1. Tell us a little bit about yourself – Mammy’s Story My name is Eileen Bennett and I am the world’s first virtual Mammy! I was born on January 12th 1955 in Co. Cork, Ireland. When I was seven years old my father died suddenly, leaving me with four younger sisters and a mother to support. We moved to Wicklow, my mother’s home county, and she worked as a Post Mistress. I don’t actually remember ever being a child and seem to have come into the world boringly sensible and responsible! In school, I wanted to be a vet or a journalist, but for lots of reasons, I never went to college and opted instead for a ‘permanent and pensionable’ job in a bank.I hated every minute of it and stuck it just about long enough to see my younger sisters through school and then left to work as a volunteer in a hostel for emotionally disturbed adolescents in England!I came back to Ireland in the late 1970’s and was lucky enough to be accepted to train as a Veterinary Nurse in our local clinic! I was in heaven! Just after I had qualified and been offered the position of practice manager, a friend of the vet in charge was visiting fromGalway. He invited me to come and stay with him and his family for a week to see a very different kind of veterinary practice. To cut a long story short, I never leftGalway!
I have had so many adventures so far I could – and will – write a book! This is very much the concise version of a very full and exciting life!I married a widower with three teenage boys almost 21 years ago and we produced another boy and a girl, who are now in their late teens.Until the end of 2005, I was editor and director of two very successful glossy lifestyle magazines. I ‘retired’ because I felt it was time to move on and because I was tired. I am very proud of what my business partner and I created, but my input was finished.
2. What do you enjoy most about your profession? I believe I was born to be Mammy and that every event in my life has been leading me to this point. Being Mammy allows me to make full use of the talents I was naturally blessed with as well as the skills and experiences and knowledge I have acquired along the way. It is said that when you find a job you love you’ll never work a day in your life and that is certainly true for me! I feel that I am playing to my strengths and making the best possible use of my life.
3. What was your vision for starting your own company? The idea for askmammy.ie began to form during 2006 when I recognized that our traditional communities were crumbling around us and that the communities of the future would be online. The Celtic Tiger economy in Ireland has led to many people being cash rich but time poor. It felt important to me that people should have access to a community that was nourishing, supportive and informative.I am a good, empathic, intuitive listener and I have a knack for finding information (probably due to my insatiable curiosity!) so, by merging my listening skills with my research skills I felt I could offer people some practical and emotional support in these difficult times.Askmammy.ie went live in late March this year and I was overwhelmed by the response. I still don’t know whether to be delighted or saddened by the reaction! The depth and width and breath of the hunger for somebody to simply listen was much greater than I imagined. People are just so lost and lonely and in need of guidance and craving some kind of real connection.It quickly became obvious to me that the sector of our society most affected is our teenagers. Even if only to rebel against, kids need structure and support – otherwise they are adrift. I feel that the fact that teenage suicide, binge drinking, eating disorders and self-harm is at epidemic proportions in Ireland is a symptom of this lack of support. Blaming anybody is a waste of energy. The situation is as the situation is. Now we must chose to accept it or do something about it!
4. Tell us about the organizations your company supports? Askmammy.ie is working on two separate but connected projects – Teenspirit and Mind Yourself. There are three aspects to Teenspirit. First, it is a magazine, with good quality content (of interest and relevance to teenagers) that is distributed free to every school in the country. The kids can also submit their own articles, poems, photos, stories and reviews and they can ask a question on any topic using ‘snail mail’. The second aspect is a website, reflecting the content of the magazine, but with the facility to get straight answers to straight questions from a team of experts. A teenager on the site emails a question about anything, and is guaranteed an honest answer from a suitably qualified person in total privacy and confidence. The third aspect of Teenspirit is self-esteem training for every young person in the country to be included in the school curriculum.
Mind Yourself is aimed at the families and friends of people who are feeling depressed or suicidal. In Ireland, mental health is still very much a taboo subject, which means that entire families are suffering in silence in an effort to protect their ‘secret shame’. When a family member or close friend is finding it hard to cope with everyday life, it creates a black hole that can literally suck in the people who try to help. Adults who have a foothold on life have some chance of avoiding this pitfall, but teenagers trying to cope with friends, siblings or parents in that space really don’t have a chance! I believe that this is also a contributory factor in the alarming high rate of suicide in young people in Ireland. Mind Yourself will offer training in coping skills and self-esteem for anybody dealing with loved ones who are finding life tough. Mind Yourself will also provide support networks, so that nobody has to suffer in silence anymore.
5. What life event or incident made you choose to support them? An 18 year-old told me that two years previously she had spent many nights sitting with her best friend as he seriously contemplated ending his life. A mother shared her indescribable grief after the suicide of her bright and beautiful teenage daughter. A father contacted me in despair, searching for a way to get through to his depressed son. I was receiving heartfelt pleas for help in emails and seeing really serious issues being discussed on the forum on askmammy.ie and sensing the fear and helplessness coming from parents and teenagers and saying to myself ‘somebody should do something!. Then one day a voice in my head said. ‘Who will fight your corner when you are too young or too powerless to fight for yourself? Who will be your voice when you don’t have a voice of your own? Who will be your strength when you are weak or encourage you to keep going when you are afraid? Your Mammy will!’ At that point I had a choice – walk away or fully embrace being Mammy – and, you can see what happened!
6. From where do you draw inspiration? From a very young age I have been aware of a connection to the divine – something bigger and greater than everything else. You can call it God or the Tao or Buddha or Fred. I call it Love, because to me it transcends all religions and belief systems. So, my strength and inspiration comes from being in touch with that still and silent place deep within me. I am also hugely inspired by the people I meet in Mammy’s Kitchen, the forum on askmammy.ie! I feel so proud and humbled when I see how they support and nurture and love one another – as a family should. It is an honor and a privilege to call Stephen Russell (Barefoot Doctor) my friend and he is a treasured source of inspiration and strength (see www.barefootdoctorworld.com ). My wonderful friends – the old and the new – are always there and help keep me real! And, my family – close and extended – constantly remind me what matters most.
7. What one thing would you like to learn this year? I would love to learn how to be financially solvent – once and for all!
8. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? It has become obvious to me that there is a very real need for a proactive, peaceful, strong but firm figure to raise awareness, muster people power and apply pressure for social change to the relevant ‘powers that be’. In other words, our world now needs a Mammy to fight its corner, point out injustices, stand up for the vulnerable and defenceless and instigate positive change for the benefit of all concerned. I never wanted to be a crusader, but the Universe seems to have a different idea. I know for certain that I cannot sit in silence anymore and pretend I don’t know what is going on. I also know that one voice is not powerful enough to make a difference, unless that one voice encourages others to join in. My aim is to empower people to have control over their own lives, encourage them to take a peaceful stand against injustice and inequality and, to ultimately, create a more balanced, equitable and enlightened society.So, in 5 years time I see a ‘Mammy’s Army’ of good people, living happy, fulfilled, balanced lives and working together to raise the energy level of the entire planet for the good of all concerned! I see the world ‘waking up’ and realizing that we are all spiritual beings on a physical journey and that love is the answer to everything. I see Mammy as a symbol for all that is good and kind and loving and as an advocate for positive change on a global level!How’s that for a BIG picture?! Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers? To get the first two projects – Teenspirit and Mind Yourself – up and running is going to take money that I don’t have. If anybody feels inspired to contribute in any way, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or log onto www.askmammy.ie.
For more information, visit: www.askmammy.ie