Photo: @busyphilipps via Instagram
Last December, Busy Phillips revealed to the world that her 12-year-old child, Birdie, had come out to her as gay at age 10 and later told her that their pronouns are they/them. While this is becoming more commonplace for many families, it can still be tough for parents to have these conversations with their own kids.
Luckily, Busy recently went on the Betches Moms podcast to share her experience and give some insight into how she's ensured that her children feel safe enough to come to her to talk openly about things like sex, gender identity and social media. "I think you have to be able to keep your cool with kids so that they feel empowered to come to you," said the 41-year-old actor. "I feel so lucky that we’ve fostered this environment with this kid where they come to us with everything."
Which is exactly what happened when Busy had to have the sex talk with Birdie when they were only in the second grade. Birdie, who Busy says is very mature for their age, had been learning about DNA at school and asked her a question one morning while they were in the car on the way to the bus stop. "Birdie was like, ‘Mom, I don't get it… if I have your DNA and dad’s DNA, but you grew me inside you, how’d dad’s DNA get in me?’" Busy recalled on the podcast. "So I fully panicked and was like, ‘I don’t know, I'll get back to you on that.’ Because I do think that a great thing to know as a parent is that you can always say, ‘I don’t know. I'll get back to you on that.’"
This is such a great tip, but Busy stressed that the important part is that you actually get back to them. "So in the car later that day I was like, ‘Hey dude, remember this morning when you asked me about the DNA thing? So this is how babies are made.’” She then went on to tell them about how sex worked in a straightforward, matter-of-fact way, which was made easier by the fact that she had taught them the proper names for their body parts from a young age.
When it came to Birdie's coming out and the change in their pronouns, Busy was able to keep her cool even though she may have been struggling to fully grasp the concept. "Birdie came out at age ten. I said ‘Bird, I'm so glad that you know who you are. That's incredible. And that totally makes sense to me. And that’s awesome,’" Busy explained. "Birdie’s pronouns were later. And that also was like, again, ‘Okay yeah sounds good. I’m into that. I get it.’ But I didn't get the pronoun thing at all, and had to look it up and talk to my own therapist and figure out what it meant."
She explained that after talking about Birdie's new pronouns on her podcast, she was seeing articles being published that referred to Birdie coming out as transgender, which isn't the case. "It is really hard for people—with pronouns—to understand what it is or what it quote unquote means."
But now, the mom of two is totally on board. "Birdie’s pronouns are they/them, and it just makes total sense to me now. Birdie just doesn’t identify with she/her pronouns or he/him pronouns, but they are just their own person," she said. "I think that we should all just kinda lose every pronoun except for they/them. Now that I've read a lot, I just think that dismantling the binary is kind of an interesting concept.”
So when it comes to parents talking openly about identity with their own kids, Busy's advice is this: "You have to be open to what your kids wanna discuss and what they wanna talk about. Similar to race and race issues, you can’t just be like, ‘We don’t see colour, we don’t see gender.’ These things do exist, things exist in the binary in this world that we live in." She stresses that for all parents, especially those who are white and in heteronormative homes, having these conversations early on is crucial so that children don't see the world in such limited terms.
However, Busy warns that just because your kid is able to come to you about anything, it doesn't mean you should strive to be their best friend, stressing that Birdie is in no way under this illusion. "You need them to know that you are a safe place to land, and that you will always be a safe place for them," she continued. "That's why you want them to share with you; not because you guys are like besties and you're the cool mom, but because you can help them figure things out and help make things easier for them when things feel insurmountably difficult, which they will feel—for all kids—at some point."
And when it comes to social media, Busy doesn't believe in limiting her kid's access to it, but rather empowering her kid to know how to use it appropriately. "I think that putting too many limitations on a thing is dangerous because it makes the thing more appealing," she explained. "Putting really strict limitations on social media has only made kids lie and go deeper into it. In ways that are very unhealthy."
Instead, she prefers to have conversations with her kids about online safety, what kinds of things are appropriate and how to deal with specific feelings that social media tends to bring about (such as "FOMO," the fear of missing out). "I think that part of what is so necessary about empowering kids in social media is that it doesn’t really seem to be going anywhere—it will shape-shift and change and become lots of different things."
It's so wonderful to see famous moms like Busy share these kinds of experiences with their kids, and some solid advice to boot.