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What exactly is a Godparent?

posted on October 07 2017

A Practical Guide for New Godparents

"My best friend in the world just told me she's pregnant with her first and I immediately nominated myself to be the baby's godparent. I couldn't help myself I know this child will mean so much to me. I want to be there through the highs and lows", said Alicia this morning.

There are times in life that a community of people bigger than just your blood ties come together to bond, to celebrate. And when a baby is born is one of those amazing times.

Have you been asked to be a Godparent? Are you thinking about naming Godparents for your child? One thing is certain it is a huge honour to have this connection with someone else in the world. 

But what exactly does it mean to be a GODPARENT? Whether we are their keepers, or buy them gifts, help pay for their college education or mentor them in the arts, the definition is widespread. When I started to look into this subject, I decided to strip it right back. What, in fact, is the definition of a godparent? After a quick on line search, these are the first two responses I got:-

'A godparent is someone who presents a child at baptism and promises to take responsibility for their religious education.'

'A godparent tends to be an individual chosen by the parents to take an interest in the child's faith and general development, and to take care of the child should anything happen to the the parents.' 
In many ways these definitions didn't make it any easier to understand. How does this model apply to the multi cultural, multi faith, multi lingual landscape of today, where we have such a breadth and freedom of choice? 
One in three infants in the Christian world were still being baptised in the 1980's, but by 2011 the number had dropped to just over one in ten. Conversely, the number of godparents has risen significantly in recent years, with children often having many more than the amount that Christianity would traditionally prescribe. Godparents are trendy and with baby naming ceremonies on the rise (think official 'welcome to the world' without the plentiful prerequisites of Christianity) one could argue that these are these are trendy too. So do we need to reconsider the title 'godparent'? 
Angel, backer, mainstay, patron, sustainer, advocate, guardian and sponsor. I'm personally loving 'backer' and 'mainstay'. They both sound so supportive and consistent and comforting, even if 'backer' also conjures up pictures in my mind of a busy betting shop on Grand National day. 

Further down the list of definitions for 'godparent', I came across this:- 

'A godparent / guardian agrees to love and care for a child as their own. A second set of parents if you will. They promise to be there to guide the child and teach them right from wrong, to love and nurture them as their parents would. In the event that the biological parents should both pass away, the godparent agrees to accept the child as their own.'

This description resonates with me. I believe my own godparents were chosen not with religion in mind but because my parents wanted them to play an important role in my life. They turned out to be great godparents, especially my godmothers, both of whom were a little on the eccentric side. I remember my Aunt Penelope had a beehive and a staggering collection of fabulous and bizarre coats and handbags.
My other godmother was laugh out loud funny and had beautiful paintings hanging all over her house. She had an amazing creative flair and would often make me beautiful things for my birthday and Christmas. I remember wanting to be just like her and her opinion and advice meant everything to me. I always knew my godparents loved and cared for me, but of the many conversations I had with them over the years, I never remember one of them being about their responsibility to guide me religiously. They were always my 'backers' though. 
When it came to choosing godparents for my own three children, there were a few things I was on the look out for. Firstly, they had to mean the world to me and/or my husband. And they had to be good people. Ideally they would be well travelled, well read and a little left of centre. Fundamentally however, they had to care. They had to want to be a part of the journey my children would take through life. Religion didn't really come into it, but the fundaments of all religions really did; and in my mind it all boils down to one thing; being good. 
The first time I was asked if I would like to be a godparent, I felt completely honoured and humbled. Did these parents really see something in me that they felt could give something so important, positive and long lasting to their most precious possession? Could I in fact be that person and would I meet their expectations?
Now that I am a little further down life's road, I hope I'm doing ok. Ultimately, I try and do for my godchildren what my children's godparents are doing for them; gently guide, gently nurture, gently advise, greatly love. Regardless of your beliefs, everyone needs and deserves some of all of that. 
So let's embrace the idea of godparenting, or sustaining or advocating or backing. Whatever you want to call it, the fundamentals of the job are the same. It's about surrounding children with people who want to nourish them emotionally, physically, mentally.
One of my all time favourite sayings is 'it takes a village to raise a child'. So in the global village that is our today let's fill our children's lives with all that our village has to offer and let's do it with all the love we've got. We could collectively make a massive difference to our world's tomorrow
What a lovely thought!

We would love to hear what you think about this topic so please do get in touch with your thoughts and contributions. 


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