Being Lady Gaga's mom might sound like a pretty glamorous position these days, but raising the megastar (who only skyrocketed to fame after reaching adulthood) was a lot like raising any other kid — not always easy. Gaga's mother, Cynthia Germanotta, cites the teenage years as a particularly difficult time. It was a real process learning how to navigate those tough conversations that, as hard as teens may try to avoid them, need to happen, she says.
Now, Germanotta, who is also cofounder of the Born This Way Foundation with Gaga, is on a mission to close the communication gap between parents and children when it comes to mental health.
A study conducted by the Foundation last summer found that parents overestimate their children's willingness to tell them when something's wrong. More often than not, kids will keep a problem to themselves before going to their parents. No doubt, this is a huge challenge, Germanotta tells Refinery29, but it's one that parents are more than up to.
It's all about framing the way we have important conversations, whether with our children or even our friends, because the affects of these talks can be felt for years after. "When our young people thrive, they’re truly able to affect positive change — which benefits everybody, regardless of age," she says.
Germanotta admits that no family, even one as tight-knit as her own, is perfect: "Nobody’s immune from bad things happening in their family." What's more important than never, ever letting something go wrong, she says, is creating a home environment where children feel comfortable sharing their concern. That's how problems can be addressed before they turn into crises.
This, Germanotta tells us, is something she only realized later on in life: "I listened to my children, but I really didn’t understand where they were coming from... It’s one thing to listen. It’s another to really understand what your child is saying to you."
Sometimes, it's not enough to hear someone out. Following up and recognizing a loved one's needs is just as necessary as listening in the first place, she says — especially when that person is your child. If they see that you respond with compassion and a desire to help when they tell you they're having a hard time, they'll be more likely to come to you again. Of course, that doesn't mean your child should always be the one to initiate these conversations.
Germanotta says mental health should be an open topic, one that's always up for discussion. Making this clear in her household is something she wishes she had put more thought into when she was parenting her two children — Gaga, and her younger daughter Natali. "Although we addressed mental health issues, I can’t say that we talked about it beforehand," she says, adding that, where she might have been more reactive when her children were growing up, or responding when hardship arose, she's now encouraging parents to be proactive about mental health.
"It doesn’t always have to be a really deep conversation," Germanotta is quick to clarify. Being proactive, she says, is more about being active and open — and less about forcing a conversation that might not feel natural. Spending time in a purely fun, no-pressure setting can be just as helpful. "Something as simple as going bowling together or going to a movie can be a stress reliever," she says.
"Mental health is a huge challenge for the world," and not just parents, Germanotta says. Making your family or friend group a safer space for conversations around mental health really can be simple. And making yourself available to someone who needs you, or "leaving an open door," as Germanotta puts it, is an invaluable first step.
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