Have you heard? Sesame Street is tackling the issue of divorce. It's not the first time, apparently they wrote and shot a segment on divorce in the 90's (ironically featuring the most endearing depressed character ever, Snuffelupagus) but amazingly during screenings it made people sad so they scrapped it.
They've decided to give it a go again. You can see some of the video segments on the Sesame Street website. Yes, my kids are way beyond the Sesame Street phase of life, but I found out about this via a blog post on the HuffPost Divorce site. I read that post, watched the videos and came to this conclusion:
D is for Divorce, and that's not good enough for me (sorry, Cookie Monster).
Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that I think the fact that this iconic television show/media entity is addressing divorce is bad or wrong; had this "kit" (as they call it on the website) been available when my marriage first started unraveling and the kids were younger I may have given it a shot. What I have an issue with is the ideas about it that they appear to be expressing. It's kind of like they're glossing over it, like covering marks and flaws on a wall with primer before putting down the final coat of paint.
Yes, I understand that this is a show for preschoolers. I get that they aren't going to have Oscar the Grouch sitting on a therapist's couch talking about abandonment issues and troubles with his self-worth that stem from his parent's divorce.
But...from what I read in the HuffPost blogger's article, and from what I saw in the videos on the website, I think that they are making it seem like divorce is just another easy-breezy solution to one of life's pesky problems. It reminded me of a segment that could have aired, titled "Jimmy Gets His Tonsils Removed". Only this one is about a Muppet Fairy who has two houses now.
My biggest problem with this whole thing is a two-parter. First part is, they are showing divorce from the perspective of a character whose parents divorced very amicably, and what seems to be at least a couple of years in the past. She explains to her curious friends, with the help of Gordon, that nothing has changed, that "Mommy is still my mommy and Daddy is still my daddy". Which is GREAT. What I wish they would address, though, is the inevitable sadness, the worry and yes, the grief that happens when divorce hits a family. This seems a little too light and sparkly (and yes again I have to remind myself it's for wee little ones) but having been a parent to little ones and also as someone who works with preschoolers, I can attest to the fact that they do indeed hurt during this process. They hurt big, no matter how easy Mom and Dad may make it look .
I think the group that will benefit the most from this are the friends and classmates of the kids who are going through divorce. It may make it easier for them to understand what is meant by "divorce" and why some days Sophia gets dropped off at her mommy's house and sometimes at Daddy's.
My marital status very, very rarely comes up when I'm working around kids, but when it does, sometimes you'd think I just told them that I eat puppies for dinner. "What do you mean, Miss Jenny...there is no DADDY at your house?". In cases like this, maybe it will make things less uncomfortable for the kids who are going through a divorce. And that's not a bad thing.
The second part that rubs me the wrong way about giving divorce the Sesame Street treatment is this: I think it's planting a little seed in the very open, very absorbent minds of young, developing kids: divorce is okay. Divorce is what happens when mommy and daddy decide they don't want to/cannot live with each other anymore. Hey, you get two houses! Your dad will still get down on all fours and give you horsey rides! Mom will carve pumpkins with you!
For some kids, that is how it all goes down. Mom and Dad decide, as a couple, that things just aren't repairable. They both approach the divorce with preparedness, and an acceptance, knowing that this was a decision made by both parties. These are the kids, in my humble opinion, that this video kit was made for. I'm not denying that these kids are sad, and I'm not saying that their sadness is any less valid than any other children's sadness.
But...and there's always a but...for many kids, and many parents, this is not how divorce happens. Some kids wake up one day and Daddy has moved out, the hangers in his side of the closet now empty and his car gone from the garage. Some kids don't see Mommy for a few weeks or even months at a time, and when they do, it's in the parking lot of some stupid restaurant approximately halfway between her house and daddy's house.
For some kids, time at Daddy's house means meeting a string of girlfriends. Sometimes Mommy ends up living with someone who isn't exactly father-of-the-year material.
For some kids, Mommy and Daddy aren't going to sit on the couch side by side and tell them how sad they are that their marriage is ending. Some Mommies and Daddies don't talk to each other, sometimes they can't even look at each other. Some kids, sadly, end up being the messengers..."Dad said he can't take us on Thursday because he has a party to go to" or "Mom wants us to be home a little earlier tonight".
Unfortunately, from what I've read and heard and experienced, that's how a lot of divorces pan out.
The blogger on the HuffPost site closed her post (which I really did enjoy, and I'm not dissing her point of view at all here) by saying:
Divorce isn't necessarily bad. Divorce doesn't have to be a huge
change. Divorce can be good. Divorce is not different. Divorce is
This is where I have to respectfully disagree. And this is where I find myself not liking the "divorce is okay" state of mind.
Divorce is a huge change. It's massive. Aside from a parent dying, I can't think of anything else that will impact a child more than divorce. Denying that is not only dismissive, it's kind of insulting to the child (and the adults) who do feel the change, feel it down to their core.
Divorce is different. If a child has been living with mommy and daddy, as a family, from day one? Divorce is very different. It is something that, like my ex said as he left, "happens every day", and yes, people do move on from it, but don't fool yourself: it's different. Even under the most ideal circumstances, anyone involved in the divorce is going to feel that difference. Mom, dad, kids, grandparents, friends...nothing is ever quite the same. Is it bad? No, not necessarily. Sometimes it IS good. But it's always different.
And I guess that is what really makes this whole thing stick in my craw a bit: I don't want my kids to grow up thinking that divorce is a great alternative to marriage. I don't want them going into a marriage thinking, "Meh...if this doesn't work out, we can always get divorced." I want my kids to recognize not only the importance of marriage (or a partnership, I can be progressive, ya know), but the meaning of commitment. I want them to go into their adult lives knowing how to make well thought-out choices and be the kind of people who will go that extra mile to make things work. Not only in their relationships, but in every aspect of life.
I want my kids to be the kind of spouses for whom divorce is the very, very last, the very rock-bottom option.
I'm not stupid. I'm not living in a fantasy world. Life doesn't always work out how we think it will. People change, life changes. Nothing is guaranteed, and nothing is a certainty. But I'd like to think that maybe, just maybe, if divorce wasn't so readily available, such a viable option, things would be a lot different for so many people. I'd like to hear more stories of people who have worked through their differences, people who thought about quitting but decided that the time and blood and sweat and tears that they've invested in their families is worth giving it everything they've got. Call me naive, if you will. But that's how I feel.
Yes, this is my reaction to a simple little video on Sesame Street. You should have seen me when Cookie Monster started rapping about healthy foods.
Please let me know what you think about all of this...I'm curious to find out if my own "big feelings" have muddled my views, or if others have similar opinions.
Happy 12/12/12, everyone!