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The Psychological Significance of the Kitchen Table

September 2, 2011

With a blog called the Oldways Table, you can be sure we place some significance on the meaning of a shared meal. The table has always played a role here at Oldways: It has been a place for us to gather and solve food issues, learn about new cultures, and enjoy new cuisines from around the world. But when we think about the importance of coming together for meals with family or friends, to share traditions and good times, there is something more to it, an even deeper meaning.  So when Allison Gamble approached us with a blog post centered on the actual “Psychological Significance of the Kitchen Table” we just loved the idea and couldn’t wait for her to share her thoughts with us and with you!  Without further ado:

The Psychological Significance of the Kitchen Table

Far more than a flat surface upon which to dine, the kitchen table can be the heartbeat of a family. It’s a place to gather, to talk and to reconnect. Parents look back on the times spent around the kitchen table when they were growing up and long to recreate those memories with their children. But what, exactly, is it that makes the kitchen table so important to the family?

Though the legacy has grown over the years, even in today’s contemporary world, the modest kitchen table continues to be a center of activity. It doesn’t take a psychology degree to see why – meals are prepared at it, homework is done under a mother’s watchful eye at it and games are played around it. When company comes over, they gravitate into the kitchen to keep their host company and naturally sit at the table there to relax.

Cozy and Close
Dining room tables might be huge, but kitchen tables tend to be small. They’re cozy. They’re comfortable. They beckon the family to gather around and sit a little closer to each other. In this day of busy lives, extra-curricular activities for the children and electronics, families don’t spend a great deal of time in close proximity to each other. The table works to bring families back into a comfortable distance for actually sharing a conversation.

The meal that’s served doesn’t matter, whether it’s on paper plates or Grandmother’s fine china. The only thing that matters is that the family is taking time to gather and talk to each other. The University of Illinois at Urbana reports on the incredible importance of talking to each other. The fact is that without taking the time to talk, relationships wither and die. The University also reports that eating helps people to relax, and when they are relaxed they are more open.

Captive Audience
Over the years, the kitchen table has been a place for gathering over meals and sharing conversations. Secrets were shared between sisters, and parents can counsel their children, removed from the activities in the rest of the house. For many children, the perfect opportunity to talk with their mother was while she prepared meals. She could keep an eye on dinner and catch up on what was going on in her child’s life at the same time. Mealtimes were spent eating and talking, sharing information and connecting with each other. For many people, the kitchen table is synonymous with family time and real conversations.

It’s hard to find time to do things in today’s busy world. But everyone has to eat. Making mealtime regular family time provides the regularity that is needed for maintaining strong connections. When families spend time together regularly and consistently, it doesn’t feel forced. It feels natural and welcome, making the family members more willing to open up and stay connected.

A Workstation
The kitchen table has done double and triple duty. Even before electricity found its way into American homes, the kitchen table would be used for homework, sewing and other household tasks. Meals were prepared there, children were taught there, and families grew and matured as the kitchen table silently watched. Considering how much time early American families spent gathered around this basic wooden structure, it’s no wonder that people continue to feel drawn to the kitchen table.

Unplugged
Away from the kitchen table, the TV distracts our attention from each other. Phone calls intrude and there is always the allure of looking out the windows to see what’s outside. At the kitchen table, however, the focus remains on the table and on the other people around it. The TV is forgotten in another room, phones can be turned off and other distractions can fade away when the family gathers around and turns the focus to each other.

Science Daily reports that eating, surfing the web and work are increasingly performed at the same time. While your teenagers might be talking to friends on their computers, odds are, they’re not talking to the people they live with. Gathering around the kitchen table gives parents a chance to get their children to unplug from the electronic world and plug in to family.

Better Health
Children who eat with their families tend to be healthier than children who don’t. They are at less risk for obesity and eating disorders and have better eating habits. When meals are taken together as a family, the children are able to model the healthy eating habits of their parents. Table manners can be learned, along with enjoying family conversations that help keep everyone together. While dining rooms are fine for these gatherings, there is something more relaxed and intimate about the kitchen table.

When you stop to consider the long and colored history of the kitchen table, it becomes clear that this simple piece of furniture is a part of family culture that is as comforting and welcome as children’s birthday parties, and fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Every family, no matter how close, can benefit from gathering together for this familiar ritual.

Allison Gamble has been a curious student of psychology since high school. She brings her understanding of the mind to work in the weird world of internet marketing with psychologydegree.net.

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