How to choose godparents for your baby
Where did the tradition start?
The origins of the term ‘godparent’ began in Christianity around the 2nd century AD and most modern Christian churches continue the practice of appointing godparents today. The godparents are chosen to sponsor a child at the baby’s baptism, and are expected to take an interest in the child’s religious education, upbringing and development. In some cultures the godparents are identified to take over care, especially spiritual guidance, of the child if something happens to the parents. They are essentially spiritual parents.
Who can stand as godparent has changed throughout the years. Originally it had to be the actual parents, and then could not be the parents, and now either is generally allowed. A long time ago the godparent could be someone of standing in the town, and may not actually know the child or family personally.
Godparents can be family members or friends, and for a long time needed to be a married couple themselves, although these days do not need to be married or a couple. Depending on the Church, such as Catholicism, some godparents have to be of the same faith as the child, although other churches many waive this requirement also. Usually you don’t have to be a fairy, but this always helps.
In some very Catholic and Orthodox countries the relationship between godparents and the child is very revered, and carries with it special obligations and responsibilities. In some cultures there is an expected level of economic support for the child’s future. Also in some cultures parents may still choose important people a social class above them to fulfil the godparent role as a way of improving the family’s connections and social standing.
Is it just a religious thing?
If you follow a Christian religion, you are likely to get your child baptised and choose godparents that fit within the definition of your church, but lots of other people can appoint godparents also. The increasing tradition of holding baby naming ceremonies for people not affiliated with a religion generally includes a godparent counterpart (although the ‘god’ part is usually left out). Modern nondenominational terms for godparent include ‘guardian’, ‘guide parent’ or ‘oddparent’.
The idea of appointing someone as special to the child and to have a significant role in their moral upbringing is a lovely idea, and there is no reason why you have to be a religious person to adopt this tradition.It is common that the godparent is expected to stay close to the child and play a spiritual and caring role for them, particularly if something happened to the parents and they no longer could fill that role. These days it is seen as an honour, and people chosen are generally very important to the parents.
What are some of the factors you might consider?
If you are choosing godparents for your child, there are a number of things you need to consider:
What does being a godchild to your child mean for you? It may be helpful for you and your partner to figure out how this relationship is defined and what you expect of the chosen godparents. It could be a good idea to discuss this with them; they may not have any idea what to do.
You may want to choose people who are special people to you, as a way of honouring them and letting them know what they mean to you. Alternatively you may think about this more from the perspective of a relationship between this person and your child, and choose someone you want to be central to your child’s life and development.
You may want to consider if the person you are choosing has similar values and beliefs to you, including parenting style, religious beliefs and cultural background. You may like to choose someone with the same beliefs as you, or you may actively seek out someone the opposite, to give your children a more rounded world view.
Choose someone that you think will take the role as seriously as you do. You may want to choose someone who will actively spend time with your child, and who will be a good role model for him/her. Particularly throughout the horrible teenage years when your child will openly despise you, if you have chosen their godparents well you could rest assured that your child might turn to them for advice instead.
If you choose friends, are you still likely to be friends for many years to come as your child grows?If you choose a married couple, what will happen if they split up? Consider how any breakdown in these relationships may affect your child later on in their life.
As in many things with families, no matter who you choose for the honour, another family member is likely to be offended for not being honoured. I don’t mean that you should choose someone just because they are likely to chuck a wobbly if you don’t, but at least be aware you might offend some people and maybe chat to them about that.
Are they expected to adopt if you pass away?
In modern times, the godparents do not automatically become responsible for the child if the parents pass away. In times where godparents are not necessarily a couple, and when siblings of the child would want to be kept together, it wouldn’t make sense to expect the godparents to take over.
Legally you would designate in your will, who will take care of your children if you died; godparents as such do not hold a legal claim to this. If you do not leave instructions about this and your remaining family can’t agree then the courts will appoint a suitable guardian.
Choosing a godparent is really all up to you
The role today seems to be as big or as little as each family chooses to make it. Some godparents will have a very special welfare relationship with their godchild and may take their role very seriously. Other godparents (like mine for instance) don’t even seem to remember that they have a godchild.
You can make of it whatever you like, and encourage the ongoing relationship in any way you want. Really all a godparent has to have is the capacity to care about your child. And if they are a fairy then that could help too.