When it comes to raising a tween, The O.C. alum and mom of one Rachel Bilson is having a blast — and, admittedly, feeling a bit freaked out.
“[Tweendom] is half terrifying, half exciting,” she tells Yahoo Life, noting that her 9-year-old Briar Rose, who she shares with ex-partner Hayden Christensen, has already started exhibiting stereotypical adolescent behaviors. “She won't hold my hand necessarily in public that much anymore, and that's a little heartbreaking. But she's still such a love [who] cuddles [with me]. And it's still ‘Mommy’ all the time. So I have that. I'm trying to hold on to that for as long as possible.”
Bilson says her daughter is also coming into her own by stepping up to care for the family’s “sassy" Shih Tzu mix, Gertie. “We love her, and my daughter just loves having her, and she's really good with her,” she shares. “She does a lot [to care for Gertie]. We haven't gotten to her picking up the poop or cleaning up her butt when she is a mess, because that happens all the time. But she's good with other things. It's a really good lesson and responsibility, because you are taking care of a living thing. It brings that love with responsibility, which are two huge things that go together.”
Bilson, who recently joined Nutrish to donate 30,000 lbs. of food and $10,000 for Pasadena Humane Society's "Dog Day of Service," is a self-described “big advocate for emotional support animals.” And when it comes to her best advice for parents who want to prepare their child for a pet, she’s all for kids leading the charge.
“I feel like kids get parents ready,” she says. “Kids come with so much like, ‘I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna wake up, I'm going to take them out’ [energy]. Of course, that's not really going to happen — at least not all the time. Kids do their job. But you will have to do most of it. Just having a consistent companion, like a dog or whatever animal you choose, is a great thing for kids to have — or for any human to have.”
An adoration of animals is just one of many things mother and daughter have in common. Briar Rose’s current interests and sense of style can't help but remind Bilson of her own when she was her age. “The clothes and Claire's and Bath & Body Works — wait a minute! I'm really re-living my junior high [days],” she laughs. “[It’s like,] ‘Slow down, you’re only 9.’ Some of it is fun and nostalgic. I'm like, ‘Do they still have Cucumber Melon at Bath & Body Works?’”
Big picture-wise, Bilson can’t help but beam about her kid's warmhearted personality. “I think that I'm just proud of her — the kid that she is,” says the Broad Ideas podcast host. “She's so considerate, and all the parents are always like, ‘Your daughter is so kind.’ And I feel like that's the most important thing you can ask for in your parenting. If you hear that from other people, it feels like, ‘OK, we're doing something right.’ But she's just a rad kid. She's my best friend. It's just so cool to have this little buddy all the time.”
That’s not to say that Bilson doesn’t experience the occasional parenting challenge like anyone else. “The TV battle in the morning before school is like our daily [issue] because we don't have time,” she notes. “The mornings are rushed. [I’ll say,] ‘You're not watching TV before we go to school.’ And that's always like, ‘But Mom, Bluey’s only five minutes.’ She tries to play that card.”
She’s also helping Briar Rose navigate changing social dynamics. “Kids will go to the negative in their mind, and I keep reinforcing, ‘That’s a story you’re telling yourself. That’s not a true story. That’s something you’re telling yourself to not make yourself feel good, so why don’t we choose something that makes us feel good?’” explains Bilson. “That’s been our through line, especially this year, in third grade as she’s getting older.”
This lesson goes hand in hand with teaching her daughter to advocate for herself and feel stable and secure in her sense of self. “It’s important to teach them confidence within themselves,” she points out. “So I'm always complimenting her on her kindness and how she treats people, because I think that's so much more important than her being good at something external [like sports].”
No matter what curveballs may come up, the proud mom is focused on being “a supportive, nurturing parent.” “As a parent, every day, you’re just like, ‘I really hope I’m not f***ing this up,’” Bilson admits. But she knows that, at the end of the day, as long as Briar Rose is “happy, healthy, kind, showing up in school and whatever extracurriculars she’s into,” all is well.
“The biggest thing I think is to not be hard on yourself,” she says. “We're all out there doing the best we can, and that's all we can do.”