jenna and Barbara Bush are fraternal twins, meaning they don’t share the same DNA like identical twins do. And however close they may be, it’s pretty obvious that the Bush sisters are two individuals who could not differ more from one another — both in looks and in personality. 

For starters, Jenna Bush (now Jenna Bush Hager), is the more well-known twin, thanks to her career in the public eye as a correspondent for Today. The bubbly blonde and loving mother of two doesn’t shy away from the camera, and can often be seen interviewing A-list celebrities and covering red carpet events for work. Barbara, on the other hand, is famously more reserved, rarely making televised appearances. Her friend, Derek Blasberg, told ELLE that Barbara is often unable to attend “glamorous parties” because she’s busy doing charity work in places like Botswana and Tanzania. 

The twins also differ in their political stances. Barbara is an outspoken advocate for gay marriage and women’s reproductive rights, while Jenna has skirted around those topics. But no matter their differences, these twins are still super close. 

Getting used to the White House

Jenna and Barbara Bush had a unique adolescent experience. After all, not many kids can say their grandfather and father are both former presidents. The rarity of their experience is not lost on the Bush twins, though they’re quick to set the record straight if anyone thinks they were raised with a sense of entitlement.

In the book, Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life – co-authored by the twins and released in 2017 — Jenna Bush recounts one of the girls’ first visits to the White House shortly after their grandfather, George H. W. Bush, had started his presidential term (via the New York Times). Comparing her sister and herself to Eloise at the Plaza, Jenna writes that the sisters’ first order of business was exploring the White House bowling alley and phoning the staff to request peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. However, instead of sandwiches, the twins got a stern talking-to from their grandmother, Barbara Bush. 

“[She] told us in no uncertain terms that we were not in a hotel, but temporary guests in a historic home, and we were never to do that again,” writes Jenna. 

Ganging up on Mom

Having a twin sibling — or a sibling of any sort, really — often means having a built-in best friend for life. This sentiment is not lost on Jenna and Barbara Bush, who never hesitate to express their gratefulness for the other, both presently and while growing up. “We have always had a dinner partner, a dance partner, a partner in mischief,” Barbara Bush writes in Vanity Fair

However, in an interview with Maria Shriver for Architects for Change, the twins revealed that their mother, Laura Bush, who as raised an only child, has always felt a little left out of their airtight bond. While recounting a story of her own children playfully “ganging up” and disobeying her during bath time, Jenna Bush said she realized that she and Barbara would often do the same thing to their mother when they were young. And while being a mother was “all she ever wanted,” Laura Bush sometimes still feels “left out with the girls.”

They just wanted to be regular college students

As the Bush twins quickly learned during their father’s presidency, when every person in America knows who you are, it’s nearly impossible to live a life of relative normalcy. Both Jenna and Barbara, who attended the University of Texas and Yale, respectively, found themselves unable to enjoy the normal college experience due to all eyes watching closely their every move. 

According to the Yale newspaper (via The Guardian), Barbara Bush once eluded her secret service team while on a road trip, and reports surfaced that she attended an “exotic dance party” wearing nothing but bubble wrap. Jenna Bush was cited for alcohol possession when she was 19 years old, and tried to order a margarita only a month later using a fake I.D. According to biographer Ronald Kessler (via E! News), Jenna started crying when the cops arrived, telling them they had “no idea what it was like to not be able to just act like a regular college student.”

They relate to Sasha and Malia

While growing up in the White House may sound appealing to some (after all, it does have that bowling alley), it’s easy for the general public to look past the challenges that come with being the children of a president. No one understands what the “first kid” experience is like than those who have been there. So, who better to send comforting words to Malia and Sasha Obama than Jenna and Barbara Bush? 

In January 2017, days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Bush twins published a letter in Time addressed to the Obama girls, offering kind words and advice on how to handle life after the White House. While acknowledging there are “no guidelines” on how to navigate life as a former first child, the twins assured the girls that good things were on the horizon, writing, “You have so much to look forward to. You will be writing the story of your lives, beyond the shadow of your famous parents, yet you will always carry with you the experiences of the past eight years.” 

"Anyone who meets Barbara adores her"

If anyone ever doubts the close bond shared by the Bush twins, a quick Google search will nullify any concern of jealousy or sibling rivalry. Jenna and Barbara Bush are absolutely crazy about one another, as evidenced by the way they each take advantage of any opportunity to gush about their admiration for their twin sister. In an interview with Maria Shriver, Barbara Bush said, “I can easily say that the luckiest thing that ever happened in my life was being born with a twin of Jenna.” And Jenna is at no loss of kind words to say about her sister, either. 

While co-hosting Today with Hoda Kotb, Jenna dished the details of the sisters’ recent Southern Living feature and photoshoot — and she couldn’t help gushing about her sister on-air. “She’s so awesome, and I feel so lucky,” Jenna said about Barbara, nearly tearing up. “How awesome that I’ve had her to hold my hand through [everything].” 

Maids of Honor

Jenna and Barbara Bush have been with each other through all of life’s ups and downs — from Texas to the White House and everything in between. So it would only make sense for the twins to stand alongside one another on the biggest days of their respective lives. 

When 26 year-old Jenna Bush married Henry Hager in a low-key 2008 Texas ceremony, her twin sister served as her Maid of Honor, visibly emotional as her sister and best friend exchanged vows with the love of her life. And though Barbara would wait ten years before exchanging vows of her own, Jenna was by her side when she wed actor Craig Coyne in a secret ceremony that took place at the Bush family’s summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine. 

In a phone call with her Today colleagues after the wedding, it was apparent that Jenna Bush definitely approves of her sister’s new husband. “I’m crying 24 hours later,” Bush said. “There were so many happy tears.”

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