Leaving the roost

by | January 16, 2014

Mother hen and MasterChef Australia contestant Noelene Marchwicki opens up on her painful experience with empty-nest syndrome.

BY: Eleanor Yap

Parents feel empty-nest syndrome when their children leave the home or “nest” for the first time to go off to university or to start work. Though it is not a critical condition, it can hit hard on the parents and can result in depression, a sense of loss of purpose, feelings of rejection, or worry, stress and even anxiety over the child’s welfare.

According to the MayoClinic.com, parents face many challenges such as establishing a new kind of relationship with their children, having to find other ways to occupy their free time, reconnecting with each other, and a lack of sympathy from people who believe that parents should be happy when their children leave home. Clinical director of volunteer welfare organisation O’Joy Care Services in Singapore, Teo Puay Leng, advised: “You need to have a life beyond your family – you need hobbies and interests, own social support network, etc. If you focus on the family, when kids have left the nest, you will feel empty and not needed. Depression can set in if not prepared. You need to look at this issue even earlier while your kids are growing up.”

Noelene Marchwicki

To get a better perspective about this condition, Ageless Online talks to contestant of MasterChef Australia Season 5 (which recently finished airing in Singapore), 59-year-old, thrice-married Noelene Marchwicki, who has openly admitted to having to deal with empty-nest syndrome. She shares here about how life was before empty-nest syndrome and after, and how things have changed:

“My life before the empty nest was very full and busy, there were years of struggle … financial, emotional … but there was always food on our table, clean clothes and a warm home where friends were welcome.

I have four sons – Marc, Shaun, Paul and Dale, and one daughter, Nicole.

I have handled all their departures from home badly and regret my behaviour. Their leaving was made so much worse because I made it all about me; it was never my intention but that is the way it was.

As their mother, I made them feel guilty. They left home feeling they had let me down.

Noelene's children – Marc, Shaun, Paul, Dale and Nicole, and grandchild Ella.

I was so scared that my purpose, my worth as a parent, as a person was gone. I had lost any idea of who I was as an individual … I only saw myself as a mother.

The departures have all been so dramatic, from telling them to go, just leave to locking myself in my room sobbing on the floor. Had I been an actor I would have won an award, but sadly this was real.

Honestly that was not a mother’s love it was a mother’s fear of facing reality – the future, it was about letting go, reclaiming my life, finding myself. Like I previously said, it was really about me.

In time, I picked up the phone and resumed my relationship with my relocated children; their careers and ventures are so interesting to hear and learn about.

I continued to work, and was still busy, my life filled with other interests – rekindling my passion for the garden, becoming involved with the preparation of afternoon teas at the Yallourn Yallourn North Football Club, where my son Dale plays footy (a form of football).

Noelene with her grandchild Max who was born while she was at MasterChef.

I always cooked, but now I wanted to learn more … and there is so much to learn from the past, from other cultures, getting others involved, surrounding myself with passionate people. Reading books on food and people in the industry, about politics and fair trade.

Spreading the word on using the whole of the animal not killing for certain cuts … all life should be respected.

It was my son Dale who suggested I apply to MasterChef. It was the most amazing experience, just being invited to the auditions, let alone the phone call to say I had made it to MasterChef Season 5.

MasterChef was a gift that I afforded myself because somewhere along the way I realised I will always be a mum and that it was ok to have dreams and desires. No matter what your age, you have to learn to let go … in my case it was the fear of change.

I returned from MasterChef (17-week stint), a confident cook who wants to learn more and has so much to give.

We all have so much to give, we can change the world especially our own. Give it a go.

Noelene in MasterChef, with Heston Blumenthal and judge Matt Preston during "Heston Week".

I am not a perfect parent, I never was … but I do have the best grandchildren – Ella, 9 and Max, 10 months (born while she was at MasterChef).”

After MasterChef, Noelene went full-steam ahead with a new chapter in her life and put behind her job as an optical dispenser. With a sprinkle of her own brand of sass – she has launched her catering business called Dial An Occasion, where she cooks for people in their homes. She is also teaching cooking classes from her home.



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