A friend recently pointed out in their son’s 2nd Grade ‘Dinim’ book (for the study 1f Jewish Law) that, at the Friday night table, the father sits at the head. They asked if this was in fact based in Halakha (indeed, the 2nd grade text is sorely lacking in footnotes). In truth, it’s not a halakha, but it’s pretty well-ingrained in the collective Jewish consciousness that der Tatte stands at the head of the table and recites Kiddush. And there’s a certain power to that consciousness. At the same time, there’s something wrong with calling it dinim. I say, say what the halakha says, and let the kid learn the rest at home – like I did.
Perhaps another alternative is to represent the ideal Shabbat table through pictures, thereby communicating those values more subtly. Of course, that can easily alienate anyone whose family is not ideal (irreligious, single-parent, Sephardi, etc.), kinda like the there-are-no-blacks-on-the-Jetsons phenomenon.
At home, I usually sit at the head, but sometimes not. The Rebbetzin sometimes sits at the other end, and sometimes not. Growing up, we both sat to our fathers’ immediate right (we’re both eldest children). She call that ‘in kissing range’, and I call it ‘within smacking range’.
My father himself, though a youngest child, grew up sitting ‘in smacking range’. In fact, he’d get smacked whenever any of his siblings misbehaved, under the instruction ‘give that to him/her later on’. Amazing how our Shabbes Tischn can be so similar yet so different.