Monday, 7 March 2011

Talking to your parents about Goth

I was recently contacted by a girl who's currently going through a difficult time with her parents... her mum is very much against Goths, believing that they are trouble-makers, but Girl Z (we'll call her that) has been interested in the subculture for years now and really wants to be able to identify as part of it.

I advised Miss Z to sit down and talk to her mum about Goth (in the finest Gothic Charm School tradition), and as I was thinking about it I realised that in some cases this might be easier said than done. Trying to convince your parents that they are 'wrong' and you are 'right' is a situation fraught with difficulty at the best of times, particularly when you are young and still living at home by your parents' rules.

Additionally, some parents are made extremely uncomfortable by the mention of 'Goth', judging by comments I have received on this blog and on the old site, which makes it hard for them to sit down and hear you out. Even if they are willing to talk to you about it, how can you be sure that they will take on board what you are saying?

But at the end of the day, everybody, no matter how young, is their own person and has the right to express themself as such, which is why it is worth at least attempting to start a dialogue with your parents about why you like Goth; why it's important to you; and why they shouldn't be worried or angry that you want to begin identifying yourself as a member of the subculture.

Aesma Daeva
Source: Deathwaves on Tumblr
If you are worried that you won't be able to express yourself adequately (whether you can't find the right words under pressure or you think they will interrupt or not have a moment to talk with you about this), it might help you to write down what you would like to say to your parents and give it to them at a quiet moment when you think they might have time to sit and read it.

If one of your parents is more concerned about Goth, is it possible for you to speak with the other parent and get them on-side? Can you talk to them calmly about why you feel such concerns are unfounded, and explain that you would like them to help you reach a compromise?

Compromise, whilst I'm on the topic, is very important in such a discussion and may well be the only way that you can become more involved with Goth whilst keeping your parents happy. Some compromises that you could suggest may include:
  • "If I keep the clothing demure, modest and unprovocative, can I dress in Goth clothes?" That means no PVC corsets, no tiny skirts, no T-shirts with rude slogans etc.; but still leaves you a vast array of choices.
  • "If I keep my natural hair colour and don't get anything pierced or tattooed until I leave home, can I dress in Goth clothes?" Hair dye and body mods are often a parent's worst nightmare, and one of the main problems many have with the Goth aesthetic.
  • "If I get good grades for the rest of year and do all my chores, can I dress in Goth clothes?" This will show your parents that being Goth does not mean being rebellious and irresponsible.
It might help you to collect some 'evidence' that Goth is not the Bad Scary Thing they may think it is. Can you print off some articles such as this one or this one to show them? Would it help to point them to websites such as, well, The Ultimate Goth Guide, or the far better Gothic Charm School (or even share with them a copy of the Gothic Charm School book)? Do you have any charming, well-dressed, mannerly Goth friends you can introduce to your parents?

Can you take a leaf out of Kent's (of The Amazing Race) book and play them a CD of Goth music they might enjoy? Bouncy, upbeat music from bands such as The Cruxshadows, Clan of Xymox and Depeche Mode, or beautiful, almost spiritual sounds from the likes of Qntal and Dead Can Dance might help dispel any lingering worries about Marilyn Manson and his ilk.

If your parents have previously only been exposed to mallgoths and negative comments in the media, they may also have limited knowledge of Goth fashion, and expect you to be slouching about in baggy hoodies and bondage pants. You could always show them pictures of modestly-dressed Goths in attractive, parent-friendly clothing (an online search will turn up plently of suitable images) to try and reassure them that you aren't going to end up looking like a horror-movie extra.

Your attitude will also go a long way towards influencing your parents' views on Goth. They may think you are going to become miserable, surly and anti-social, or even begin dabbling in drugs. If you can explain to them that this is not the case, and back it up with your attitude and actions, it will help them feel less like they are losing their precious child to a dark, melancholy persona.

However, I do advise that you bear in mind the worst-case scenario - they may not listen. But fear not, darklings, there are stealth tactics that can be employed to ensure you don't have to wait until you leave home to begin dressing in darkly decadent fashions, which I shall discuss further at a later date. In the meantime, try and remember that your parents are only concerned for your well-being and trying to keep you safe, and good luck with your family discussions.

If anyone has any further advice that they can offer to the young lady I referred to at the start of this post, please leave a comment below - she is a reader of this blog and I think it would be really great if we could help her out. =)

Goth gossip: Thursday's Daily Mail had a great comment about the lace-and-fishnet getup that ageing pop star Madonna was recently pictured wearing: "Madonna wore lace to the Oscars — taking a fabric that should be elegant, and wearing it in a style reminiscent of a goth." Because, obviously, there's nothing elegant about Goth... d'oh...


