CelebVillage: Felicity Huffman: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly About Family Dinners

The actress and mom writes in her first exclusive blog for iVillage's blog series, CelebVillage, about how the family ritual "has relieved me of carrying around old baggage from the past"

In her first blog for the iVillage blog series CelebVillage, actress and mom Felicity Huffman writes about about how sharing family dinners with actor husband William H. Macy and daughters Sophia, 11, and Georgia, 9 (pictured below looking at the camera) has "relieved me of carrying around old baggage from the past."

Before our daughters were born, my husband and I were used to a nomadic, gypsy lifestyle. We were always traveling for work or if we were in the same city at the same time, we would be on different schedules. I remember one morning when Bill woke me up at 5 a.m. because I had an early set call. He had been shooting all night and was just going to bed. He had a cup of coffee in one hand for me and a glass of scotch in the other hand for himself.

But when our first child was born, something changed in him. No more sitting at the kitchen counter drinking beer and eating day-old Chinese food. He wanted family dinners, a proper sitdown family dinner. He had his family history and I had mine. The lack of family unity had created a vacuum in his life, but it had created an aversion in mine. I hated family dinners. They were something to be endured growing up: the boring conversations, my mother overwhelmed and grumpy, my father just sitting there and not helping, my sisters always on some weird diet and not being able to eat the food. I found them depressing. And now with a new baby in the house they felt like more than I could take.

Now I have to admit, I think I was a little depressed anyway after my daughter was born. There were many episodes of me standing in the shower sobbing hysterically while my husband stood outside the glass door holding the baby, telling me everything was going to be alright and would I please now get out of the shower. That passed, thankfully, but not Bill’s desire to start having family dinners. So, dutifully, like taking medicine that tastes awful, we started having FAMILY DINNERS. I don’t know why they filled me with existential despair, but they did. I knew they were supposed to be good for you. They give your children a firm foundation, a sense of safety, and supposedly do all sorts of wonderful things like keep them off drugs, raise their test scores and help them avoid teen pregnancy.

So, we established the Macy/Huffman or the Muffman (as we call ourselves) family dinner. When the children were little we endured the unappetizing toddler food -- plain broccoli, fish sticks, pasta or whatever we could find the time to cook. Even when the dinners lasted 15 minutes (because that is about how long a toddler can sit), we stuck to the ritual because it takes commitment.

I found that over the years family dinners did give us what was promised: Rituals remind us of what is important and provide a sense of stability and continuity in our lives. It gives our family a solid meeting ground every night; the structure does give a sense of safety and unity.

Here is what I didn’t expect: They are actually, truly, surprisingly fun. Not like medicine at all. Wonderful watershed events have happened at our family table. When our youngest was two, she finally said her sister’s name out loud for the first time, which made her sister do a dance of joy around our kitchen. When our oldest was nine, she suddenly threw her arms in the air and shouted, “I can’t wait to grow boobs and get my period!” Bill fell off his chair.

I have actually learned to cook a little and enjoy it. I am now in love with writers of cookbooks and not just writers of novels. I have a crush on Jamie Oliver and feel like Gwyneth Paltrow is a personal friend. I want to write them a thank-you note when a recipe works out. I found Laurie David’s cookbook The Family Dinner to be a lifeline. I love it! It’s not only filled with great recipes, it’s got wonderful ideas for dinnertime conversations and inventive ways to get your kids talking and the whole family to start sharing ideas, dreams or just silliness. We go around the table and take turns saying what our happiest moment of the day was, or we play “high/low” or I get to learn about everyone’s day and I practice just listening, which I hope will come in handy when my girls are teenagers.

I love dinnertime now. We have created our own family ritual and it has relieved me of carrying around old baggage from the past. I don’t know if it will keep my daughters off drugs, or give them the backbone to stand up to pushy boyfriends, or raise their test scores, but in shooting for a long-term benefit I have gained a short-term blessing. At least four nights a week, my family sits down together, says a prayer of gratitude, and enjoys each other’s company.

Now if anyone has an idea on how to get the kids to do the dishes, I’ll make you dinner and you can tell me the happiest moment of your day.

Follow Felicity Huffman on Twitter at @FelicityHuffman and check out her official Facebook pageAnd her new site for women and moms, WhatTheFlicka.com, is coming soon! And click here to read more exclusive posts in the CelebVillage series.

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