Sesame Street: D is for Divorce?

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 change.

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! 


  1. : - )

    I agree with you as keeping it as a very last resort. Nothing wrong with options being available...but just because you can doesn't mean you IMMEDIATELY should.

    1. Exactly. We have become such an impatient, throw-away society.

      Thank you for reading!

  2. I would have to agree with almost all of what you stated. I grew up in a two parent home and when I got married I thought that it would be what my parents had. Disagreements, but everything would work out in the end. However, like you said, that's just not how things tend to work out in most realities. My wife left me for another man without a real divorce and now I'm here with a two year old that only gets to see "Mommy" on Skype. Now my situation would be difficult to classify as common, but the fact still remains that divorce/separation shouldn't be immortalized as being "okay." It's something people should be taking part in as "death due us part" instead of "Meh, unless I just don't feel like it anymore." What's happened to true love in today's society?

    1. Thanks so much Tony. I'm so sorry to hear that you're going through this with a toddler..I hope everything is working out, and continues to get better.

      Funny, when I first found myself alone, I used to think those same things about the marriage vows. "It's not until one of us gets bored!".

      Here's to you finding your true love. Keep the faith, and keep on being a good daddy. Sounds like you're the stability in your child's life. That's a good thing :o)

      Thank you for reading!

  3. I agree 100% with everything you said. Yes divorce does happen but it is not as okay as this video makes it seem. And unfortunately this "everyone will get along fine and we'll live happily ever after just in separate houses" is not the norm. As you said, most of the time it is not amicable and unfortunately too many kids see that.

    1. Thanks Sil! You nailed something that I was trying to express, but in my frenzy of thinking this morning, couldn't get out of my head, lol. I think seeing how "perfect" everything has worked out for Abby Cadabra might backfire for those kids who do not have the "happily ever after" divorces. They already feel vulnerable and like the odd man out, I think this will alienate some of them even more.

      Divorce is very rarely an equal opportunity life changer. There is almost always one party who ends up suffering financially, mentally, socially, etc.

      But, it is a step in the right direction.

      Thank you so much for reading!

  4. Whats wrong with children watching a children's show that allows them to imagine that there is a place that these life like puppets come to visit with them everyday just to play? Real life has many bumps in the road....where "Sesame Street" is a safe, comfy, stress free, happy place. Sheesh! Allow these kid's to keep that blanky for as long as they want it.

    1. Mema I think you may have misunderstood my point (and I can see how that could happen, I tend to babble and lose focus..ha!). I agree that Sesame Street is awesome for kids and YES I agree with you 100% that life can be hard and it's great for kids to have some sweet escapism.

      Sesame Street opened up a kind of Pandora's box when they decided to confront divorce in a way deeper than "Jane's parents aren't married". They have chosen to portray divorce as an easy, amicable, almost idyllic situation. That's the part that bugs me.

      I'm all for kids staying innocent and happy for as long as humanly possible. We agree on that, for sure.

      Thank you for reading!

    2. I think Sesame Street should keep it to the letters and numbers. Except The Count died. :'(

  5. I remember when Mr. Hooper died and they had to explain it to Big Bird. Then there was the muppet with HIV. i LOVE sesame street, and it seems to me that they are capable of attacking tough issues. I thought that they should have dealt with divorce long before now, but is say that also wishing that people would have dealt with divorce issues as well(i.e. entering marriages that result in fewer divorces to begin with). I am in the midst of a divorce myself, and this is affecting my 8yr old daughter. But you are right, a LOT of divorces are not friendly or amicable.

    1. Hey Tony. Sorry about the divorce, man. I hope your daughter is holding up ok!

      Interesting point you bring up, and one that I hadn't thought of during my early morning rant/blog post. You are absolutely right..they should absolutely put some focus on happy, strong families with two parents who love each other and are in it for the long haul.

      Maybe if our generation hadn't grown up with society and the media telling us that we have so many choices, that we are entitled to be happy as clams 100% of the time, things would be a little different as far as divorce is concerned. We've been told for so long that we NEED to be shiny happy people, that we deserve to have everything handed to us...it's become the mantra of our generation.

