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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sesame Street and Divorce

Hey Sesame Street, Thanks for Caring!

So did you see that Sesame Street is tackling divorce.  Kind of an interesting story, of which I only know part, but will pass along what I do know.  First, Sesame Street has been on the air for 40 years, and has only tackled divorce one time, back in the 90’s, with the possibility that Snuffleupagus’s parents were facing divorce, but they dropped it because kids got too upset about it.  Now, they are giving it another go, trying to avoid the mistakes of the past, but still dealing with this highly prevalent issue.  In fact, according to their own website, they say that: 

Divorce is one of the most common major transitions in children's lives, with 40 percent of all children experiencing the divorce of their parents. With Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce, Sesame Street has created much-needed resources for families with young children (ages 2-8) as they encounter the tough transitions that come with divorce."

Forty percent of all children (presumably in the U.S., though it doesn't say).  Pretty amazing, isn’t it?  And terribly, terribly sad.  Just one more thing in our world that children have to deal with because of the choices of grownups. 

I think Sesame Street has taken on a big challenge themselves and walking a very tough line.  I commend them for trying, the needs they seek to address are very real.   And some will like what they do, some won’t, it’s almost a no win situation for them, but the folks at Sesame Street have tried to make a choice to try to help some kids and parents desperately in need of that help.  Their goal is to provide something that divorcing/divorced parents can use to assist them as they talk to their children.  With that goal, they try to avoid imposing any moral judgments on divorce, choosing to adopt a fairly neutral stance.  It is a difficult task, but one that is potentially critical.

I watched the video they have online, and thought I’d offer my two cents into the discussion.  In the discussion, the little puppet named Abby Cadabby (which is pretty weird in itself) is a youngster whose parents are divorced.   She simply states that she lives at one house with her mommy and at the other house with her daddy.  Just says this is how her life is….no further comment.  You know, that isn’t a bad thing to do.  Yes, there may be rights and wrongs, parents who brought about a divorce by poor choices and bad behaviors, but regardless of that, the situation a child lives in afterward is simply the reality they have to face day by day.   How do you address something as a common reality, without also describing it as “normal.”   That is what I think many people are afraid of, that the skit will somehow teach children that divorce is “normal,” when the preference would be that the norm that should be highlighted is for a husband and wife to married, “till deal do us part.”  But to make that argument misses the point.

The point isn’t whether or not divorce is “normal, right” or anything like that.  The point is, it IS normal for a child in a divorce situation to have a different kind of home life, and normal for that child to have a variety of difficult feelings and confusing thoughts.  I mean, good grief, even the divorcing parents experience difficult feelings and confusion….how could the children NOT?

What the videos do is a pretty good job of highlighting the fact that a divorce between a mom and dad is not something the child caused, nor is it inappropriate for the child to struggle with their feelings as their world changes so radically.  It seeks to help the children understand that their parents love them, and to not mistake the mess of the divorce with an abandonment of love for their kids.  I think the reassurance for the kids’ sake is an important reassurance to offer….and I can imagine a parent watching this with their young children and, as a result, reminding the child that they are loved.  Of course, if I were speaking to the adult, I might would challenge the adult in what their definition of love is….to evaluate whether their love is one that will lay down their own interests for the good of others, or whether it is conditional and self-serving.  But as for the CHILDREN, they need to know the security of their parents’ love, especially as they witness love between mom and dad disappearing. 

I also like that Gordon, in explaining divorce, refers to it as something that parents decide when their marriage doesn't work out….”even though they try and try.”  Of course, one could argue about how hard they tried and so forth, but remember the audience of the video:  the writers speaking through Gordon aren't trying to justify anything, simply trying to describe in a pretty neutral way what it was the children of divorce have witnessed. 

In addition to the video clips, there are other tools available there to use, including some suggestions of things you can use to encourage your kids, things they need to hear.  And because the video is in the context of explaining to two OTHER puppets what it means that Abby’s parents are divorced, it could also be helpful for those who have young children whose friends have parents divorcing.  What I think I like best about the little video is that it tries really hard to avoid any implication of a stigma upon the child because they come from a “broken home.”  That esteem lowering adage has been the plague of children of divorce for many years. 

Bottom line, thanks to Sesame Street for trying to help.  Is everything they have created for this perfect?  Probably not.  I can pick at some things if I wanted to do so, but why would I?  Children in divorced homes need all the help they can get, and parents who are trying to help their children do, too.  I appreciate the effort, and if there is something somebody disagrees with, they can certainly either not use that part, or simply explain their viewpoint to their children themselves.   I hate that there is such a great need, but I appreciate that somebody is actively doing something to try to help “40% of the children.”  If you are looking for something to help your kids with, or know somebody else who is, Sesame Street’s production is at least worth looking into.  Thanks, Elmo! (and all his friends)

For the Sesame Street episode and a link to their resources:


TL:dr  Sesame Street has put together a pretty useful tool to help kids struggling with divorcing parents.  Worth giving a look see.  

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