Sesame Street has tackled divorce and it's about time. In a video series called "Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce", Sesame Street's adorable fairy in training, Abby Cadabby, talks about her parents' separation and how she is loved by both of them, in two different homes.
See the Sesame Street Divorce Videos
These Sesame Street divorce videos have caused quite a stir and some controversy. While most have praised Sesame Street for its handling of this sensitive topic, especially when communicating it to their young audience, others have claimed Sesame Street should have stayed away from divorce altogether. Over the years, the Sesame Street characters have talked to children about life, death (who can forget when Mr. Hooper died) and just about everything in between including topics such as adoption, race and even hurricanes. The fact it took four decades to finally create and feature videos on divorce only highlights how touchy and still taboo dealing directly with children on this subject can be.
Sesame Street's first attempt at discussing divorce 20 years ago
This was not Sesame Street's first attempt at the subject of divorce. Back in 1992, a crying Snuffy (a woolly mammoth) told Big Bird that his father was moving to a cave across town. Big Bird, equally mortified, asked why and Snuffy, after an emotion filled pause, stated that it was "because of something called a divorce."
Gordon (played by Roscoe Orman) explained why divorces happen and everyone was assured this was for the best…unfortunately, the preschool children who test viewed the episode were reportedly as distraught as Snuffy. They cried. They worried about Snuffy. It was bad, all the way around.
20 years later, here we are but with very different visions. This article on Tumblr entitled "D is for Divorce: Big Feelings on Sesame Street" explains the differences well. As aptly put in the article, (1) Snuffy was a more somber character with those "big eyes, that deep voice, those long, weepy eyelashes", (2) Snuffy was experiencing his divorce (and the emotions of it) in the present while Abby talked about the divorce in the past with an air that everything is fine now and she has made it through for the better, and (3) these videos remain on-line and aren't thrust into the living room. This latter issue gives voluntary access to those parents who want to use the videos (discussed more below).
Sesame Street's reasons for the divorce videos
The official Sesame Street press release on divorce stated (before they took it down), in part:
Each year about 1.5 million children confront the divorce of their parents, a transition that can be challenging for the entire family, especially young children. While 40 percent of families experiencing this, there are few resources to show children they are not the only ones with big questions and feelings about divorce.
The Sesame Street divorce videos won't be on TV
You could call it hedging their bet but we think Sesame Street is just being smart and cautious. The divorce videos won't air on television. They are only available on-line and that is good enough, for now. Sesame Street's stated goal is to provide resources for parents and children, something we discuss more below. Featuring them on-line does exactly that without fanning the flames that already burn through the videos' critics.
The critics sound off
The reactions through social media and the internet were predictable. Some claimed it was inappropriate while others claimed the show had no business broadcasting the subject of divorce to children.
The Sesame Street divorce videos' critics completely missed the point
Sesame Street's statement highlights why critics of these videos have completely missed the point.
1.5 million children deal with their parents' divorce.
This is a difficult and confusing time and, if handled poorly, can have debilitating consequences on a child's psyche.
To have tools through resources like Sesame Street to which both parents and children attach a badge of trust means this difficult road can be better paved and doesn't have to be the unspoken secret that weighs on kids' minds and is allowed to fester. "Am I am fault?", "do my parents still love me?" are just a couple of the questions children ask when confronted with divorce.
Uncertainty about their future weighs heavily on children's minds and hearts. When the ever adorable Abby the Fairy and the Sesame Street characters engage in a natural and progressive dialogue about such issues and help the child realize that the characters with whom he or she has grown up also deal with these issues in their existence (to which children attach a distinct reality), the sense of the child's isolation is eased and positive coping mechanisms are triggered.
Tools for the family law attorney and client
Our family law attorneys have already bookmarked these Sesame Street divorce videos and will share them with every client that is going through a divorce or separation and has a young child or children between the ages of 2 and 8. Sesame Street's videos on Abby and her parents' divorce will be an invaluable tool, as the difficulty of approaching this topic with children, especially where both parents have the discussion in a family setting, often weighs heavily on each spouse's minds.
While we appreciate the different perspectives on the Sesame Street divorce videos, it's easy to see how the show's courage to address divorce brings tools to the millions of parents and children who deal with this difficult subject on a daily basis.