Splitting up can be a good thing—even for the kidsby Hephzibah Anderson / December 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
My parents had to get divorced. That was the conclusion I drew as a 13-year-old, possessed of the kind of fiery certainty that only teenage girls and political zealots can muster. I had begun to observe how other people’s parents were together, and saw that my parents in no way functioned as a couple.
More troubling still, my lively-minded, creative mother was a different person in the presence of my father—she was cowed. The idea that me and my sister might set off into the world and abandon her to that marriage in the back-of-beyond filled me with sadness.
I would quiz my mother relentlessly about her marriage and she’d talk of social pressures out in the sticks, of low expectations engendered by a rickety upbringing. Nothing she said seemed to adequately explain why they’d got together in the first place, and nothing I saw seemed reason enough for them to remain that way.
When we had moved to the home in which most of my childhood would be spent, my father’s first act was to fit a lock on his studio door. Soon after, he built a new workspace in the garden and would enter the house mostly after we were asleep. The crunch of his footsteps on the gravel path would send a frisson of unease around the living room like a wintry draught.
But if there were bitter rows in the car, there was also engaged conversation about art and politics over the Sunday papers. To me it seemed not so much unbearable as illogical.
Of course, there was a great deal more going on that my mother shielded us from. There always is. Other people’s marriages are deeply mysterious, even to those who live under the same roof—sometimes even to the spouses themselves.
It took a while but eventually my campaigning succeeded. A sit-down with a solicitor, a bit of paperwork, and hey presto: with a smattering of Latin that sounded to my ears like a magic spell (decree nisi, decree absolute!), it was done. I’d freed my mother.
This was in the early 1990s, when the divorce rate, rising since the 1960s, peaked. While marriage has undergone radical changes in the 25 years since, evolving to embrace stay-at-home dads, same-sex couples, and the blended…