DuskRose_Dreaming said...

Great post. Reading about these kinds of situations always saddens me, but also makes me realize how lucky I am to have an accepting family (most of them, anyway).
I always love your references to Gothic Charm School, as its headmistress is one of my idols too.

*facepalm* Oh, of course, I totally didn't realize there's nothing elegant about goth...Whoops, my bad. XD

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add not to back down. You don't want a confrontation, but you also don't want to run away crying angry tears, either. Just be calm, listen to their concerns, explain that you do understand where they're coming from, and reassure them. That's what I did over my hair cut--they still don't like it, I'm sure, but my parents have accepted it. Also, it helps to educate yourself, too--i.e., if you know that Festish or punk (with all sors of torn clothing and such), or simliar styles won't go over well, try to do some research on styles they won't freak out about so much. Then explain it to them (with pictues, of course, explaining that this is what you're going for--I did that with my hair cut, too). If they have some idea of what it is you're aiming for, that can help calm their fears. And, if you really, really, really want to incorporate a style that they don't like--there are small ways to add it in. Maybe full-on punk makes them queasy--how about some punktorian? And if the first thing that comes to mind is corsets and bloomers and nothing else, explain that there are many, many ways to interpret most goth styles--some of which can't be found readily in the shops. And of course, there's the whole concept of making your own style. Which can also help--epsecially if you have a piece of clothing that you really love even if it doesn't scream goth. Might be a great way to introduce them to the artsy side of goth, too. Oh, and if you have an interest that is common to goths but not automatically recognized as such, like symphonies, ballet, or opera--tell them! They will likely think you are very cultured.

Emily Lynn G. said...

"But fear not, darklings, there are stealth tactics that can be employed to ensure you don't have to wait until you leave home to begin dressing in darkly decadent fashions, which I shall discuss further at a later date" Ohhhhh can't wait for that!
As someone who probably is around the same age as the girl in question, I'll say this: attitude IS everything, like Miss Amy said, and a BIG key thing is to MAKE BABY STEPS. If you show up one day all dark clad after a major shopping spree, no matter how much I'd *love* that, parents will feel alarmed and overwhelmed at the sudden change. Start slow, work up your (and their) confidence. This also allows you to test the waters on what you can and can't do: I just got allowed to buy black nail-polish (the simplest of things, i know!) and am still working up to plum-purplish-black hair one day (tried it once, came out wine color)and after 4 years we've come along way.
Another big thing is knowing when to town it down out of respect. So, probably for religious institutions or visiting older relatives.
However, as you get comfortable in the goth lifestyle, this all becomes second nature, like anything else, and once you learn the rules you can bend them! ;) ( I'm sure Miss Amy has or will make some great article(s) on Corporate Goth looks for being able to express yourself more mildly when needed.)
Hope I helped <3

Ashlee said...

Doomicorn Rainbow wrote a post called The Noob's Guide to Parental Acceptance. It's about dressing parent-friendly goth. It might help.

Anonymous said...

Another great post Amy. I think this will really help lots of people.
My advice when "selling" your parents on the idea, just some basic psychology rules that really do work wonders; don't back them into corners, corned animals tend to claw.
When starting off, ask questions that they will answer "Yes" to. Like, "I know you're not comfortable with me dressing Goth at this point, am I right?" "I know you don't want me wearing anything provocative, yes?" Etc. I know it sounds too simple, but it really works.
Also, though prepping your parents is important, saving some information till the end is helpful. If you keep asking them to say yes after they've said no, they will feel undermined, and like they're giving in. When you offer additional information to them, it makes it feel like you're "sweetening the deal" so to speak, and they feel that rather than giving in, they have in a way negotiated with you. Save Amy's bulleted list as your secret weapon, the "If I keep the clothing demure, modest and un-provocative, can I dress in Goth clothes?" etc.
It will help a lot.

As for clothes, In my experience, starting off with a Mrs. Addams inspired way of dress is a good canvas for growing your style that doesn't alarm people. It's classy, nostalgic, and is great take off point for whatever 'branch' of Goth you feel the most comfortable with in the future.

KatSlaughter said...

I never had to 'come out' to my parents, thankfully. They just thought I was emo. I didn't care. Luckily a close friend of mine happened to have a similar style at the time (she has recently gone hippie/bohemian chic), and I think they assumed we were just rubbing off on each other from spending too much time together. But at least now when they buy me clothing they get it in the right colour.

