As a family therapist I am interested in context—why is a child seen as bossy at home but not at school? What allows a couple to have a lively conversation in a restaurant on Saturday night, but not in their own kitchen?
In my work with The Family Dinner Project, I encourage families to have more dinners with one another, and part of my strategy is to look for the elements of dinner that are playful and easy to change. Context is a prime one. If you change the seating or set the table with care, maybe even with flowers and candles, a new mood is created, and a new conversation may develop. This is also why, as a family therapist, I encourage my clients to sit in different seats in my office: perspectives can change when you see the world from a different vantage point.
At home, my young adult sons would much rather crowd around our too-small kitchen table for dinner than let their 6-foot-plus frames sprawl and spill around our more spacious dining room table. It’s not just the smaller size that feels cozier, but eating in the kitchen feels homier than eating in the dining room, which is where guests eat, not sons reclaiming their places at the regular family table. What’s more, my sons always tuck into their customary seats around the table — no matter how long they’ve been away.
When I talk to other families, most tell me the same thing: each family member sits in the same chair night after night. No one can quite remember how these decisions were made. But, in most families, it is considered a subversive act to claim a seat that isn’t yours….