      I am kind of scared to see what happens with this next group of people coming up into adulthood.

      Thank you for reading, hope all is going well.

  6. I couldn't have said it better myself. Primarily because I'm not good with words. I'm a child of divorce, and growing up, it sucked. It wasn't easy being the only kid in a class of 26 whose Daddy didn't live at home.

    So if you have a muddled view, I'm right there with ya.

    Happy 12/12/12!

    1. Thanks Traci! I remember that feeling way too well. Never thought I'd be doing it as a parent.

      I don't think it's any easier for kids now, even though they are definitely not the only ones with "different" families. It's hard to come into the world with a stable, loving family and then have it fall apart. But people like you and I seem to have made it out semi-intact :)

      Thank you for reading!

  7. Me too, 100% agreement. Huff reflects the predominant media messages of today, the main one being, everything is okay, don't judge anything as "wrong."

    It's elsewhere, too. Think about the movies, even "good" ones, where it's STANDARD PRACTICE for a girlfriend and boyfriend to live together but not be married. Same message: Living together but not being married is NO BIG DEAL. But it is. There are real-world consequences to sex outside of marriage that the movies never show.

    Kids still need the live-in examples of parents and adults around them showing them the healthiest way to live.

    I'm no religious zealot, but it seems a number of basic ground rules that worked for our generation/our parents have been morphed by the media, to our peril, into quaintly passe. It's the thin end of the permissive and "progressive" wedge. Not that I'd want to peg out in the other direction, but there are a few rules in life that, as you expressed in your last post, set off a chain of pain when broken.

    It was heartbreaking for me to watch my stepkids gather up their books and sports stuff and clothes for the twice weekly-every-other-weekend-every-other-month joint custody thing, to go to the "other" house, where there was a sub-optimally functioning mom who stayed just above the legal definitions of neglect and abuse, and so kept her half of the kids' custody time.

    Another side of divorce is when the kids opt NOT to marry because of what they saw in their divorced and remarried (or not) parents' lives. Sometimes they just co-habitate, often they cycle through many relationships and can't figure out how to keep one. They didn't see it growing up, so they have to learn it somewhere else ... but from the media? We're back where we started ...

    1. Becky, I few years ago I would have been shaking my head in disagreement, but today I am NODDING VIGOROUSLY.

      Here is my favorite thing you said: it seems a number of basic ground rules that worked for our generation/our parents have been morphed by the media, to our peril, into quaintly passe. You nailed it, right there. Nailed it good, sister.

      Somehow, people in our generation (I'm generalizing a bit) have been taught that it's all about ME, there is no US. Something goes wrong in our lives, and instead of looking inward to see what the problem is, we cast a giant blame-net out in hopes of finding out who or what wronged us.

      Another commenter up above said something along the lines of, "Why don't shows like this set up good examples of positive, strong, working relationships" so that our kids are taught to place importance on values and common beliefs, and in the absolute certainty that a happy, good life is one that has to be worked on continuously in order to STAY good. Can you imagine that??

      Your last paragraph also hits home for me. My 17 year old daughter often says, "I am NEVER getting married." I know it's teenage talk and all that, but it does make me think of what she's absorbed, watching her dad and I wade through this messy divorce.

      Thank you, so much, for reading and for providing some perspective and valuable insight.

    2. And another Agreed here.

  8. Divorce is huge. I didn't experience it until I was 33 but its impact is. massive. And its impact can be felt 14 years later.

    1. Whitney, it really is. And think about it..you were a functioning adult when it happened to you. Think of what goes on in the mind of someone who has a brain that is physically incapable of processing things the way an adult brain does.

  9. A divorced mom and dad can still show kids how to make those right choices. We can get it right the second time.

    I knew that one day I'd have to tell my stepdaughter the truth ... that she would be wiser and happier if she waited until she married to have sex. I also knew that she would laser-beam me with her gorgeous-hazel-eyes-that-detect-any-hypocrisy, and ask, "Did you have sex with my Dad before you were married?" This girl's mom had broken so much trust with her that I knew she needed me to be rock solid. So I was. Her Dad and I waited, with nary an adult "overnight" at either home, whether the kids were there or not.