But your suggestions are most helpful to someone wishing to identify more obviously with the subculture without being Shunned. I think as long as you dress age-appropriately, with a bit of class; your parents will allow you to get away with anything. Like those old people (and you know it's happened to you) that complement you on your outfit when you're wearing lace gloves and a long dress -- it's elegant and ladylike, and who could object to that even if you do look like you've just emerged from a grave?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, as usual. :D My parents are totally accepting of me, even if they are a little bit baffled by my eccentricity at times (particularly my ultraconservative dad, but he just thinks I'm funny). I'm totally with Emily about the "baby steps." Dressing in lovely, victorian-inspired fashions helps, too. My mom thinks it's adorable, which it truly is. Lots of lace and ruffles (if you're a girl. For guys I'm kind of stuck for advice, but that's why you have the blog and I don't...eehee).
Also, whatever you do, hold off on the black lipstick or any other kind of crazy makeup for as long as possible, and when you do bring it out, do it gradually, and for heaven's sake, do it tastefully! No mascara tears or whiteface until you get more experienced with makeup. That goes for the black lipstick, too. Of all the crazy things you can wear, makeup is the most dangerous as far as parental approval is concerned. Once your parents become more accepting of your gothiness, you can start doing more eccentric things. I still try to take it easy on my poor dad, even if I have been goth for years now. ("Why are you wearing a bat?") Just remember that your parents really do love you, so try to be sensitive about their feelings.

Anonymous said...

Alternatively you could do what I did, listen to the music and all that, then when you leave home and your mum comes to visit, call her 15 minutes before and say "oh yeah, I forgot to say, I'm a goth now :)"
Worked like a charm. After we met, I forced her to watch all the lady of the manners' videos on YouTube and gave her the link to the Gothic Charm School site. My aunty was harder to win over but as she's extended family her opinion is mute :)

Kitty Lovett; A Charming Notion said...

I'm so happy and lucky my dad's only negative feedback was him trying to be "cool"(because the cool kids make fun of each other!). He's called me Morticia Addams a few times, and Wednesday once or twice, but they were all in good fun. I mean, my three eldest siblings were all Grungy McCobainGrunge (and still are to some respects), and he's seen all the fishnets and boots before. My mother was always a little strained, far more condesending about the matter ("it's okay if you want to! i'll love you anyway!" but really half-hearted, like "so and so is gay - notthatthere'sanythingwrongwiththat. Somehow much worse). She insisted it was all a phase and all going to pass. Yeah, mum. How's that hippie phase passing?

Oh, right.

Kitty Lovett; A Charming Notion said...

Oh, and as an added note, nothing makes parents feel better more than a pair of rainbow socks or red shoes. Particularly, if you're a girl, red shoes will remind your parents (father especially) that you're still their little girl. Unless they're horror movie buffs. Then you're just the girl from Orphan.

I miss my red mary-janes. </3

Tenebris In Lux said...

I've never heard of parents going as far as throwing their kids out of the home for being Goth, but I know it can happen if you come out. I was deathly scared to come out, even thought both of my parents are fairly liberal people. When I told them, the reaction was, "oh, alright, we sort of saw that coming"! :-)

Becoming Goth wasn't that bad. I found out (via grandfather) that my dad used to be Goth. Must run in the family?

Speaking of MM and his ilk .. every time one of his songs pops up on the car stereo, my mum turns it up. She loves him, and that's kind of rare for a mother. *_* He's still quite the guilty pleasure for me.

Little Black Car said...

Alas, I wasted my teenaged years and open-minded parents because I was too style-lazy and self-conscious to be as Goth as I wanted to be.

I was flipping through TV channels one day and landed on one of those horrible daytime shows (Sally Jessy? Geraldo? Maury?) which, I'm ashamed to admit, was the best thing on. Mom came in a few minutes later and asked, "What are they doing?"

I said, "Goth makeovers." They were taking teenaged Goth girls and making them over into something their parents liked better for family portraits.

Mom watched for a few minutes and then let out a very loud, very disappointed, moan. "Well, this is boring: I thought they were making them over into Goths!"

Jekka said...

Luckily for me my parents are not too bothered with my being a goth. They figure there are a lot worse things I could be doing.

Anonymous said...

Well I am goth and I'm 12 yrs old, I think it's great to express who you are and how you feel. Stand up to your paretns and tell them who you are and how proud you are of yourself. It's like saying ur banned to be you, hold on, it's exactly like saying that. So go out there and be yourself! Hope this helped :)

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