Ever feel like you’re being left behind by your married-off, mothered-up friends? You’re not alone. Even reality TV star Vicky Pattison has admitted to feeling left in the dust by her friends’ (understandably) changing priorities.
Speaking on White Wine Question Time, the I’m A Celebrity winner revealed that while she’s happy for her friends who have children, it’s makes her feel a bit out of the picture.
“I feel like I'm being left behind,” she told host Kate Thornton. “I feel like I can't relate to what they're going through and I struggle to be excited about the things they're excited about. It's put strain on some of my friendships that I'm not in [the same] place where they are.”
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With women both getting married and having children later in life – the conception rate for women over 40 has more than doubled since 1990 – this is a problem that’s becoming more common.
In years gone by friends followed a similar path through life but with so many choices now, you can suddenly find that you’re on a very different journey to your best mate. So how do you deal with the changes this brings?
Understand that your friendship has changed, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing
Lynette Evans, an Integrative Counsellor and Psychotherapist, says the key to surviving the child stage when you’ve not had kids is to understand that friendships are always changing.
“In order to reconnect, you must understand that all relationships are organic and ever-changing,” she explains.
“You should try to accept the loss of the friendship as it used to be and create something new. The way you interact with each other will be different, for example, meeting for lunch instead of going out on the town all night. But by making these changes you can continue to show each other how important your bond is, and that you intend to make the effort to invest in this new phase of your friendship.”
Sharn Rayment, 30, is child-free by choice and agrees that friendships can evolve if you accept your friend’s life has changed.
“I've got a very close friend with a toddler at the moment and I do appreciate how difficult it is,” she says. “I just try to be as flexible as possible with socialising and always encourage her to come out without her child where possible. It gives her a break from parenthood for a moment and means we can just enjoy adult conversation without the distraction of a roaming toddler.”
Remember they’re more than just a mum
It can be really hard when you socialise with mum friends and all they talk about is their kids. Vicky says this is one of the things she’s struggled with most.
“Most of my friends are in very serious relationships… I mean, some of them are on their third kid,” she explained. “When we get together, they talk about stamp duty and mortgages and the kids going back to school: which is so great for them. It's become harder over the years to find things to talk about that interest us both.”
While new mums especially can be very focused on their child, remember they were a person before they became a mother.
“Ask them how they are. Not the mum, but your friend, the person,” says Lynette.
“The likelihood is that for the past few weeks or months, most of their conversations have centred around the new child, and they may have lost themselves in the changes that have occurred in their life, so getting back to speaking about how each other is feeling is a familiar ground from your pre-baby relationship.”
Find your own path
While it can be hard to watch close friends having a family when it’s all that you’ve wanted, it’s better to concentrate on how your life is going rather than dwell on what could be.
As Lynette says, we all have a different path in life and it’s understanding as much that will get your friendships through rocky patches, such as having kids.
“It’s about recognising that each of us has our own path through life,” explains Lynette.
“Once you and your friends move past things like school exams, the major events in your life are rarely synchronised. It’s all about embracing who you are in this moment and making the most of it rather than looking at what could be.”
Lynette also says that while you may be struggling with their life changes, chances are they could also be having a ‘grass is always greener’ moment themselves. She says: “Remember that while you may be looking at the way your friends have moved on to marriage and kids, they will be looking enviously at the freedoms you currently have in your life.”
This is something Sharn definitely gets from her mates with children around her choice to be child-free.
“Thankfully my close friends with children are extremely supportive of my child-free life,” she says. “Having kids, they often say how jealous they are of the certain freedoms I have that they don't!”
Strengthen your other friendships
While it’s always sad to grow distant from a good friend, it does give you time to concentrate on those friendships that offer you something more appropriate for where you are in your life.
Vicky, who appeared on White Wine Question Time with her best mate Gavin, says that while her female friendships have taken a backseat, their friendship has only got stronger.
“[The reason] me and Gav have grown so much closer is because we are in a pursuit of a different kind of happiness,” she explained to Kate.
“I think he is really focused with his career. He works really hard. He's very passionate about what he does. It sets his soul on fire and when we sit and we have a couple of drinks, like we are now, we talk about our work.
“I can see my passion about what I do mirrored in him. He gets the hustle and he's not judgemental that I can't keep a fella! He's not all, ‘Don't worry, it'll happen for you.’”
At the end of the day, true friendships will survive any major life changes – as long as both of you wish to remain friends, it will happen.
As Sharn says, “There's nothing specific I could pinpoint about having friends with children that enriches my life in any way, I'm just grateful to have good friends - whether or not they have children.”
Hear Vicky Pattison discuss her love life, why Geordie Shore made her feel worthless and how winning I’m A Celebrity turned her life around on the latest episode of White Wine Question Time. Listen now on iTunes and Spotify.