Hello Faithful Readers, and welcome to another fun-filled Gothic Charm School column. (The Lady of the Manners certainly hopes it’s fun-filled for you Faithful Readers, because she has fun writing them.)
Recently, the Lady of the Manners has been getting a lot of mail from parents; encouraging mail. Mail that asks questions like “How can I as a parent support him in the Goth life, without seeming like I’m pretending to be “cool”, or fake? Should I just let him experiment with it?” The Lady of the Manners is thrilled that parents are reading her columns and sending her mail, which naturally leads to the Lady of the Manners writing a column just for them. But before she starts holding forth about “So you’re the parent of a fledgling Goth?”, there’s one eensy other thing she has to address …
Last month’s column generated quite the flurry of mail from Faithful Readers asking for validation of their gothness. “My friends say I’m not a Goth because I don’t wear all black, all the time.” “I don’t know if I’m really a Goth, but I like dark colors, graveyards, bats …” The Lady of the Manners is flattered that people consider her an arbitrator of what is really and truly Gothic, but doesn’t want to start down that path. The Lady of the Manners will content herself with two statements on the subject: One, a person doesn’t have to wear all black all the time to be Goth, and Two, if you think you’re a Goth, you probably are and shouldn’t worry about what other people (or on-line quizzes, dear oh dear) say.
Now, back to the touchingly-concerned parents; firstly, you MUST realize that your child becoming a Goth doesn’t mean they’ve become a Satanist, are doing drugs, have joined a cult, or are about to kill themselves or someone else.
The second thing you must keep in mind is that there will be many people (who should know better) that will assume those sorts of things about your child, solely based on their appearance. If you really want to be supportive, speak up in your child’s defense. If someone makes a comment about the way they look, talk about how glad you are that your child is an individual and has their own sense of style. Explain that just because your child chooses to look “that way”, that doesn’t make them evil or disturbed, and that it certainly doesn’t make you a bad parent. Be warned, even people close to you might spout off with this sort of nonsense. Practice your best calm, polite tone of voice, coupled with an icy smile. Better yet, teach your BabyGoth to respond to Those Sorts of Comments in a polite “Yes, I always look like this, no it’s not a costume, you’re right, it isn’t Halloween yet” manner. The earlier they learn that people WILL make comments and how to deal with them gracefully, the better.
On the subject of appearance: nowadays, there are all sorts of places that one can buy what amounts to a “starter Goth kit”. There’s nothing wrong with that, and everyone needs to start somewhere. However, not only can that get expensive, but it’s not very creative. Encourage your child to develop their own unique style by taking them to thrift stores and helping them assemble their own gothy wardrobe. Not only will you save money, but the skills they’ll learn from this (sewing, painting, developing a sense of design) are useful things everyone should know.
Another thing about fledgling Goths and dress sense; you’re still the parent, and perfectly within your rights to say things like “I don’t think you should wear a corset to school”, “Please don’t wear black lipstick when we go to your grandparents’ house”, or “That’s inappropriate for someone your age, please go change clothes”. (The Lady of the Manners is well aware that this is being read with dismay by some of her teenage readers, but hopes they understand the point).
Don’t refer to your child’s interest in Goth as “a phase”. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but calling it a phase is a quick way to convince them that you don’t take them seriously. Instead, make a bargain with them; they can do “x” thing if they meet a certain goal. Coloring their hair an unnatural color as a reward for good grades, buying a coveted item of clothing for helping out around the house; these were tactics the Lady of the Manners’ very own parents used when she was a sullen teen, and they worked very well.
As to the moody, sullen, brooding aspects of teenage Gothdom; it’s going to happen. Even if you think you and your child are best friends, there are going to be times when they think you’re horrible, evil incarnate, and you Just Don’t Understand Them! The Lady of the Manners is blessed with absolutely wonderful parents, and there were times when all she did was lock herself in her room and sulk because they Didn’t Understand Her. The key to this is not to treat your child any differently just because they’re a Goth. If you wouldn’t tolerate certain types of behavior before, there’s no reason for you to go along with them now, just because they have a new interest. But! Don’t treat them differently because they’re exploring the Gothic subculture. (This goes back to the “Goth does not equal suicidal, depressed, or Satanist” section above.) Still ask what they’re doing, still make sure they’re okay, but don’t assume that things are worse than they really are just because they’ve started wearing black velvet and lots of eyeliner.
One thing to avoid, however, is trying too hard to share your BabyGoth’s new enthusiasm. Being supportive is one thing, rushing out and buying yourself a matching black velvet outfit and going everywhere with them is another. Supportive is good, smothering “we can do everything together!” is not.
What else can you do? Encourage them to explore the literary and artistic roots of the Gothic movement. Encourage them in any creative projects they may start. Talk to them and find out what has drawn them to the Gothic subculture in the first place. But above all, remember that having a child who is a Goth isn’t a bad thing. After all, the Lady of the Manners’ parents think she turned out just fine.
With that said, the Lady of the Manners is going to go call her parents and apologize to them for being a moody brat during her teenage years. Come by next month, and do send any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.