Jenna Bush Hager on Raising Healthier and Safer Kids (It's Easier Than You Think!)

The former First Daughter is now a mom of two who's spreading the word about school bus safety.
Jenna Bush Hager

Jenna Bush Hager may be best known as a correspondent on the Today show and former First Daughter, but she is also mom to Mila, 2, and newborn Poppy, 2 months. As a former teacher, Hager is passionate about creating healthy and safe learning environments for our children—and that starts with their ride to class. Last month, Hager launched a campaign with the Propane Education & Research Council to switch from diesel fuel to propane in our busesParents caught up with Hager about her support of the cause, school bus safety every parent should know, and what it's like to have another girl in the family.

P: When did you first become aware that there is an alternative to diesel fuel for school buses?

JBH: It was once I started doing the research. I realized that we could have this option, which to me is a no-brainer as a teacher and as a mom. It's safer for our kids, better for our environment, and saves money, and as a teacher we know that's important because the budgets are spread so thin these days. Any way we can possibly spend more money on education and less on transportation is key.

The health and safety of children is so important to me and always has been, but I will say that becoming a parent puts things into perspective in a way I never even knew existed. Having kids has made it even more important to make sure we prioritize health and safety for children.

P: What can parents do to spread the word in their community? Is the message out there?

JBH: The message is not out there. We can talk to our school districts. Sometimes you think 'Is anybody listening?' but they are. If you look at places like Boston and Omaha public schools, it's parents that have spoken with the leaders of their school districts and have advocated for this change. We did a little video online, which speaks to how parents can advocate for changing these buses to propane in their community.

Couresty PERC

P: Aside from this push for propane, how can we ensure our kids are generally safe on buses?

JBH: I think the main thing about why propane buses are better is because they're quieter. We want kids to have a calm morning before they get to school. Sit on the seat, not on their backpacks or on their knees. No standing up. Watch out when they're getting on to the bus; make sure the bus is pulled over and has stopped and that they're not walking into traffic. Make sure you talk to your kid about looking both ways when they're getting off the bus and crossing.

I know that all seems like obvious information, but with some states and cities offering pre-K for all—which is great—these kids are little. As a parenting tip, in general—and what I'm trying to do with my 2-and-a-half-year-old—is to talk about what we're going to do. Talk about the day. She just started preschool and for the month leading up to starting school, we talked about what it was gonna be like to walk into the classroom and who her teachers were. Talking about routines provides a safety net where they feel comfortable to be their best selves.

P: You mentioned you're on maternity leave because Poppy is about 2 months old.

JBH: We realized that Tuesday was her two-month birthday and it was Mila's 2-and-a-half birthday. They were both born on the 13th of the month. As tiresome as it is, it is this precious time that you [get] to enjoy the newborn stage.

P: Is it easier the second time around?

JBH: I think it is a little bit easier. I remember with Mila, my mom warned me. She said, 'The one thing I wasn't prepared for was how nervous I was as a mom of two little twins.' She just felt a lot of anxiety and I think that's a very normal reaction. My expectations were like, 'This is going to be VERY hard.' But then I wasn't nervous. I felt like a pretty relaxed mom and I still feel that way. In some ways it's harder because I have a 2-and-a-half-year-old, so it's not like I'm lounging around with my newborn. I can't sleep when she sleeps because I'm still hanging out with Mila, but it feels easier and Poppy's a good sleeper so that's a gift.

I'm really happy because Mila LOVES her baby sister. [She] has been nothing but super excited and sings lullabies. Mila was at a birthday party and the mother of the little girl said, 'How's your baby sister?' and she said, 'She's amazing!' And I thought that was so adorable and the word 'amazing' can be overused in this day and age, but really a new life, a new baby sister is amazing. That makes me want to cry. I'm still a hormonal new mother. But it is the proper use of the word amazing.

P: You have a sister yourself. It sounds like Mila is on her way, but how do you hope to cultivate that sisterly love?

JBH: I think that helps. Barbara plays such a big part in Mila's life. I think she learns just by example, by seeing how close we are. We really enjoy each other, and I think by seeing that it gives Mila this idea that having a sister is this wonderful thing and you have this built-in best friend. I've heard these stories of kids that push the babies off when you're feeding, but Mila just wants to come sit right next to me when I'm nursing and she pretends she's doing it with her baby doll. My mom and I talked about how now Poppy isn't demanding much, but it might be a little different when Poppy wants to borrow Mila's toys.

P: Are you excited for it to be the three of you girls around the house?

JBH: I think it's really fun. Even Henry has warmed up and loves the idea. He melted with Mila so I think he realized that being the dad of two girls is a pretty lucky thing.

P: Did your dad give him any pointers to survive and all-women household?

JBH: I think my dad loved the fact that one of us would go biking with him and that he tried to teach us to fish. I think he wouldn't mind having a little grandson, but I think my dad loves being surrounded by us and I think Henry witnesses that and watches how much fun that has been for my dad and knows that that's his future as well.

Ruthie Fierberg is an editorial assistant at Parents. Though she does not have children of her own, she's practically been raising kids since her first babysitting job at age 11. She is our resident theater aficionado and can be found constantly running around New York City to find the best new show, the most awesome dance party, or the hottest Bikram yoga studio. Follow her on on Twitter @RuthiesATrain.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Vice President Joe Biden discusses how to keep schools safe and whether armed guards are needed at every school.

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