The Truth About Ivanka's Relationship With Melania

A presidential administration with two first ladies? Since Donald Trump officially entered office in January 2017, onlookers have observed a unique relationship between Ivanka Trump — The Donald's star daughter, who followed in his footsteps as a real estate mogul at the Trump Organization — and Melania Trump — his third wife, who was thrust into the spotlight when she assumed the office of the First Lady of the United States. 

Indeed, historians have claimed that Ivanka and Melania's influential White House roles have overlapped much more than previous presidential administrations have seen. But that's only one of the many fascinating aspects of this duo's relationship, which has appeared to see-saw between friendly and tense, with neither woman speaking much of the other in their public appearances and interviews. Considering Ivanka and Melania are both highly-visible women who occupy powerful positions in the nation's most famous family (well, apart from the Kardashian-Jenners, that is), it's perhaps only natural that Ivanka would have a complicated relationship with her stepmom. 

Get ready for a breakdown of the two most famous Trump women's wheelings and dealings.

Ivanka and Melania's eye-opening age difference

Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump are just 11 years apart, though they lived very different lives before Melania became Ivanka's stepmother. Ivanka, the daughter of Donald Trump and his first wife, Ivana, lived a charmed life surrounded by the trappings of wealth. She attended private schools in New York and Connecticut, working as a model when she was in high school, before graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004 and joining her father as a vice president of the Trump Organization in 2005. Per GQMelania was born and raised in Slovenia before she pursued modeling in Milan, Paris, and later the U.S., meeting her future husband at a New York Fashion Week party in 1998. 

The couple wed in 2005, when Melania was 34 and Donald was 58, with 23-year-old Ivanka reading Bible verses at their wedding ceremony. The year before the nuptials, Ivanka had praised her dad's then-girlfriend, Melania, in a New York Magazine interview. "She's really nice," Ivanka said. "... She's a good person, and we appreciate that. I think we're all getting to know her a little bit more now."

Ivana Trump weighed in on Ivanka's relationship with Melania

Ivana Trump, Ivanka Trump's mother and Donald Trump's first wife, offered a unique take on why Ivanka and Melania were able to have a cordial relationship. In between Ivana and Melania, Donald famously married his second wife, Marla Maples, following a cheating scandal that split up his and Ivana's marriage and exposed Ivana and Donald's three young children — Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric Trump — to tabloid scrutiny.

"[Ivanka] likes [Melania] fine, because she didn't cause me to break up the marriage like the other one — I don't even want to pronounce her name," Ivana told The Atlantic, referring to Maples. In her 2017 memoir, Raising Trump, Ivana even recalled a time when Ivanka stood up for Melania to her, after hurtful comments Ivana allegedly made about Melania at a private lunch were published in the New York Daily News. "Ivanka called me that day and said Melania was upset about the article," Ivana recalled in the book. "I texted Melania, saying, 'You have never done anything wrong to me and I never have to you. You are in the family and I would never do anything against the family. Love, Ivana.' That smoothed things over."

Ivanka and Melania have called each other 'friends'

Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump have both referred to one another as "friends," as opposed to having a more traditional mother-daughter relationship. After all, Ivanka was 23 and already a Trump Organization exec by the time Melania wed her father, Donald Trump, in 2005. Not to mention, Melania soon started her own family with Donald, with the birth of their son, Barron, in 2006

Speaking to Harper's Bazaar a decade later, Melania described Donald's children from his previous marriages — Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric Trump with Ivana Trump, and Tiffany Trump with Marla Maples — as "grown-up[s]," saying, "I don't see myself as their mother. I am their friend, and I'm here when they need me." 

Similarly, in the acknowledgments section of Ivanka's 2017 book, Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success, she briefly thanked Melania, writing (via HuffPost), "You give generously of your time and attention and I appreciate your support and friendship." When Ivanka publicly compliments Melania, she often cites Melania's mothering skills, calling her an "unbelievable mother with a heart of gold" in her book's acknowledgments. This echoed Ivanka's praise of Melania in a 2016 interview with People, in which she again called Melania an "unbelievable mother." Ivanka's April 2017 tweet celebrating Melania's birthday was similarly glowing, as she wrote that Melania was an "incredible step-mom."

