Part II: Privacy within the Community
Whether you live in a small town or a large city, people fight to stay up-to-date on gossip. Celebrity slander is plastered all over magazines and newspapers, political defamation is broadcast all over television and Twitter, and, sometimes, even small-town scandals make national news. The bottom line is this: people like to be nosy, whether it’s about Beyoncé or a high school student.
When it came to my own experience, even as a child I noticed that strangers brewed intimate narratives about the divorce; acquaintances approached me with questions or to see about rumors from the source; friends accosted me with presumptions about whose shoulders should carry the blame. Peers and parents alike were spectators of a familial dissolution where they postulated from the safety of their (intact) glass houses. I learned that marriage and divorce are not contained within the family. Observers stayed vigilant for the circulation of new information or they went so far as to hunt for divorce records to indulge their curiosity. Because my unwilling exposure to these speculations among my community, I questioned the integrity of a marriage, the respectfulness of my hometown, and the character of my own parents.
While children suffer enough from the disintegration of their parents’ marriages, their detrimental experiences don’t end there. No matter what my own experience leads me to claim in this forum, with regard to shielding children from the tumult of divorce and custody disputes, ultimately, my words won’t reach even a fraction of the people who think they are entitled to be involved in your divorce. In a perfect world, outsiders wouldn’t pass the time combing through whatever alleged “facts” they can find to fabricate the perfect disaster for their own entertainment; but in a perfect world, divorce wouldn’t exist, either.
The harsh reality is (and in divorce, there’s a lot of them) that you cannot control the dialogue of your community, whether it’s comprised of 1,000 people or 100 people. You certainly can’t control your ex-spouse, who was, at one point or another, the one person who was supposed to support and defend you. While you can do your best to shield your children from the divorce proceedings, with your spouse’s cooperation, it is much more difficult to protect them from outside scrutiny (my parents can vouch for this; after two divorces they still haven’t found a reliable repellent).
Your private business will find its way into the wild, but you can take steps to protect your family, as much as possible. Speak as openly, but age-appropriately, to your children as you can, to promote mutual trust, honesty, and feelings of autonomy within the family unit. Stress the importance of ignoring community rumors, but also the necessity of clarifying and disproving them as a family. It’s important that you and your spouse remain unified throughout the process, whether that’s speaking to your children together or conveying unanimous messages. Remain as neutral as possible, but always communicate reassurance of irrevocable love and support for your children; your community may not be concerned about your children’s well-being, but you and your spouse need to be. It is possible and necessary to limit your public record, in the best interests of your children.