Lady Gaga's mom, Cynthia Germanotta, advocates for kindness just as fiercely as her superstar daughter does.
Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, which she co-founded with her mom in 2012, is hosting their third annual #BeKind21 campaign. The effort, which encourages kind acts for twenty-one days starting Sept. 1, has been designed this year to be responsive to today’s movements and showcase that kindness is a verb.
TODAY Parents interviewed Germanotta in anticipation for this year's campaign and also the release of a new book that comes out on Sept. 22. The young-adult book, "Channel Kindness: Stories of Kindness and Community," is a collection of 51 inspirational stories that remind us even the smallest acts of good can have a profound impact.
TODAY Parents: Why is this campaign needed especially right now?
Cynthia Germanotta: Since the very beginning our mission has been to inspire and empower young people to really build a kinder, braver world focused on their mental health.
We need that now more than ever. People are living with a lot of fear. They're living with uncertainty, feeling lack of control in their lives and we're all looking for ways right now to cope and really build resilience. We feel that kindness is essential to that, especially with the link to mental health.
We know from our studies that young people who report being in kind communities are generally mentally healthier. So simple acts of kindness go a long way in a time when so many are just searching for connection and hope. Kindness is powerful.
"My daughter's issues started in middle school. She was uniquely very different and that was not appreciated."
How did you deal with trying to advocate for your daughter when some of the challenges or difficulties she was facing, especially when she became famous, were foreign to you?
It definitely was challenging, and there were times in the beginning that I felt helpless. I grew up in a very different environment where we didn't really talk that openly about emotions. You were just supposed to be tough and strong and get on with it. So I didn't really know how to have a conversation, a healthy and open conversation, or to look for the warning signs.
My daughter's issues started in middle school. She was uniquely very different and that was not appreciated. Neither of us understood it or knew what to do. Even though we were an extremely close family, we talked but I still didn't know... "Is this just normal teenage behavior or is there really a problem?"
There was a problem, I missed it, I made some mistakes and I felt horrible about it. It’s not uncommon for these things to go undiagnosed, but it did go undiagnosed for several years. I went through a period of blaming myself for that, for just not really knowing what to look for. The positive is we learned together. I learned from both of my girls who are now much more open about it. It's made me a better mother. It's made me better equipped to talk to young people and it's made me be more vulnerable and open with other parents. I'm still learning every single day, but that is a privilege.
What do you think was the reason for that disconnect between you two when she was younger?
Some of the reasons people don't approach their parents is they're afraid of being judged. And also their parents don't share their own struggles with them, which I didn't do. I didn't open up. I felt like as a parent, I had to be tough and strong and keep it all together, but I wasn't actually always all together.
What do you think ended up helping her?
Sharing her story. I didn't understand, and was like, "Why are you telling these like really horrible things that happened to you to people?" But it was resonating with young people. They were like, "Oh Gaga, if you overcame that, maybe we can to do it, let us get involved." So this was wholly her vision... because of what she went through, she envisioned a world where young people are better equipped than she was to deal with their struggles. I'm really proud of her for channeling all that pain and trauma into helping others.
Looking back, what else do you think you could have done differently?
One thing that was really important in our family was family dinners and nothing was really off limits, but I have to say, looking back, I don't think we ever talked about mental health. We talked about politics, entertainment, stuff at school and some of the challenges, but I don't think we ever talked about mental health and that's something we're really encouraging families to do. However you define a family, now is the time to talk about it just as you would talk about your physical health and treat it just as you would your physical health.
My daughter talks about identifying now who's on your mental health team. Don't wait till you have a crisis... identify now who you would talk to. Who would you turn to in a time of crisis? That really can be a life saving moment if you know who that person is.
Your daughter’s mission seems to have informed your mission. What have you learned from her and how has that shaped or redirected your own life’s work?
100 percent it started with her, but I also found my own purpose. I spent over 25 years in corporate America. I had a good business background, but not really in this space. So one thing I've learned is really nothing's impossible at any age. That was a lovely surprise to have, the privilege of doing something like that at a later point in your life.
We see so many communities struggling right now but I have to say despite how difficult the times are, there's hope and there's an opportunity to change. We see incredible trauma being turned into good. We're collecting incredible stories of kindness and resilience in our community. So we are encouraged and we are inspired... advocating for a better world that values, validates and respects people.
We feel the entire world is really working to come up with solutions and support one another, but we still have a lot of work to do.