Anticipating the Busbys, the family of eight at the center of TLC’s hit reality show OutDaughtered, is like awaiting one of those Houston hurricanes the local meteorologists get all worked up about, then downgrade to fine crawfish boil weather.
In the minutes before they get to the shoot, healthy snacks are arrayed. “Baby Shark” is put on the Sonos. Someone has been dispatched to procure more toys. (“Why did we not bring more toys???”), and now that nothing can be done about it, someone notices there’s not a child window guard in the place. “They’re here,” the bookings manager utters, and the location fills with the tense silence of adult New Yorkers separated from their Klonopin.
The Busbys arrive unperturbed. Adam, 37, comes in first, toting a serious camera (“Does he not know we have one?”) and one of his 4-year-old quintuplets — “quints” in Busby shorthand — followed by Danielle’s mother, Michelle Theriot, and Danielle’s good friend Priscilla Hartranft, herding three more, then the Busbys’ older daughter, 8-year-old Blayke, and a friend she’s brought along for non-4-year-old company. Danielle, 35, brings up the rear carrying a cranky fifth quint, Riley, who at 4 is already known by millions as the family wild card.
Perhaps because they have just awakened from their nap, the children are astonishingly well behaved. Not robotically so, not like something weird is going on, just like their parents have somehow impressed upon each of them — maybe by having five other children, which is a great way to drive home that there is no “I” in team — what constitutes acceptable behavior.
Placed on a sofa where they wait their turn for a bathroom escort, they mostly look around and talk quietly to each other. Two stand up on the couch to look out a large picture window into which much faith is placed, there being no window guard and all. When Danielle and Adam, whom Danielle affectionately calls “Buzz,” go into the other room to review the stylist’s wardrobe recommendations, the girls don’t, say, wrap their bodies around their parents’ limbs and moan that they want to go home.
The Busbys are Ava (“we call her our lazy one”) and Olivia, nicknamed Lulu, the identical pair within the larger quint universe. There is Hazel in her glasses. There is Parker (“our anxious one”) and Riley, “the bad one.” (“You can’t label her the bad one, Danielle. She is not bad,” says Adam. He reframes it: “Riley is extremely intelligent.”) There is Blayke, who her parents still refer to as their “little princess.” This feels like it can’t possibly be a fair summation of a child’s personality until you meet Blayke and recognize her grace of carriage and sober appreciation of her Duty as the quintessential markers of a child monarch. (There is also a mini French bulldog puppy named Beaux, but he didn’t make the trip.)
This is not Blayke’s first time in New York City, she explains patiently. Patience and thoughtful quietude are Blayke’s whole deal, and find their full expression when, from her end of the couch, she orchestrates the type of game only a certain caliber of big sister can. Having gathered the quints around, she hits each of them in the head softly enough to elicit giggles rather than mutiny but hard enough to get some satisfaction.
“It was a hobby before, and then it became an obsession,” Adam is saying of his photography. While everyone else gets styled, he uses the camera he brought, a Canon 5D Mark IV, to shoot and narrate video for the Busbys’ YouTube channel. When they aren’t filming the show, Adam puts up one or two videos a week, which can mean up to 10 hours of editing. He just hired an editor to share the load, he reports as he crouches to frame a shot between the leaves of a potted plant — “Ava, look at Daddy!” — then turns his lens on Blayke getting her hair braided. “We’re doing a cover,” he intones for the Busbys’ almost one million subscribers. Blayke, who is the spitting image of Danielle, ever so briefly vogues.
Just like certain people have different roles as being missionaries or working on a ranch or a reality TV show, we're sharing our stories in different ways.
When it’s time for the actual shoot to begin, the one he is in, Adam insists on wearing his own jeans — the stylist brought one size too big, and Buzz doesn’t do baggy — and hands the camera to Priscilla to take over.
Bouncy balls are distributed to jovial chaos, and Adam asks that someone play Katy Perry’s “Roar,” the girls’ favorite song. The Busbys take their places. It’s like they’ve done this before.