    Years later, I overheard her say to someone about me, "It's okay. You can trust her."

    If we think we can get our kids to overlook our own hypocrisy, we are truly fooling ourselves. If you believe something is right, live it. Contrary to the media's carpet-bombing messages, right and wrong do exist. And no one who truly loves you will ask you do something you believe to be wrong.

    1. Becky, that's something I struggle with. I keep my "personal" life very separate from my kids, and I don't know if that's helped anything, or if it's been detrimental. I wanted to shield them from having another outsider come into their lives after the whole Secretary thing.

      You are so strong! What an awesome step-parent you must be. There should be more women like you out there. Your stepchildren are very lucky.

    2. Jenny, I met my current, wonderful second husband in May, 18 years ago. We didn't even kiss until September, and I didn't meet the kids until October. He and I had both been pretty badly scarred by our first marriages, so we just spent lots of time doing a variety of things together, seeing how we felt.

      We both agreed that sex belonged in marriage, so it wasn't even an issue. Many, many times through the years we have said to each other, "I'm so glad we waited!" Because the waiting was what helped build the respect, friendship, trust and love that, taken together, formed the strong foundation for a healthy physical relationship in a context of true commitment.

      Reading your blog, I have come to respect many things about you and your outlook on life. I would encourage you, for the sake of yourself, your children, and our country, to take a strong position, in principle and practice, for the values you are beginning to realize are being not just trivialized, but vilified.

      In the media-driven culture, many perverse and dysfunctional actions are accepted as "okay," and except for a few extreme exceptions, the only things allowed to be labled perverse and dysfunctional are traditional values and the people who hold them. That is just one of the many conversations Americans need to have with one another. We need nuclear families, kids need two parents and role models. We all need stability and accountability. Unhappy kids do stupid things, and often parents slack off into their own brand of la-la land, dismissing the true consequences of their parenting or lack thereof.

      I'm not strong. I married a narcissistic and completely unsuitable man when I was 22, conveniently looking the other way when he showed those behaviors. He was handsome! He was charming! I remember saying to my wonderful Dad, "[Ex] wants me to have sex with him, but I don't think it's right to do that." And that is when my Dad said what I wrote above. Should have put it in quotes. Actually, should have TAKEN the advice, but, sadly, did not, and paid the price. "Becky, no one who truly loves you will ask you to do something you believe to be wrong."

      First we have to establish what we believe, and know, to be right and wrong.

      Love, Becky

    3. Darn it Becky...now you've made me think (dangerous!). Seriously, I've been thinking about this for the past 24 hours. Questioning just about everything I've done as a woman, and as a mom, since my divorce.

      Do you mind if I use some of your comments in a post? I won't be snarky, I promise.

      If you're not comfortable with that, I totally understand.

      Either way, thank you for taking the time to respond..and for making me think. You are pretty awesome.


    4. Use any or all of anything I've ever written to you, Jenny. Couple of years ago ...nay, a mere 5.75 WEEKS ago, I would have been silent. Being "tolerant," you know. But now I see the ugly side of tolerance ... indifference. And a human life, or a country, can tank pretty quickly when unattended. "Eternal vigilence is the price of liberty." Next to the Statue of Liberty, we should build a Statue of Responsibility, lest we forget they are inextricably intertwined.

  10. '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.' Yup.

    Divorce is ugly in most cases that I know. No matter what kind of Sesame Street spin you put on it, it is upheaval in your children's lives. It's rocking their world and not in a Justin Beiber concert kind of way. When I was yelling at my husband and pleading with him about why he didn't think of our children before he cheated, he said that he's read plenty of articles where the kids turn out just fine. Oh really? And the reason is probably because they had an amazing mother who helped them through the most difficult times of their lives. So once again I'm left to clean up his shit sandwich and he has faith that the kids will be just fine because I'm a good mother, no, a great mother. http://dowehavetotellthekids.blogspot.com/


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