Busy Philipps is one of those moms: the kind who seems effortlessly cool and in touch, to a degree that most of us (*it’s me, I’m most of us*) only hope to halfway pull off. The fact that she is so down-to-earth when we sit down to chat via Zoom confirms it: I want to be like Busy. And right now, that means playing a cheese-themed board game with my kids.
I know… plot twist.
Philipps couldn’t resist getting involved when Babybel, which she’s been snacking on since her teen years (“Peeling the wax off is so satisfying”), teamed up with Hasbro to give the nostalgic game Candy Land a cheesy twist.
Enter Goodness Land, where Molasses Swamp is now Mozzarella Monster Marsh and Peppermint Forest has become Milky Springs.
Yes, it’s funny and campy and hits on the type of nostalgia millennial moms like myself can’t get enough of. However, the real heart of Philipps’ involvement isn’t cheese or any board game. It’s connecting with her kids, something parents and children crave that can feel increasingly out of reach in today’s society.
So, when we recently caught up, we dove into everything from the art of connection at different ages and stages, to navigating some of life’s trickier parenting convos.
Scary Mommy: What is it about an activity as simple as playing a board game that you feel taps into something bigger as a mom?
Busy Philipps: Playing with your kids is so important for so many reasons. Number one, just having fun with your family is a piece I think sometimes we miss because we’re so busy getting everyone ready for school and making sure that the schedules are right… we forget that our kids want to have fun with us. And we should have fun with our kids and enjoy them, because you really get to see people’s personalities when you play games with them.
SM: How do you think your approach to connecting with Cricket at 10 differs from that of Birdie at 15?
BP: I had the realization a couple of years ago that I was continually and constantly trying to get them to connect with me on things that either I liked, or I liked when I was their age. And the truth is they have their own interests. I really changed my mindset, and I started to be curious about the things that they were interested in. And even things that — I’m going to be honest — I was kind of snobby about, like certain YouTubers watching videos with the kids online where I was a little bit like, “Eye roll. I don’t have time for this” (in my head, not to them).
But I then made it a priority to… just be open and watch it and see what they enjoy about it. It not only gave me such a new understanding of my kids and their senses of humor and the stuff that they’re interested in, but it offered me a whole way to feel connected to them that, honestly, sometimes their dad doesn’t even have — and he’s a great, involved dad. I think meeting your kids where they’re at as opposed to where you want them to be is important.
SM: With Birdie attending boarding school this year, are you starting to feel acutely aware every second that you have this whole grown human getting ready to go off on their own for good?
BP: I just had Birdie when I was in my 20s, and she’s 15. She just turned 15. I am just feeling that thing. I’m feeling that this is a person who is very, very quickly becoming their own very autonomous person and not a kid anymore in so many ways.
And then also, just so you know, she did bring a lot of stuffed animals to boarding school. You have to give space for all the things, right? We try to hold all things. So yeah, she’s incredible.
SM: You talk about autonomy, and whether you’re playing board games or watching TV, it’s tough to balance their need for independence with your need to connect with them. Any advice?
BP: Communication is key. Too many parents — in my experience as having once been a child and now a parent — are afraid to engage in complicated conversations that maybe they don’t even have the answer to. I feel like one of my strongest suits as a person, period, is my ability to say, “I actually don’t know the answer to that, and I’m interested in finding out if there is an answer to that.” Because I think that sometimes kids get a little bit closed down when they feel like, “Well, my mom thinks she knows everything, and she doesn’t understand this thing.”
So, with my kids, I’ve always tried to say — and, look, it’s with varying degrees of success, but I never stopped trying — “I don’t understand that. Explain it to me. What does that mean? What does that mean to you? Does that feel OK?”
Even in some ways that young teenagers communicate, I’ve had to ask Birdie, “Wait, I don’t understand why you guys just hang up on each other. Are you OK? Is that OK?” That’s a very innocuous example, but I think it leads to Birdie feeling comfortable enough to come to us with bigger things because I’m interested and I’m willing to listen.
You have to just barrel through your own being uncomfortable about some of these things. Like Fentanyl, I had to barrel through, like, “Listen, here’s the deal. This is it. We’ve got to talk about this.” And sometimes some of the sex stuff, we’ve just got to go there.
It does help if you’re doing something else while you’re having those conversations. Driving is my favorite because you don’t have to make eye contact. You don’t have to see their expression. You can just talk. Sometimes you have to talk.
“I think meeting your kids where they’re at as opposed to where you want them to be is important.”
SM: This is a fantastic hack.
BP: If you have to talk to your kids about sex or drugs, make sure you’re doing something else. Unloading the dishwasher, driving, folding laundry.
SM: We’ve already had some of those conversations, but more are coming. And we’ll be in uncharted territory since my youngest is a boy…
BP: Porn! Right? So, I’ve had conversations with a lot of my friends who have boys about talking to their boys about porn, which is very important to do. It’s important to talk to your girls about porn, but statistically, we have seen it is very important to talk to young boys especially. I’m always shocked by some parents who [say], “Oh no, not my boys.” I’m like, “No, no, no. Girl, you don’t understand how pervasive and easily accessible it is.”
Even just giving them space to feel like they can talk to you if they see something that makes them really uncomfortable. That’s important, too, but they won’t if it’s not even on the table.
SM: Our conversation has centered a lot on connection. How do you connect with kids about these topics that can be so tricky to navigate?
BP: My advice always to people — and this is the way that I’ve always been, especially with sex talks and porn — is to be as casual about it as possible. And periods, like talking to your boys about girls getting periods when that’s happening. You don’t know what your educational system is putting into place, and you want to make sure that they have the right information… and they get a lot of information from their friends. So, you may as well be the one giving them the information.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.