OutDaughtered started, like all great non-Kardashian reality TV stories, with a blog. The origin myth, which is apparently true, goes like this: Adam and Danielle Busby, two good-natured kids from Lake Charles, Louisiana, fell in love when they were both 19 and working at the local Target. They got married almost three years later and wanted to start a family immediately — they both loved kids. Turns out, they struggled with fertility and ultimately conceived their first child, Blayke, through intrauterine implantation (IUI). Blayke was their everything, but they wanted more. They set their sites on Baby #2, and the second round of IUI worked. They were very open to multiples, but they got the shock of their lives when they counted not two, not three, but four embryos in Danielle’s uterus. And then one of those split — LOL — and there were five.
Word spread quickly, and practically everyone they’d ever met wanted to know what was going on with them, so Adam created Itsabuzzworld.com. They thought, “Once a week, we can just put an update of how Danielle’s doing, how the girls are doing, weekly belly photos and whatnot.” By Adam’s account, it had over 400 million page views in a few months. “Naturally, whenever something goes that viral, we started getting phone calls.“
Here the narrative gets a little fuzzy. When production companies started showing interest, the Busbys say, they were thinking mostly about how to get a free, no-joke production quality video of the quints’ birth. Danielle was having a C-section and feared that over the course of delivering five babies while under pretty serious local anesthetic, she might miss parts, especially since the quints would be hauled immediately to the NICU. “We don't find ourselves that interesting. So, at the very least, this is going to be a great documentary for us,” Adam recalls thinking.
But they also saw where it could go. I mean, they were having “the first set of all-girl quintuplets in the U.S.” — a phrase that gets repeated throughout OutDaughtered’s four seasons, as though the marketing team is afraid no one will watch a show about another kind of quint. Surely that meant something.
“We prayed about it,” Danielle says. Members of a nondenominational church in League City, Texas, where they have lived since before the quints were born, the Busbys don’t hide the role of faith in their life, although the show seems to edit out much mention of G-O-D. “We talked about how, it's just crazy that we're even being approached [for] this, and it's so crazy that we have all these kids. But we saw a greater story above ourselves, and I think that's what made us feel comfortable with saying, ‘OK. We're going to do this.’ Because we just kind of trusted in our path that God was laying in front of us.”
“Ultimately, we were holding out for an offer from TLC,” Adam says. “It’s [where] we knew we would have the best success.”
I don't like to say arguments. I like to say passionate discussions.
The themes OutDaughtered has stuck to since the pilot aired in 2016, when the quints were just over a year old, work because they highlight relatable issues arising within the fantastical circumstance of having five multiples plus an older child: the need for ever more money and space; the tension between work and family life, and how needlessly difficult the former makes the latter; the way help evaporates after the initial excitement of your children’s first days. OutDaughtered covers how to stay married while co-parenting, with its hidden dragons of uneven labor distribution and conflicting child-rearing perspectives you didn’t even know you had. There are in-law issues — Michelle, whom the children and the viewers know as “Mimi,” brought some drama to the quints’ early days, which did not go unremarked by Adam. (He’s mellowed about it now. “She was going through a rough season,” he says.) One quint, Hazel, was born with nystagmus, an incurable eye condition, and the show follows her treatment closely.
And then there is the overarching question built into every episode and also, you know, the Busbys’ whole existence: Are they, in fact, out-daughtered? And if they are not overwhelmed — emotionally, financially, logistically — by raising six kids on an income whose sources do not include a job in private equity, what wisdom do they have to share with the rest of us?
The Busbys have been concern trolled for all manner of perceived parenting missteps: Having locks on the quints’ bedroom doors, playing a prank on the quints, moving the whole family into Crystal’s house rather than a hotel when they found out they had mold. For posting sponsored content, for the “from a box” food they posted the sponcon about, for feeding said food to the kids in the car. They get very little criticism for the fact that they are raising their children on television. Still, when asked how they raise well-adjusted kids with a film crew in their house 12 hours a day, five days a week for two months at a time, the Busbys are ready.
“Of course there's boundaries and rules,” Danielle says. They don’t let the kids film without a parent present, which means no camera crews following Blayke on playdates. They also don’t require the girls to be on camera. “If our kids are not feeling it at that moment, we have to be able to accept that. When Blayke comes home from school, if she needs to just have down time and rest, that's it. She's 8. She doesn't have to do this right now.“
Blayke is the most aware of their home life being filmed, and because of the format, which involves lots of Adam and Danielle sitting down in the living room talking to the camera about everything from whether Danielle could be pregnant again (she is not) to major financial decisions, she hears her parents discuss things that aren’t necessarily meant for her ears. “It’s kind of interesting that if Blayke is standing in the same room or behind a camera, she [becomes] privy to conversations that would probably be centered in our bedroom.”
