Despite being a normal and even healthy part of life, divorce can rupture a kid’s entire understanding of the world. It thrusts them into the unknown and upends their universe. Where there is one house, there’s now two. While mom and dad lived together, now they live separately. It is, at the very least, a lot to adapt to. Fortunately, several classic children’s shows have tackled the issue of divorce to not only help normalize it but also understand and process it in healthy ways. Here are the eight episodes of kid’s shows that tackle the good, bad, and ugly of divorce.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Divorce and Kids
Looney Tunes: “The Henpecked Duck” (1941)
This is probably the first time divorce was ever presented on a kid’s show (and possibly on any TV show) and it’s a weird one. Daffy and Mrs. Duck (who never gets a first name because sexism) are in court because Mrs. Duck wants to end their marriage after Daffy doesn’t take care of their egg. Along the way, it takes some genuinely twisted turns before inexplicably ending on a happy note. This surprisingly dark episode offers very little insight into the nuances of ending a marriage. It does, however, serve as a reminder of just how far society’s views on divorce has changed over the past 77 years.
Mister Rogers Neighborhood: Episode 1476 (1981)
Leave it to Mister Rogers to tackle the subject of divorce in a thoughtful and intelligent way decades before anyone else in kid’s television would touch it. In this episode, Rogers heads to the the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to help teach Prince Tuesday, who, after he meets a girl named Patty with divorce parents, is afraid of his parents going in the same direction, assures that no matter what happens, it won’t do him any good to ignore his feelings.
Sesame Street: “Snuffy’s Parents Get a Divorce” (1992)
Sesame Street is famous for addressing difficult topics. They’ve tackled divorce many times over the years, but “Snuffy’s Parents Get a Divorce”, written and produced in 1992, never made it to air. The Children’s Television Workshop’s advisory board found the topic of divorce was too complicated for young children, though many suspected that they were just uncomfortable with the topic being depicted on a children’s show. Whether or not that’s a fair assessment, the episode never aired and it would be 20 years before Sesame Street finally (briefly) touched on the topic.
Arthur: “Faraway Friend” (1998)
“Faraway Friend”is less about divorce than other episodes on the list but it still does a fine job showing what happens when a friend’s parents go through it and why that doesn’t always mean the end of the world. The episode revolves around Arthur’s best buddy Buster saying that he’s going to stay with his dad for a few months. The loyal aardvark comes up with a plan to help his friend avoid going, as he assumes that Buster wouldn’t want to live with his dad. However, he’s surprised to learn that Buster is actually looking forward to getting to spend time with his father since he doesn’t get to see him that much. And while it makes him sad to see Buster go, Arthur ultimately decides to support his friend’s decision.
Rocket Power: “Father’s Day Off” (1999)
Sam’s dad comes to town for the first time since he and Sam’s mom divorced, trying to win over his skeptical son by taking him and his friends on a day of nonstop fun, including laser tag and a trip to a water park. But Sam begins to realize that his dad is too busy working to spend any time with him and, instead, just tries to distract him with gifts. Fortunately, Sam voices his frustration with his dad’s workaholic attitude and Mr. Dullard realizes that he’ll never be close with his son if he keeps making work his main priority.
The Proud Family: “The Altos” (2002)
When Penny’s best friend Sticky Webb finds out his parents are getting divorced, he begins to act out at school and even joins the Altos, a group of bullies aptly named Punch, Stomp, and Slapmaster. Eventually, Penny figures out what is bothering her buddy and helps him deal with his anger and confusion. It’s an episode that acknowledges the pain divorce can cause kids while also making it clear that progress only comes if they’re honest about their feelings.
Phineas and Ferb: “I Scream, You Scream” (2008)
For most shows, the idea of a broken home might be played for drama. But this episode, which focuses on the evil-but-lovable Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz anxiety over the fact that his ex-wife is dropping off his teen daughter Vanessa for the weekend. stands out because Doofenshmirtz and Charlene seem to have split on pretty amicable terms. In fact, Charlene says the divorce has nothing to do with betrayal, resentment, or her ex-husband’s supervillain aspirations. They just weren’t right for each other. Even in the 21st century, such a treatment was rare to see.
Girl Meets World: “Girl Meets the Forgiveness Project” (2015)
On the surface, Riley’s best friend Maya seems like an impossibly cool junior higher who genuinely doesn’t care about what anyone else thinks. Over the course of the show, we discover the cool girl schtick is all an act, and Maya is actually a sad, vulnerable girl who’s afraid to let people in because her dad abandoned her and her mom. Eventually, Maya finds herself face-to-face with her father but unable to forgive him for everything he’s done. Still, she’s able to accept his choices and not let it affect her view of the world or herself.
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