Ivanka defended Melania following a plagiarism controversy

When Melania Trump battled controversy after allegedly plagiarizing parts of her Republican National Convention speech in 2016, Ivanka Trump publicly backed Melania, defending her in an interview with People. At the time, Melania came under fire after portions of her speech were revealed to be similar to remarks Michelle Obama delivered in 2008. With the Trump campaign denying that the speech had been plagiarized, Ivanka told the outlet that her stepmom is "very smart, she's very warm, [and] she's got an incredible heart." 

In that same interview, Ivanka also defended Melania's decision to stay home with son Barron Trump instead of campaigning with her husband, saying, "It's pretty uncommon for wives of candidates to not be on the campaign trail every day. And she made a decision I totally respect which is that she has a young son, he needs stability, he needs routine. My father's traveling so frequently and she is an unbelievably consistent, loving and reliable figure in Barron's life." 

Ivanka, who's a mother of three children with her husband, Jared Kushner, also cited Melania's choice as an influence on her own life. "She takes [Barron] to school every day, picks him up every day," Ivanka said. "It's a really remarkable thing and she's a great inspiration to me as I raise my own children in terms of family first and having the right priorities."

Insiders have called Ivanka and Melania's relationship 'frosty'

Considering both women's reputations as savvy protectors of their public images, Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump don't butt heads for the world to see. And yet, despite White House statements claiming that Ivanka and Melania have "always shared a close relationship and still do today," per Vanity Fair, insiders have continued to allege that the two aren't particularly friendly, describing their relationship to the outlet as "frosty." 

Kate Bennett, who authored the 2019 unauthorized Melania Trump biography, Free, Melania, cited sources in a piece for CNN, who claimed that the two women were "cordial, but not close." The insiders also noted that their ascension to the White House had complicated their previously "warm" relationship. 

Meanwhile, Vicky Ward — who wrote 2019's Kushner, Inc., a book that detailed Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner's rise to power — also told Stephen Colbert during a 2019 episode of The Late Show how Melania was the "only person, in my book, who has ever successfully stood up to Ivanka." Ward claimed that, in the early days of the Trump White House, Ivanka was "making all the plans" to solidify her power in the administration. However, Melania allegedly "put a very quick end to Ivanka's plans," which reportedly encroached on the First Lady's "territory" in the White House.

Tensions rose when Ivanka and Melania booked separate African trips

Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump have both relied on their separate teams to pursue their agendas in the Trump White House. However, their missions overlapped in an awkward incident in 2018, when it was revealed that both women were planning their own goodwill trips to Africa. The New York Times reported that Melania announced her African trip while Ivanka was still planning hers. Other similarities? Ivanka and Melania both planned to showcase their own White House platforms during their respective trips with a video component. 

Beyond their alleged "competing visits" to Africa, the paper quoted Ivanka's "friends" as claiming that the first daughter was "noticeably bristled" with her White House job duties being confused with the softer responsibilities of the first lady. As for Melania, Kate Bennett's 2019 Free, Melania biography cited a source who claimed (via The New York Times), "[Ivanka's] trips were ... too close for comfort for Melania, who thought Ivanka was invading her turf."

In October 2018, Melania traveled to Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, and Egypt. Highlighting her "Be Best" initiative and the foreign aid the United States had provided to those countries, her African travels were the subject of a 20/20 special. In April 2019, Ivanka made her own trip to the continent, advocating for a Trump administration initiative to benefit women in developing countries, with the White House simply sharing video of her visit.

Ivanka and Melania developed strange nicknames for each other

While Melania Trump's interviews as first lady have been few and far between, another unauthorized biography, The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump, made additional claims about her life in the White House in 2020. This included details about the seemingly not-always-friendly dynamic between Ivanka Trump and her stepmother. 