It’s still trial and error, but they’re OK with learning as they go along. “We're trying to be as sympathetic as we can,” Adam says, “I feel like we're doing a pretty good job.”
Danielle Busby breastfed five babies for half a year. 'That's all I did for six months was pump, pump, feed, feed, feed, feed.'
One thing Danielle is firm on is that her kids will not think they’re special because they’re on TV. “Others may think of us as far as, ‘You are on TV. You are famous.’ I don't think our kids understand what that word even means. It's just kind of been their life so far.”
In fact, says Adam, the quints find it entertaining. On weekday mornings they sit and watch OutDaughtered reruns on TLC. “They love to laugh at the show, and then they point out family members and laugh at each other and stuff like that. It's really cute to watch.”
Danielle instructs the kids, “This is what we feel God is wanting us to do, is to share our story. We film a TV show to tell others about what we go through in our life and about you and the struggles we have. It's not a bad thing. It's a different thing, but just like certain people have different roles as being missionaries or working on a ranch or a reality TV show, we're sharing our stories in different ways. It's something that we felt called to do, and that's what we're going to do.”
She gets that this explanation will not always suffice. “We're learning as they get older that we have to really help them understand the life and the uniqueness that they do have,” Danielle says. The girls aren’t aware just how many people have watched hours of their lives. “We're just trying to take that day by day and not necessarily put the fear in them that so many people know them. I think we'll face that a little bit more as the quints start school and Blayke gets older and gets to middle school.”
Besides, the being-on-TV thing is only superficially what sets the Busbys apart, Danielle says — there are more families on TV than there are families with quints. “It is a very different life, not because we film TV but because we have six kids,” and despite seeing it on screen, people sometimes forget the challenges of that. Adam is more emotional. “People think that because they're hiding behind a screen, they can say whatever the heck they want about you or about your kids or anything. You're not a human being, you're just there for their entertainment.”
That doesn’t mean they have plans to end it anytime soon. “I don't know what would make me stop,“ says Danielle. It’s actually funny to be asked about that, Adam says, because Blayke asked him the same thing the other night. "’Daddy, how long do you think we'll actually go on this show?’ I was like, ‘Well, Blayke, just think about it. Think about whenever you are grown and get married and have kids. Just think about your kids now being able to go back and watch your entire life unfold. And how cool of an experience that would be.’ And she just looked at me and just smiled. She's like, ‘Yeah, that's going to be really neat.’ And she got super excited about that, like one day to be able to show her own children her whole life growing up. It's pretty cool.”
Besides, the show is doing great. “The feedback that we've been getting from fans and viewers of the show has, for the most part been great,” he says. “They love it, they love our story, they love our family, they love following us. I don't 100% know what would cause us to stop other than just flat-out people just stop watching it.”
One of the stranger aspects of OutDaughtered is the degree to which it focuses on Adam, despite Danielle having given birth to five babies via C-section on camera in 2015. Adam’s paternal postpartum depression was the focus of much of Season 3 and made headlines for weeks. But when you watch the show, especially Seasons 1 through 4, when Adam still worked outside the home, and see Danielle in action through hours of babies crying, her sheer evenness and lack of drama is mesmerizing.
Even more compelling is that she owns it. In her own appraisal, Danielle has always been solid. “I've always been like a really strong woman,” she says. She’s also type A, which made her a great training coordinator for an international oil & gas consultancy before became a stay-at-home parent. “I am already that kind of person who likes color charts and organization and detail. It was very up my alley to be able to do that and organize this new life of taking care of six kids and feeding them every two hours around the clock times five.”
Most fascinating, perhaps, is how little resentment she seems to feel towards her spouse. This could be due to their weekly date nights and general Commitment to their Marriage, which is also a big part of the Busby narrative. Adam learned from his parents’ enduring relationship the importance of prioritizing your marriage, especially when you have kids. “I think it's better for our kids if Mommy and Daddy can actually get away and spend some time just together to work on our marriage, to work on our relationship just because, to a child, whenever you see that your Mommy and Daddy are OK and their relationship is strong and healthy, it does wonders for the kids and their mood and their temperament.”
