The XX Factor

Adele Tries Squaring Feminism With Finding Purpose in Motherhood

Adele on the cover of March’s Vogue. 

Vogue / Code Nast

Adele appears on the cover of the March issue of Vogue dressed in a sparkly Burberry gown while reclining regally on a green silk damask couch. She looks confident and grounded, a result of, the image subtly suggests, her son. His name appears tattooed on her right hand, which she gently presses, crown-like, against the top of her head.

The interview inside the magazine echoes the cover. Adele tells interviewer Hamish Bowles about how her life has been completely transformed by becoming a mom. Her son, she says, “makes me very proud of myself. When I became a parent, I felt like I was truly living. I had a purpose, where before I didn’t.” Later on she adds: “My main thing is Mum, then it’s me, then it’s work.”

This is a bold, potentially controversial, statement for a celebrity mom. Adele, ADELE, didn’t feel like she was truly living before she became a mom?! She, the universally adored force of nature behind, at the time, one of the bestselling albums of all time, felt like she didn’t have a purpose?

This type of sentiment has backfired for female celebrities before. When Natalie Portman dared to suggest that motherhood might be ““the most important role of [her] life” in her 2011 Oscar acceptance speech, she received a lot of pushback. “Is reproduction automatically the greatest thing Natalie Portman will do with her life?” asked Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams at the time. There’s been similar resistance to calling motherhood “the most important job in the world.”

But is that actually what Adele is saying? As the rest of the interview reveals, she doesn’t seem to buy into the idea of looking at work and life, or love of one’s child and one’s work, as a zero-sum game. She’s honest about the practical difficulties of being a global sensation and a parent who tries to be home for bedtime as often as possible (she takes lots of day flights), and she doesn’t play down her ambitions. Adele is “scrupulously exacting” in her work, as Bowles put it. But none of this competes with the fact that, for her, motherhood has been an absolute revelation.

Adele isn’t selling us on an idealized version of motherhood, nor is she using motherhood to undermine her own artistic career—as Natalie Portman’s critics accused her of doing. Instead, she’s saying that motherhood can be a singularly powerful experience in a woman’s life, even as that woman continues to pursue achievements outside of motherhood. That’s a really refreshing message.

A major goal of feminism has been for women to be able to seek lives and identities that exist outside their traditional roles as mothers and caretakers. The degree that feminism has been successful in this has, without a doubt, been fantastic for women. Still, there remains debate about exactly we are supposed to make of our roles as mothers now that we’ve been (partially) liberated. My feeling? Just because motherhood was for so long a constraint on women doesn’t mean we can’t also find it deeply meaningful and fulfilling. How lovely it is, then, to see someone like Adele appear so utterly unconflicted about the joys of becoming a parent, to be so high on motherhood without fearing that she might lose herself in it.