Is the kids’ table a thing of Thanksgivings past?

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Thanksgiving is only a short time off, and that means many of you are planning your meals, shopping for food, and inviting your families. What about the kids? Are you having a kids’ table this year, or will the munchkins be sitting among the grown-ups?

When I was growing up, which was decades ago, the kids usually sat at a separate table from the parents. There was nothing sinister about this. Usually it was because there were a limited number of chairs to fit around the big table, and every host had a kid-size table that worked perfectly for the youngsters. The kids ate the same foods and even had their own basket of brown-n-serve rolls. Still, like many innocent things, the tradition of the kids’ table is now a controversy.

Three reasons to say no 

Some parents believe Thanksgiving dinner is an ideal time to show children how to behave, how to be polite, and how to wait their turn when adults are talking. (Apparently these lessons don’t happen during regular meals at home?) Instead of banishing them to an island all their own, adults should compassionately guide them in how to interact in a formal situation.

Practically, some adults abandon the idea of a separate table for kids because it means they have to be jumping up from their meals to tend to second helpings, spilled drinks, food fights and misbehavior. Having the kids right next to an adult often eliminates these problems.

Finally, incorporating kids with the adults for Thanksgiving may temper the conversations. If your turkey dinner crowd tends to get bawdy, political or argumentative, the innocent babes around the table may remind them to maintain civility.

Are we damaging our kids?

The main issue parents have with a separate table for kids is that they fear their children will suffer emotionally if they think they are somehow less important than the adults in the room. The kids’ table conjures images of the parents sitting at an elegant table with fine china while the kids eat off paper plates at a rickety card table. Apparently, the belief is that relegating kids to a lesser table guarantees that by the time they are old enough to eat with the grown-ups, they will be pregnant, drug addicts, depressed, and obese.

If a kids’ table is really necessary, some believe it should be filled with crafts, activities and special entertainment so the children will not feel like they are unwelcome or don’t belong. I can’t imagine hosting Thanksgiving dinner and also having to create this kind of setup for the kids!

The dynamic of the kids’ table

I did an informal poll on Facebook, and the Millennials who responded genuinely enjoyed sitting at a separate table for Thanksgiving. My kids called it “the cousins’ table,” and they spent their time forging friendships that endure today. We gathered at my parents’ house, and the kids had a table within view of every adult in the room. The kids table got longer each year, and many who reached their teens were melancholy about graduating to the adult table. I remember the unbridled laughter coming from the cousin’s table, and I often envied it.

Those who reject the idea of the kids’ table as some kind of banishment are probably not seeing it—or presenting it—in the right light. Kids don’t need fancy dishes, entertainment or lessons in manners to enjoy Thanksgiving. And a separate table does not have to be an ousting of second-class citizens. In fact, as my friend Judy explained, sitting apart from the adults is an honor and an act of trust. You allow your kids to enjoy the day without subjecting them to the watchful eyes and boring conversations of the grownups.

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