Learn to enjoy the empty nest test

emptynestjd'Deborah Stephenson and daughter Rhian

emptynestjd'Deborah Stephenson and daughter Rhian

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Maybe you’re feeling low and missing your offspring, or rubbing your hands in glee at the prospect of not having to wrestle with your kids for time in the bathroom or the TV remote.

But one thing’s for sure, says a Sheffield business career and lifecoach, if you’ve packed your kids off to university, a spot of ‘me time’ is long overdue.

emptynestjd'Grace and Ella Strickland de Souza

emptynestjd'Grace and Ella Strickland de Souza

“Not all parents can see that, though,” says Karen Perkins. “At a time when they should be congratulating themselves on a job well done, many are caught up in a web of emotions and feeling quite unsure about what to do with their new lease of life.”

Karen, 51, won’t be an empty-nester for another 12 months as her son of 18 has decided to have a gap year and use his time to run his computer business from her sofa.

But after discovering how her friends who did have teens leaving for university felt, she decided to launch an antidote – the Empty Nesters Club.

“Among my friends there was a real mixture of sadness. They felt it signified the end of an era and were experiencing both trepidation for their kids leaving their cosy sixth form existence to go out into the world and, already, a deep sense of missing them,” says Karen.

emptynestjd'Maria de Souza,  organiser of the Off The Shelf Festival, whose twins Grace and Ella left for university this month

emptynestjd'Maria de Souza, organiser of the Off The Shelf Festival, whose twins Grace and Ella left for university this month

“One said she had spent the first few weeks after her last child had gone to college arriving back from work and bursting into tears in the kitchen.”

Teaching men and women how to make the most of this new era of their lives – a time to focus more deeply on themselves again – is then aim of the Empty Nesters Club, which will meet in October at a city coffee shop.

“We aim to help parents acknowledge what a fantastic job they did, take a bit of time to pamper themselves and then move their lives forward,” says Karen.

“Some people plan ahead for this new phase, others don’t realise what changes it will make to them. There could be financial implications, for example. Many parents lose their tax credits and child benefit, and have to subsidise their offspring at college. They may need to be creative about making the most of their new freedom.

New era: Karen Perkins

New era: Karen Perkins

“Some may feel depressed as relationship difficulties rear their head once the kids have moved on.

“But this should be the time to cheer yourself up, calm yourself down and plan a brilliant new future.”

The Empty Nesters’ Club will be held on three Saturdays in October – the 15th, 22nd and 29th – 3-4pm at SnapDeli, 935 Ecclesall Road, Banner Cross.

Free pampering foot massages will be carried out by a holistic therapist and 10-minute career and TLC life coaching taster sessions will be staged.

Empty nesters are invited to take along their old CV for a free once-over with professional writer Rachel Vincent.

Places are limited. To book, call Karen Perkins on 07971 881251 or go to www.karenperkinslifecoach.co.uk

‘I tidied her bedroom and wished I hadn’t -it looked too neat’

Mum and daughter had left in a hurry.

The last bags and boxes to be flung into the family estate for the drive to Leeds last Sunday had been packed in haste. There had been no time to clear up the mess left behind.

But when Deborah Stephenson got home from the emotional experience of moving her youngest child Rhian into halls of residence in Leeds, she didn’t revel in her new-found freedom.

She did what she had done so many times before; she tidied up her daughter’s bedroom. But when she’d finished, Deborah wished she hadn’t. The room looked unnaturally neat.

“It seemed to emphasise the fact that she’d gone; suddenly I wanted there to be a few mouldering banana skins and some cold cups of tea lying around,” she laughs.

Rhian, 18, was the child to fly the nest first. Older brother William, 22, is a third year student at Sheffield Hallam and lives at home.

“It felt like a double whammy when it was my youngest leaving,” says Deborah, who has raised her children solo since the death of their father 14 years ago.

“We are an extremely tight-knit team of three,” says the Sheffield City Council communications manager. “William and I are missing her a lot and she’s only been gone a few weeks.

“It’s quite a milestone. Your child leaving home emphasises the fact that you are a parent of a young adult. I feel like the older generation now, even though I’m a young 47-year-old. “There’s a sadness for me that she won’t be there every day from now on.

“But this is an exciting time for her and I don’t want to turn the focus on to me. The last thing I would want is for either of my children to feel at all responsible for my happiness.”

Rhian is happily installed at Leeds Metropolitan University, where she’s studying film and moving image and Deborah is learning how to mother from a distance.

“She rings to tell me all the great stuff she’s doing and what a fantastic time she’s having and I’m answering back with all the serious and sensible questions a mother needs answering; like have you registered with a doctor yet, have you got this date in your diary... and all without trying to sound like I’m nagging because I don’t want to spoil things for her,” she says.

Deborah’s concern for the daughter she can no longer physically protect, and the pang of sorrow she feels at her absence, are tempered by another equally powerful maternal emotion, though: “I feel this immense pride that she did it; she got the grades she wanted and a place on the course she had set her heart on,” says Deborah. “She’s achieved her dream.”

‘It’s meant two lots of packing up, two weeping goodbyes on the doorstep’

Whirring hairdryers, the constant blare of music and the lively banter of a kitchen crammed with 18-year-olds...

The noise of teenage life is suddenly missing from Maria de Souza’s life.

Her 18-year-old daughters departed for university this month, leaving their Sheffield home an eerily calm place.

Says the mum of four: “It was hard enough when my eldest daughter Mia left for Manchester University four years ago.

“But now my little girls have gone too, it feels like there’s a huge hole in the family. The whole dynamic has changed. The teenage flavour has gone. I’m down to one child; it’s just nine-year-old world now.”

Little Ryan must have felt his mum’s anguish. As his last big sister, Grace, left for her drama degree course in Bath this weekend, he slipped his hand into Maria’s and said: “Well thank goodness you’ve got me, mum.”

Maria, 50, bit back the tears at that. But many more have flowed in the last two weeks. “I feel incredibly emotional at the moment. The focus is on the kids going and how they will feel, not the parents left at home. But it’s a hugely difficult time for us; you’re all over the place, feeling a mixture of pride and sadness, thinking about all the things you’ve gone through with them and having to trust that they will be all right.

Maria’s girls went to separate universities.

“They picked the best courses for them – they did the right thing,” she says. “But it meant two lots of packing up, two weeping goodbyes on the doorstep and two sets of anxious weeks of worry. They may be a long way away, but the umbilical cord never snaps, it just stretches and stretches.”

Her worries are peculiar to each of her girls’ personality strengths and weaknesses. Ella, doing illustration at the University of Westminster, is the better cook - but isn’t as competent as Grace is about finding her way around a strange city.

Of great comfort, though, is the ease of contact modern technology provides. “I know we’ll talk by email, phone and text,” she says. “When I was at university my parents had to make do with one phone call a week. I had to go to a phone box down the road from my halls of residence to ring them at an allocated time.”

She’s focusing on the pluses; the fact that her girls are enjoying a new stage in their lives, the time she, partner Jay and Ryan can spend together and the fact that the washing pile and the food bill will go down.

“And thank goodness I have my work,” says Maria, council arts officer and organiser of the city’s Off The Shelf Literary Festival which launches on October 8.

“I’ve been involved in it for 19 years; it was my first job after having the twins. They have evolved together,” she reflects. “It’s fitting that the festival will be getting me through one of the most difficult months of my life.”