DALLAS — When you grow up as the daughters and granddaughters of American presidents, living in the public eye is all you’ve ever known.
Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush will tell you firsthand: They felt intense scrutiny from critics and commenters long before social media existed.
“Even when our dad was president, I didn’t have a TV -- intentionally,” Barbara recently said as she and her twin sister Jenna sat down with WFAA amidst a book tour the two were conducting across Texas. “I didn’t want to see what other people were going to say about him -- people that didn’t know him the way that we know him, and would never have the opportunity to know him deeply and all the facets of him.”
The sisters just released Superpower Sisterhood, a children's book they co-authored about an only child whose close friends become her sisters.
Threaded through the story are messages about the power of people -- especially women -- finding hidden strengths in others, and then lifting one another up instead of tearing each other down.
The sisters said their mother, former First Lady Laura Bush, was the book's inspiration.
"Our mom was an only child but she had a group of friends that were her sisters," Jenna said.
The main character in Superpower Sisterhood longs for a sister of her own until some new families with daughters move in down the street.
The characters all become friends who feel like sisters, and they encourage each other tap into their own special “superpowers” -- skills like solving math equations or building things.
They call their mom's close friends her "found sisters."
“They are each very different, but they have these kind of normal human powers,” Jenna said. “And together they make each other feel more brave than they ever would alone.”
The Bush twins want girls who read Superpower Sisterhood to recognize how much a “chosen family” – be that a group of cousins or friends or even colleagues – can achieve when they support one another.
Now 40 years old, Jenna now has two girls and a son of her own, and Barbara has a six-month-old little girl.
Their own childhoods are influencing how they’re raising their children in a day and time when social media influences are everywhere.
"We had great examples," Jenna said. "We watched our parents who really did not invest time or emotions into what people who didn’t know them thought."
Added Barbara: "While I really do think the best advice is 'don’t read the comments,' it takes discipline and really the work of knowing who you are and making sure you’re following your unique fabulous path that isn’t going to be your best friend’s unique fabulous path."
Jenna worries about the pressures kids feel when they’re constantly reminded that things they share on the internet can follow them forever.
"Let’s not make our kids feel like they need to be perfect," she said. "Things may last... but, at the same time, we evolve and we grow. And hopefully most people are forgiving and kind and compassionate. And I think that’s something that we as adults we can be better about."
The sisters were 19 when their father, former President George W. Bush, was elected into office -- and Jenna does not shy away from talking about mistakes she made as a young college student in Austin.
"Remember Alison, who gave me a fake ID?” she laughingly recalled while recognizing some former sorority sisters she'd spotted in the audience that gathered to hear her and Barbara talk at the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the SMU campus in Dallas. "That was kinda stupid!"
It was the final stop on their book tour, and the crowd laughed at the stories the sisters shared.
Their father welcomed them to the stage, introducing them as his “little girls."
The sisters describe their mom and dad as deeply devoted grandparents who hurried to Barbara’s bedside when she went into labor and delivered her daughter six weeks early.
"I think my dad’s really thrilled that her name is Cora Georgia," Barbara said. "Georgia is obviously after him and his dad. “He just calls her 'C George.' He’s trying to make that stick. I’m actively trying to make that not stick. But it’s been so much fun to see them melt over this little tiny beautiful creature.”
In the end, much like their characters, the sisters believe each of us has a unique superpower.
Barbara says Jenna’s is her humor.
Jenna says Barbara’s is her heart.
And they can’t wait to see what their own children’s gifts turn out to be.
"It doesn’t matter who other people think she should be," Barbara said of Cora Georgia. "It’s that she figures out what she thrives at, and what she loves, and what she shines doing, and stays true to that."