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Exclusive: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush celebrate raising strong independent daughters

Today hosts Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager have a very strong friendship

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Matthew Moore
Matthew MooreOnline News Writer & Diversity and Inclusion Lead
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It wouldn't be International Women's Day without two icons of daytime TV — Today stars Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager, who bring a consistent warm energy to their on-screen presenting antics.

The TV presenters discuss the strong female role models in their own lives as well as how they are raising their daughters to be independent women in their own right. In an exclusive interview, the co-stars also opened up about their incredible bond.

When asked about how their friendship helps drive the show, Jenna, 41, explained: "I think without it, we probably wouldn't be able to do the show the way that we do. It’s not only that we have so much fun doing the show, but we're really good pals and we're in the same stage of life.

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"The other day, we had a three hour drive from Montreal to Quebec City, and we talked the whole time. We're interested in a lot of the same things, and so it makes life really joyful, to get to be with somebody that you want to see every single day and also, Hoda is joyful. She chooses to live life with this kind of sparkly effervescent way."

Hoda, 58, agreed, adding: "Jenna is just hilarious. We were on one of these moving sidewalks that they have in Canada, which I hadn't seen before and they were sloped down. Jenna was dragging her bag, and I thought she was gonna mow over people. I literally almost urinated."

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Hoda also delved into sweeter aspects of their relationship, revealing that she trusted her co-host with her personal secrets.

"I feel like she sees me and I see her," she mused. "We've gone through some similar things in our lives and I feel like that connection, you either have it or you don't have it."

Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager laughing© Photo: Getty Images

The pair are so close!

Hoda complimented how "wise" her younger co-star was, and how she's unfazed by anything, including other's opinions on her fashion choices. She joked: "Jenna could be the only one wearing fuzzy boots, and everyone says 'that’s hideous.' She goes, 'I like them. I don't care.'

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"We will get ready on the set and I'll go to Jenna, 'Oh my god, you got a huge stain like right in the middle of your shirt'. She goes, 'Oh, anyway, how was your night last night?' She doesn't care."

As well as their flourishing friendship, we sat down with Hoda and Jenna to find out more about the women who inspire them and raising their daughters...

Who were your role models as strong, successful women?

Jenna: My mother and my grandmothers. This is a cliche answer that everybody says but that's what it's so empowering about being a mother and about being a woman is that most of our kids look up to the person that's in their own home, the person that is putting dinner on the table every night. So my mom and my grandmothers all in their very different ways taught us how to use our voices. That's also what's so incredible about being a woman is that we have our power in our own home.

Hoda: Mine is hands down my mom too. I watched her get up, go to work each day. My girls said to me, 'We don't want you to go.’ And I said, ‘Mom loves work. Mom loves you more but I want you to find something you love.' My mom always believed I could really do anything. When I call my own mom to this day and say guess what, she’ll be like 'tell me'. But it won't surprise her. She'll be delighted by it. I want to be that for my girls too. It isn't about somebody when you turn on the TV and say, 'Wow, look at that glamorous or look at that fascinating life.' Sometimes it is in your own home. And if your role model is not there, there's somebody somewhere: teachers.

What's the nicest thing each of you has done for the other one?

Hoda: I'll tell you what you did. You might remember Jenna, you don't even think it's nice but it was amazing. So I was trying to adopt a second child. And subsequently, Jenna found out she was pregnant. And she came into my room to tell me – I won't forget this. She said to me, 'I have to tell you something, but I feel bad.' I said, 'Why?' Jenna told me, 'I'm pregnant.' I said, 'Oh my god, you're pregnant.' Then Jenna said, 'But you want a baby.' I was sobbing, that window of kindness. Someone who was thinking more that I might feel some pain, which I didn't, by the way, as opposed to her joy. So I thought in that moment, this is a selfless person, and I never forgot that. I can picture us sitting in my dressing room.

Jenna: It was actually on International Day of the Girl many years ago, because I remember Mrs. Obama may have been there. I had the short window of time with Hoda because there was a lot going on. But she's done a million beautiful things and they're every day things: listening to me when I need somebody, it's asking me how my day is, asking me about my children. But in that moment, there was like also this grace. She said, 'Why are you crying? Don't cry.' I noticed an honesty and transparency - that's the best gift you can give a friend. 

You're both raising your strong, successful women who are raising girls, young daughters. How do you encourage kind of female empowerment in your own children?

Jenna: They're watching us. I try to be careful about the way I speak about myself or to myself or to others about myself. Even just seeing us get up at the crack of dawn because we're working. It's a beautiful thing. I tell them all the things I adore about them and let them have real conversations with me too. I want to be that cheerleader who encouraged them that they can do anything.

Hoda: It is true that what we teach our kids is what we show our kids. We are telling our kids one thing sometimes and showing them something else. So I think the showing, I will hold the door for anybody, I will say excuse us whenever we walk through so I hear them say excuse us. I once asked a friend Maria Shriver, 'How do you teach your kids to be of service?' She said, 'My mom founded the Special Olympics and my dad founded the Peace Corps.' And she said, 'They never once said the word service, they just got up and did it.’ The reminded me: show them, don't tell them. Raising strong women, you've got to be strong and confident yourself, and you have to feel it inside and not just pretend. You don't speak poorly of your body or your hair, or outfit.

Do you compare parenting notes?

Hoda: Sure, every day. That's like one of our big things. Because if my daughter is going through a stage or her daughters are going through a stage, first of all you want to know you’re not a mom on an island. Secondly, how do you deal and is this an overreaction? Is this a small thing? Is this a pattern? Or is it something that I need to be concerned about?

Jenna: Also we have very similar priority about what we give our kids, what we don't want, what kind of activities we want to do with them, what joyful experiences. I definitely ask Hoda for advice.

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