Since late last year, when Adam quit his job selling safety equipment to the oil industry around the Gulf South, Danielle and Adam are together 24/7, which for some couples might be a recipe for disaster. After 13 years of marriage, Danielle claims to enjoy it. “We like spending time together,” she says.
That’s not to say they don’t argue, which they do, frequently and openly, and this, too, may be the key to the apparent absence of the festering rage that has erupted into a national conversation about emotional labor. (“I don't like to say arguments. I like to say passionate discussions,” says Danielle.) One of the most paradoxical aspects of reality TV is that, in the right hands, it has a way of spotlighting and encouraging functional family systems even in circumstances that seem antithetical to healthy functioning (see: every time one of the Kardashians has cleared the air about feeling left out).
We are not helicopter parents.
The Busbys talk through issues large and small as they arise. Early on, it was Adam’s purchase of a new gadget when they were spending $2000 a month on formula and Danielle's refusal to have sex until he got a vasectomy. (When he was a medium-to-major baby about this, she reminded him that she had just carried and given birth to five humans). In a particularly contentious stretch of Season 3, it was the discovery that Adam had failed to ever book the follow up appointment to confirm that the vasectomy had worked. Yes, the fact that they have these conversations on national television is potentially problematic, but is it worse than sweeping the issues under the rug? Given that they are both on board with the broadcast, probably not.
Like most couples, they divvy up roles, but in a way they each seem happy with. For example, despite or perhaps because of her innate confidence, Danielle communicates almost zero need for attention, whereas Adam appears to enjoy the camera. (There are times when the viewer feels a visceral urge to take him aside and say, with great affection, “My dude, it is not about you.”)
About their divergent skill sets, she is generous. “What he's good at, I suck at. I pick up the other stuff that he sucks at,” she says, although she concedes, “I'm more detail-oriented and like routine and schedule and like the finances and the budgets and stuff like that. He's more of this free spirit. I mean, it's fine. We knew that before we got married.”
It’s maybe unsurprising that Danielle manages to squeeze self-care into the equation, too, and has since the quints were newborns. On top of her struggles to conceive Blayke, she couldn’t breastfeed. “I wasn't able to produce milk with Blayke, and so that was struggle for me. It was kind of hard mentally.” Something flipped the second time around. “With the quints, I was a cow.” You never see it on screen — she supplemented — but Danielle Busby breastfed five babies for half a year. “That's all I did for six months was pump, pump, feed, feed, feed, feed.”
That’s when she took up night running. “It was my sense of stress. I wanted to go running at 9:00 at night, even after I had just got done feeding quintuplets,” she recalls with the calm possession of an actual martyr. “I needed that moment to myself.”
As she’s the first to tell you, her patience isn’t endless. The most fearsome moment in OutDaughtered is an episode in Season 1 when Adam takes Blayke out for a snow cone and loses track of time while Danielle is home alone with five screaming infants, prompting her to call and ask, with admirable restraint, where he is. When Adam comes home to (of course) now silent babies, Danielle heads over to her sister Ashley’s house, surely to plan Adam’s murder. There she confesses that she’s most upset that, two months in, she hasn’t figured out how to manage all six kids alone and had to call for help. And in that chilling moment Danielle Busby, mother of six, apprises all people currently raising small children of two important facts: 1) The pressure modern parents put on themselves is universal, and unconnected to our actual performance, because even reality TV’s most emotionally nimble mom gets down on herself; and 2) If Danielle Busby feels she should be better at this, all of us are effed.
'We don’t push, our hands are for hugging,' Danielle urges, proffering SweeTARTs.
Her patience is fraying further now that the girls are older. “With threenagers, I finally feel defeated. They finally made me want to say, ‘How the heck do I live with y'all?’ Because they're 3, they're 4, they're all over the place. They're tearing up stuff, there's tantrums.”
This would be hard to believe, except that back on set, the gloves are off. The quints have gotten physical over a stuffed giraffe. At least two people are crying. The photographer, selected for her experience working with children, looks full of regret. A break is taken.
