With a kiss on the cheek and a warm hug, Faye Smith joined legions of mums around the country this week as she became an ‘empty nester.’
Her 19-year-old son Zach left their Sheffield home, bound for Oxford University, and Faye reveals the loss has left her reeling - as she always knew it would.
“It is hard for any parents, but especially us mums,” she said.
“We bear and birth our children, so those umbilical cords are pinging! We’ve agreed one weekly call and one visit in his crucial first term.”
Someone who understands exactly what Faye is going through is fellow-Sheffield mum Karen Perkins.
Karen waved her son off to university a couple of years ago and her daughter off this month, making her an empty nester too at 55.
She said: “Skype keeps me in touch with my kids. There’s a real mixture of sadness at the end of an era, along with a sense of trepidation as my kids go out into the world without me.”
Karen’s experience led her to launch Sheffield’s first and only Empty Nesters Club, to help offer support others going through the same difficult transition.
“Kids these days are closer to their parents and everyone seems to feel the wrench more,” she said.
“As parents we have to deal with our sadness at missing them and our guilt at feeling liberated - it’s a new phase of life for everyone! Since launching the club I’ve met couples who fear being left alone to face reality, while others are planning exciting adventures together.”
For Faye, who runs her own marketing and consultancy firm, the hardest part comes from knowing that she shouldn’t belong in the Empty Nesters club just yet. A family tragedy finds her on the club’s doorstep heartbreakingly early.
“My daughter Gabi would have turned 15 last week and should just be starting her GCSE years,” she said.
“She died in March 2013 following a suspected seizure, so Zach’s departure brings on a whole host of emotions of separations, loss and another form of bereavement all over again.”
And Faye has made some fairly drastic decisions. First up, she sold the family home of 20 years and downsized to a cosy rental, explaining: “The thought of living alone in a place where once we were a bustling family was too much to bear.”
And single-mum Faye is full of big plans for the year ahead, as her nest growing empty coincides with another big landmark in her life – her 50th birthday.
She said: “I’ve never travelled much beyond last-minute European deals, so in January I am heading off to Australia for two months. Once back, I am going to work through a list of 50 fun things, and make sure I tick them all off in my 50th year – walks, cinema trips to the Showroom, a nice chilled prosecco, simple pleasures.”
Business and life coach Karen agrees that planning for the future is an important part of combating empty nesters syndrome.
She said: “Of course you will feel the wrench of your children not needing you in the same way, but it’s also a time for you to give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done, take control of your life and plan things to do, so as not to waste those fantastic years between the kids leaving home and retirement.”
It’s advice Faye has taken to heart.
She said: “I’m a member of a book club, a walking club and am planning to take up pilates. I’m investing time in thinking about how I would like the second half of my life to be.
“My advice to anyone facing the empty nest is to make a list of things you enjoy doing – especially those you haven’t had the time or energy to do before – and do them. And always focus on the positive.
“Our able-bodied children leaving home is a natural part of life and their independence is to be applauded and embraced.
Find Emptynestersclub on Facebook for details.