What does it mean to be a godparent in 2015?
What does it means to be a godparent these days? Olivia Willis explores what the role entails
Traditionally, godparents were responsible for ensuring a child's religious education was carried out, and for caring for the child should something happen to its parents. This is not so much the case today.
The 'God' in godparent appears to be shrinking as many parents today don't consider religion 'as much' in their selection. There are no hard and fast rules nowadays but, in practice, there is a world of difference between just being a godparent and being a good godparent - both in the eyes of the child and its parents.
Choosing a godparent
Parents often select godparents who will bring something to the mix - for example, adventure, glamour, sporting prowess, sociability, culture, humour or perhaps even social standing.
I have three godchildren - Matthew, James and Charlie. The parents of these said children, in their wisdom (or most likely in their fragile state of mind) asked me to be their children's godmother. How they chose me I've never asked, but asking someone to be your child's godparent is a big deal - it's basically trusting them with the most precious thing in your life - your child.
But how do you choose who? How do you whittle it down? How do you pick the best person for the job without insulting other family members or close friends? Do you choose someone because you feel the need to 'return the favour'? Do you choose a family member because you feel it's expected of you?
It's not such a simple decision! There is no exact or correct response to any of these questions, but it's important nonetheless to think about these questions before you do choose.
The role once accepted
Being a godparent is a rather lovely life-affirming concept. While there is no textbook definition as to what it is exactly to be a modern godparent, the job today as I see it is to take an active interest in the children's lives, offer advice and administer pats on the back and cheers from the sidelines.
I like to think of godparenting today as offering another ear, another place to go, a refuge so to speak. As parents we try our very hardest to do our best by our children, but let's face it, sometimes it doesn't always go according to plan.
We can jump to the wrong conclusions, scream when we should be calm, and say things we don't mean. So when one of the kids runs out the house with the loud slamming of the door, it's nice to think that it might be their godparents they will turn to.
What it means to the godparent
For me the most exciting part of being a godparent is the idea of what's to come in the years ahead. When there are significant events in the kid's life, a good godparent will be there for them - that in essence is surely what it's all about?
I imagine days in the future where I'll sit down with them and chat about what school or college they'll go to. We'll talk about their girl or boy trouble. I'll take them for their first drink when they're 18. They'll call me for advice in advance of a job interview. We'll plan their wedding and when the time comes, talk about what they might call their firstborn child (Olivia, of course, if it's a girl!)
The practicalities of being a godparent
It is very flattering to be asked to be a godparent but there are practicalities that are expected of you. Being a godparent is both an honour and a responsibility. So with this in mind…
• Never forget a birthday, Christmas or other significant date. Neglecting the big days of a child's life is unforgivable.
• Visit regularly - don't be a stranger to them. Find ways of keeping in touch if you live far away.
• When they are old enough, send regular emails and text messages, and encourage them to contact you independently from their parents.
• Think carefully about what you buy for them: a child will probably prefer to receive frequent inexpensive thoughtful presents rather than one occasional expensive gift.
• Speaking of presents - presence is better than presents (though the child may not always agree). The more time you give to your godchild, the more popular you'll become. Especially with the parents.
• Be there for big occasions such as school plays, sporting finals, first Holy Communion, etc. And bear in mind the milestones later in life like I mentioned before.
• Spend time with your godchild alone: build up your own rapport together away from the parents.
• Speak to them as your equal: you have a unique opportunity to be one of their first grown-up friends.
Olivia Willis is the co-founder of familyfriendlyhq.ie, an Irish family website with information for parents, things to do, daily blogs, reviews and expert family advice.
Practical tips for choosing a godparent
As with any big decision it's good to go with your gut instinct. However, there are some things you can think about before you choose.
● Make a list: Sit down with your partner and go through the people you would like to choose as godparent, bearing in mind these points below.
● Your family: A family member can be more regularly involved in your kid's life as you will meet up when going to family events and occasions. While picking a close friend is also a great idea, be sure that it is a friend that will be in your life forever and therefore will watch your little one grow up.
● Their character: The character of the person needs to be thought about as obviously you need somebody who likes kids and would be honoured to be a godparent. Think of a person that your child can trust to do right by them in the future and guide them when they need a shoulder to cry on.
● Personal traits: These, together with what their values are, are important as it might be good to have someone who has similar beliefs and shares the same morals as you. If you choose someone who has completely different views about raising children, this could cause disputes. On the flipside, perhaps you're looking for someone to give them a different perspective on life, so if that's your idea, then take that into consideration too.
● Logistics: This is another thing to consider. Do they live close enough to see your child regularly while growing up? Having someone geographically close by will be a benefit to you and your little one. Who knows when you may need support and having regular contact will build the bond between your child and them for years to come.
● Trustworthiness and dependability: These are important features to consider before you finally choose a godparent for your kid. As a parent you need to be sure that the godparent you choose will be there for your child and that you can trust that they will always do right by them.