“We don’t push, our hands are for hugging,” Danielle urges, proffering SweeTARTs. She must think it’s adorable that someone thought organic cheese cubes and fruit squeezes would get this job done.
Even when overwhelmed, Danielle and Adam do not have the brittle quality of coastal two-income families focused on a specific kind of achievement — of parents stretched so thin the whole operation could shatter under the pressure. In fact, the Busbys’ most defining characteristic may be the absence of the existential anxiety and doubt that millennials notoriously suffer — or indulge, depending who you ask. For viewers who worry deeply about whether a particular parenting decision, however minor, makes them unfit, the Busbys’ lack of anxiety can be both painful and exhilarating.
They say astonishing things like, “I didn't take anything to heart on the days that I felt defeated” and, “We’re not worried,” and “We're not shooting for perfect.”
On the amount of time their kids are on camera: “I think it's broken up quite a bit where you really don't have to worry about it.”
On parenting in general: “I don't think that we've ever second-guessed what we do and what we are doing around our kids.”
As the SweeTART consumption and sofa antics suggest, “We are not helicopter parents,” Danielle, who Michelle parented solo, says. “I was raised and grew up to be pretty strong at a young age and very independent.” She wants the same for the girls, and that includes not saddling the kids with their parents’ fears.“We don't hover over them so that they don't experience hard things because we're scared. Life is not going to be perfect and scare-free as you grow up.”
In the end, it's not about what I'm doing today. It's about the power of passing the kingdom. That's what we strive for.
There’s also the fact that the Busbys ask for and receive a lot of help from the kind of multi-generational extended family support network whose disappearance conservative pundits evoke as evidence of the fraying moral fiber of the nation. Watching Danielle’s sister Ashley, who has her own family, come over at 2 a.m. to help feed newborn quints, you’re inclined to agree with them. When Hazel gets sick the day Adam goes back to work after paternity leave, his parents drove the two hours from Lake Charles to stay. The bro-ishness of brother-in-law Dale, who is married to Danielle’s other sister, Crystal, is annoying until you see the man spend his vacation taking care of the Busbys’ five infants. (Four years later, Uncle Dale’s bond with Hazel has a fandom of its own nested under #dazel on Instagram.)
This support, it turns out, takes a multitude of forms. There's a scene in an early OutDaughtered episode where an awkward family selfie Adam takes with a camera he bought with money they don’t have ends up going viral. A local newborn photographer sees it and offers the Busbys a free newborn portrait session. Mimi is supposed to show up to help but materializes an hour and 15 minutes late with only the feeblest of excuses. You are not only furious at her on the Busbys’ behalf, the situation conjures your own ever-fresh memory of your parents proving totally useless and self-involved in your moment of fourth-trimester need. You practically salivate with righteous indignation.
And then Mimi does something your parents probably have not, which is to prove herself the ultimate hype woman. She hoots in a purple plastic megaphone, she fires off like an L.S.U. cheerleader, “One, two, three! Smile for me!” Blayke, who is then 3 or 4 and melting down, smiles pretty, and bam, the eight Busbys are captured together without a tear in sight.
Four years later in Manhattan, Mimi proves her skills in this department have not waned a bit.
We’ve started shooting again, to yet more tears, when Mimi, shaking a stuffed elephant like no stuffed elephant has ever been shaken, suddenly hollers, “DON’T SAY POO POO!” catching everyone who was not thinking about poop off guard.
The girls erupt in giggles. “POO POO!!!” they shriek.
“WHO TEE TEES ON THE FLOOR?” Mimi calls, a shrill but beloved pastor in the hillsong of childhood.
Wild laughter precipitates the response: “BEAUX!” (House training isn’t going well.)
Later, when there is a break, Mimi and 4-year-old Riley will do a duet of “Uptown Funk” that is best described as unprecedented.
What the trolls have failed to grasp is the Busbys' uncanny certainty about the life they have created, which mostly stems from their faith. Danielle’s description of her approach to the quints’ first weeks at home is a crash course in what might be termed Christian mindfulness. “I can tell you that there wasn't a day that I wasn't seeking constant, daily prayer throughout my day,” she says. “Like, give me strength, Lord. I'm super-exhausted.” She took it a task at a time: “I made it through half the day, let's do the rest.”
