As the singer releases her long-awaited fourth album, Olivia Petter examines what it might mean to people from broken homes
It happened when I was four. “Oh that’s so good,” said an old school friend, when I revealed the age I was when my parents had split up. “At least you were young; I bet you barely even think about it now.” For a long time, I thought that was true.
Like everyone, I’ve been through my fair share of life’s hurdles. But my parent’s divorce never felt like one of them. I was so young when it happened; I’ve never known anything different, so there were no major complications. It’s not like it’s a rare thing to experience, either. Data from the Office of National Statistics states that the estimated divorce rate in the UK is 42 per cent, which means that over one in three marriages will end in divorce, leaving hundreds and thousands of children growing up in broken homes.
The commonality of it all is just one of the reasons why children of divorce, such as myself, rarely consider the implications. But that might be about to change. Today, 19 November, Adele has released her fourth studio album, 30 – and, as has been well publicised, it’s about “divorce, babe”.
In 2019, the 33-year-old singer split from her husband, Simon Konecki, after less than a year of marriage. Adele has said that she hopes the album will offer some form of catharsis to Angelo, the nine-year-old son she shares with Konecki.
“I just felt like I wanted to explain to him, through this record, when he’s in his twenties or thirties, who I am and why I voluntarily chose to dismantle his entire life in the pursuit of my own happiness,” she told British Vogue. “It made him really unhappy sometimes. And that’s a real wound for me that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to heal.”
It’s a wound that Adele examines deeply. In “Easy On Me”, the only single that was dropped prior to the album’s release, lyrics like “You can’t deny how hard I have tried, I changed who I was to put you both first” viscerally capture the pain that characterised the singer’s decision to end her marriage. Such words started having an effect on fans from broken homes before the full album was even released.
“Realising in less than a week Adele’s album comes out and I’ll finally have to emotionally deal with my parents’ divorce hearing Adele,” tweeted one person. “No one talk to me when Adele’s album comes out because it’s about her explaining the divorce to her [nine]-year-old son and my VERY unresolved childhood trauma from my parents’ separation and broken up family is going to absolutely thrive and ruin me in the process,” added another.
Here’s the thing: divorce is an obvious catastrophe for everyone involved. But, as adults, we tend to focus on the experiences of people we know getting divorced rather than acknowledge the long-lasting impact on those who have grown up with separated parents. There are numerous reasons for this: namely that we’re more likely to witness the trauma of divorce if someone we know is going through one. But there’s also something to be said about how normalised divorce has become in our society to the point where, if it happened to your parents, it’s spoken about with a flippancy akin to conversations about the weather.
This seems strange when you consider how much research has highlighted the consequences of coming from a broken home. Sure, some studies have found that children of divorce mature faster and become more independent. Others, however, have suggested that children of divorce are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, behavioural problems, and drug and alcohol dependencies.
What’s more, is that children of divorce might be more likely to encounter problems in their own romantic relationships. “Children of divorce can struggle in adult life with a fear of abandonment and trust issues with their partner,” says Jayne Hale, relationships counsellor at the charity Relate. “Also, depending on how they experienced their parents communicating with each other, before and after the divorce, they may struggle with communication on an emotional level with their own partner later on.” They might also have difficulty being vulnerable with others, adds Hale, and struggle with low self-esteem.
There are obvious ways that having divorced parents has impacted on me: panic attacks whenever I heard them arguing, insomnia when my father remarried, and an overriding sense of displacement whenever one of them moved house. But these aren’t things that are readily talked about or considered when it comes to understanding the experiences of children of divorce.
Instead it’s having trouble settling down, being plagued by a fear of commitment, or having “daddy issues” – a sexist remark attributed to any woman (never a man) whose father walked out on them.
Of course, some of these may ring true, but for me, the experiences I’ve found the most difficult are the ones I would have never linked to the divorce. Things that have only recently come to light – thank you, therapy – like a perpetual feeling of needing to belong, and a propensity to isolate myself from others when I need them the most. Then there’s the deeply rooted fear of getting divorced myself, a feeling that can be utterly paralysing when it comes to forming and ending romantic relationships.
This is something Adele, whose father walked out when she was two, has even alluded to herself. “It made me really sad,” she told Rolling Stone of the realisation that her marriage was over. “Then having so many people that I don’t know know that I didn’t make that work … it f***ing devastated me. I was embarrassed.”
Perhaps given how common divorce is, it’s only natural that we’d normalise it. But to do so to the extent whereby we also normalise the trauma that results from it is a problem, particularly if you’re experiencing that trauma unknowingly, as I was for many years. I’m not saying everything is better now I know where my issues stem from, but it’s certainly reassuring – and makes them easier to work through.
I suspect today will be an emotional day for me and many others. Listening to the experiences of Adele and the messages she wants to send to Angelo will be gut-wrenching, and probably make me long for similar clarity from my own parents. But, knowing the success of an Adele album, it will also offer some hope that these important conversations are finally being started on a global scale. And as a result, children of divorce might feel a little less alone, even if just for the day.