Is being a godparent still important in Ireland today?
Choosing, and accepting to be, a godparent is a serious business, but it's a role that can create a lasting and special bond.
Published 06/05/2015 | 02:30
From mythology to celebrity and everything in between, the importance of godparents in our ever-changing society has been a constant one.
When A-listers name their children's godmothers and godfathers, it's often headline-making news, exemplified recently by Kanye West and Kim Kardashian choosing her sister Khloe to stand for their daughter North, Taylor Swift announcing via Instagram that her friend, actress Jaime King, had awarded her the honour, and David Beckham acting as godfather for his best friend, Dave Gardner, and Liv Tyler's new baby. Our very own Bono is even godfather to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's seven-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne.
At the time of going to press, rumours continued to fly about who Prince William and Duchess Kate would name as their new daughter's godparents. It's a role that's not to be taken lightly and, so there can be a lot of pressure on families when choosing godparents. Even though the Ireland of 2015 isn't perhaps as religious as it once was, the term godparent refers to so much more than spiritual guidance in this day and age. In the midst of communion season, what exactly should be taken into consideration when it comes to picking the best godparents?
"There are no rules as to who you should pick, but we do speak to a lot of people who are trying to decide about godparents, both prior to the birth and after," says Tony Moore of Relationships Ireland. "Without exception, it's seen as a very important choice to make whether you're religious or not. The actual ceremony of baptism hasn't changed that much over time, unlike many others - and that's whether the child is christened in a church or not. We see a lot of compromise, where children have four godparents, perhaps two from each side of the family."
Karen Mooney (34), from Dublin, is mother to six-year-old Éabha and Cian (4). "Choosing godparents was important because we knew we would want someone who would be in our children's lives for the long haul not just for now. We also wanted to pick people we could trust to care about our kids' lives in the future, should anything happen to us. For our first child, Éabha, we picked our best man, who is my husband's best friend, and chief bridesmaid, my sister - the traditional way of choosing, I suppose. For our son, Cian, my brother was godfather but for godmother it came down to my two best friends. I couldn't pick between them so I made them toss a coin for it! My friend Claire won. We were lucky we had no politics to consider and there was no pressure on us from either side of the family."
The role of the godparent hasn't changed that much over time either. According to Tony, most godparents he encounters are well aware that they're being tasked with the moral and ethical guiding of a child for life, and they take it very seriously. "It's a very close-knit and special bond - this person isn't just a family member, they're almost a friend, a confidante. People do take the role very seriously, even in today's often throwaway society."
Ciara Cosgrove (31), has six nieces and nephews, and she is godmother to one of them, six-year-old Sophie. "Sophie is a twin, and one of the funniest little girls I know who already has a big personality. Her godfather lives in America so I feel sometimes that I'm playing both roles. I'm very close to all my nieces and nephews but when it comes to Sophie, it's just that extra little bit special. I don't think I love her more than the others, but I feel closer to her in a way."
Choosing godparents can be difficult though, which Ciara experienced previously. "When [her parents'] first grandchild Katie came along, I was so excited and did a lot for my sister during her pregnancy. But when it came time for the naming of the godparents, my other sister was chosen because she was chief bridesmaid. I felt so hard done by.
"When the twins came along two years later, I was asked first! I was thrilled, it meant a lot to me."
It's not something anybody likes to think about, but a big element of choosing godparents is deciding whether they might be the right people to raise children if something were to happen to the parents - and also an important thing to take into account before accepting such a role. "If the parents die, this is where it's very important that the godparent might come in to play," says Tony. "It's a role for life, and a deep commitment."
Ciara is conscious of this when thinking about her own future children.
"Godparents are something I'll take very seriously when the time comes. Morbid it may be, but God forbid anything ever happened to my husband and me, I would want to know that the godparents will be there for our children and take it seriously. At the end of the day it is a parental role."
There is also the issue of the possibility of disconnecting with your child's godparents. Most people ask those with whom they can't imagine ever falling out, but life is unpredictable, and it can happen. Sarah* (44) asked her best friend to be godmother to her son, now 11, but the two women no longer speak.
"Next year, my son is making his confirmation, and traditionally a godparent acts as the child's sponsor. I've already told him that it will be his godfather, even though he's not a very religious person, who will be standing there with him on the day. When I chose his godmother, I thought we would be friends for life, but sadly that's just not the case any more."
It's an issue that can arise even when family members are chosen, and Tony urges maintaining a relationship with the young person in the event of a falling out. "It's unfortunate, but relationships do break down. In the case of relations between the adults being broken, it's important for the godparent to think of their own connection with the young person involved, and attempt to keep contact."
The relationship between godparents and godchild can be so rewarding but it may also fraught with difficulty, so choosing godparents requires serious thought, as does accepting the responsibility.
"As we get older, there's always a tie to our godparents, and we remember them," says Tony. "It really is a special, moving relationship."
* Name changed to protect identity