Danielle’s calm, in particular, comes from the unity of purpose that that faith lends. No ambivalence passes here. “What I was created for was to be this mom now. To be molded into who I am today, to be able to manage and take care of this big family. I look back at my life and see how God put me in these life situations and kind of, early on, as a child, up until my career that I had to resign from because I am now this mom of six.”
And that extends to the show, too. “What God has been teaching us is that we've been chosen,” Danielle says. “Our purpose is to be these parents, but also to share this story that God's giving to us and what we're living out. Because, in the end, it's not about what I'm doing today. It's about the power of passing the kingdom. That's what we strive for.”
To piggyback on that, as Adam might say, “We know that the battle has already been won, and we can have faith in that. Everything is going to be OK in the long run. All we have to do is just trust that God's going to protect us and keep these kids healthy.”
The Busbys’ faith extends even to those fears that most parents dare not name. “And you know, if He doesn't, if things do not go the way that we wanted them to go, we still have peace about that. We still have an understanding that God is still in control in that situation.”
The girls are playing clap games while the production crew reviews the footage. As the art director calls it, Hazel lines up Goldfish crackers on a rattan ottoman and sings softly, “Uptown funk you up…”
A week before July 4, the Busbys are headed back from a dude ranch in West Texas. It’s a two-hour drive back to League City, so they have time to talk, like they do often, about the future of the Busby brand.
“To come from being just two normal people to being thrust into this position of, ‘Wow. This is our incredible story’ — how do we make the most of it? How do we make the best of it?" Adam asks himself. “Now considered influencers in the parenting space and marriage space and all these different spaces that we're involved in, how do we maximize that?”
Danielle has thought about this a lot. “Adam and I have a lot of visions and a lot of hopes and dreams and a lot of good that we can share and create and do for others. Maybe a nonprofit of some sort to help moms that are struggling with infertility, that go through the NICU life. That's just where my heart is with walking through such a hard time in my life.“
They also see Busby-authored books on the horizon. Something autobiographical, some children’s books co-authored with the kids.
We're not them and we will never be them.
“We know that our show is legitimately helping other people, helping couples, helping families,” Adam says. Even at the ranch out in the middle of Texas, they met a rancher who was born with the same eye condition Hazel has. They got to hear for the first time what it’s like to have nystagmus as an adult and thus what it might be like for Hazel in the future. “I feel like there's so many people out there that have a story to tell, but they just don't feel that people care or that they could potentially help other people with their story.”
Adam’s vision for the future is almost Oprah-esque. “How can we help other people share their story to help other people?” he asks himself, envisioning a utopia where everyone shares their story and has their story received at the same time. “I think that there are people out there that can benefit from anyone and anybody's story. We're just the ones who put ourselves out there.”
The Busbys’ biggest pet peeve is when people compare them to a certain other sprawling cable TV family that is no longer intact. “We get compared a lot to ... I'm not going to name names,” Adam says. “Honestly, that drives me up the wall.”
You can hear his color rising. “We are not them, and we have something together that is completely different than them,” he says. “Whatever the circumstance was that either led to that family separation or struggle that that family had or whatever crazy story that that family went through, that has nothing to do with us. That has nothing to do with decisions that we make. That has nothing to do with the way that we raise our kids. We're not them and we will never be them.” There are scattered showers in a Buzz world but no hurricanes.
“That's their story,” Danielle says. “We've had our own struggles and own story that we have shared openly on our TV show.” Considering how much of themselves they share on national television, Adam and Danielle are almost incredulous that anyone could compare them. “We are not them, and we will never be them,” Danielle repeats. “We are what you see. We are the Busbys.”
New episodes of TLC’s OutDaughtered premiere Tuesdays at 9/8c.
Top image credit, from left to right: Baby Gap dress. H&M button-up shirt, Levi's t-shirt, Adam's own Zara jeans and Nike shoes. Baby Gap dress. Old Navy romper. Boden midi dress. Old Navy dress. Gap Kids romper.
Photographer: Erin Foster
Hair: Karla Hirkaler using Amika
Makeup: Karla Hirkaler using MAKE UP FOR EVER
Stylist: Mecca J Williams
Illustrator: Margaret Flatley