In the book, author Mary Jordan wrote (via The New York Times) that Melania and Ivanka's relationship had its "tensions," claiming that Melania had been overheard referring to Ivanka as "The Princess." Melania apparently wasn't the only White House figure to speak about Ivanka in such terms, with a 2017 Vanity Fair report alleging that Trump administration figures called Ivanka "princess royal" behind her back. Meanwhile, The Art of Her Deal also suggested that Ivanka, when she was younger, called her softer-spoken stepmom "The Portrait," referring to her silent stature. 

Detailing the differences between Melania and Ivanka's public personas, author Kate Bennett's Free, Melania biography previously noted the way these two women were labeled by White House observers. While Melania was portrayed as a "vapid-model trophy wife" (via The New York Times), Ivanka was allegedly treated differently, depicted in the White House as a "savvy career mom."

Ivanka and Melania butted heads over White House offices

Another Trump administration power struggle between Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump may have taken the form of a White House turf war. According to Mary Jordan's The Art of Her Deal biography (via The Washington Post), issues reportedly arose when Melania initially stayed behind in New York City following Donald Trump's 2016 election win. While this allowed son Barron Trump to finish his school year, Melania also allegedly used this time to renegotiate her prenuptial agreement with Donald before her White House arrival. 

In the meantime, with Melania back in the Big Apple, Ivanka allegedly moved quickly to flex her influence in the White House. "According to several people, [Ivanka] was eyeing real estate in the East Wing as well, the domain of the first lady," Jordan wrote. "Among other proposals, Ivanka suggested renaming the 'First Lady's Office' the 'First Family Office.'"

Unfortunately for Ivanka, Melania's influence was still able to be felt in Washington, even from hundreds of miles away. "Melania did not allow that to happen," Jordan wrote. "It was tradition, and she was not going to let her stepdaughter change it ... Ivanka's office remained in the West Wing." Once the first lady took up residence in the White House, she allegedly cracked down on Ivanka "[treating] the private residence as if it were her own home." Jordan explained, "Melania did not like it ... she put an end to the 'revolving door' by enforcing firm boundaries."

Did Melania mock Ivanka with that controversial jacket?

Melania Trump often makes headlines with her fashion choices, but few garments caused a greater stir than the green Zara jacket she infamously donned in June 2018 to visit children at a border detention center, printed with the text, "I REALLY DON'T CARE, DO U?" Melania's choice of outerwear was lambasted by critics as insensitive. At the time, the first lady's spokesperson dismissed the idea that her coat meant anything in particular, telling reporters, "It's a jacket. There was no hidden message." 

However, the Free, Melania biography presented an alternate take on the jacket a year later, with Ivanka Trump cited as the alleged target of Melania's message. "I believed, and still do, that the jacket was a facetious jab at Ivanka and her near-constant attempts to attach herself for positive administration talking points," author Kate Bennett wrote (via The New York Times). 

As for Melania's explanation of her jacket choice? She told ABC News in October 2018 that she did in fact intend to send a message — but revealed that it was "for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me." She added, "I want to show them that I don't care. You could criticize whatever you want to say, but it will not stop me to do what I feel is right."

Ivanka and Melania both allegedly swayed Donald Trump politically

As two of the most powerful women in the Trump administration by proxy, Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump, per a CNN report, have spent their time in the White House "switching off front seat-back seat as the two women in Trump's orbit," with both successfully pursuing their own goals. 

"In the case of Melania and Ivanka Trump, on the other hand, sometimes one of them is 'out front,' and sometimes it's the other one who is," Katherine Jellison, a professor at Ohio University, told The New York Times about their dual roles in the White House. In the case of the Trump administration's controversial family separation policy at the United States' southern border, the publication reported that Melania spoke out publicly against the policy, while Ivanka pressured her father privately to rethink his stance. 

While Ivanka has used her role as senior advisor to pursue policy goals involving women and the workforce, Mary Jordan's The Art of Her Deal biography detailed the first lady's own powers to influence the president. "Melania is very behind-the-scenes but unbelievably influential," former communications director Sean Spicer claimed in the book (via The Washington Post). "She is not one to go in and say, 'Hire this person, fire this person.' But she lets the president know what she thinks, and he takes her views very seriously," with Trump "[tending] to agree with her."