I was having a conversation the other day with my husband where we were discussing the cultural phenomenon of “godparents.” My husband had one growing up: his aunt. All of his cousins had godparents as well. Godparents aren’t a thing in my family. Instead, we have namesakes. Knowing that, within my family, we got through our young lives without such a presence, I wondered if they’ve really been necessary — then and now. But before we talk about godparents in the present, we need to look at their origins and what it means to be one.
In biblical times, the godparent was considered a “sponsor” who at the time of baptism made a profession of faith on behalf of the person being baptized, usually a baby or a child. In other words, the godparent “vouched” for the person being baptized as they sought to enter the faith. At that time, the godparent’s role as sponsor or advocate included standing literally by the side of the person being baptized, and committing to guiding them in their faith as a proxy or stand-in for the parents. That meant that in those times if for some reason the parents were unable or unwilling to fulfill their role as a religious guide for their child, the godparents would step in.
In more recent history, specifically the last several hundred years, the godparent role has morphed beyond religious responsibilities. Godparents during this period of time have adopted the role of potential guardians or even part-time parents, often becoming as involved in the child’s life as close family members. They are deemed to be someone very special in the family.
My husband and I understand the role godparents played in the past, given most societies then were very strongly tied to and dictated by religion and faith. However, we did find ourselves questioning if the need for godparents is still there in modern times. In our case, we have strong friends and family networks so it never occurred to us to pursue the idea of godparents when our children were born. We were honestly, a bit baffled by the concept now. This prompted us to do some digging and to ask questions of our friends who have elected to choose godparents, and we found out some very interesting things.
First and foremost, modern-day godparenting is very much alive and well as a cultural practice. Being asked to be a godparent remains a mark of honor and something that demonstrates the level of love and respect the parents feel for you as well as the depth of the importance they place on your relationship with them. When parents choose someone to be a godparent these days, it is because they want them to be actively involved in the child’s life and to help mentor and support their child as they grow into adulthood. However, being a godparent is a responsibility. While it can be flattering to be asked to take on such a role, it needs to be understood that there is an expectation attached to the request. Therefore, one should be sure to clarify with the parents what they expect from you before accepting the role.
Secondly, we learned that picking a godparent is a deeply personal choice. We did some research behind the question, “who do you ask to be a godparent?” Typically, people make their choice of godparents based on things like shared or similar values, a positive long-term relationship with the selectee(s), a complete trust of that person with the child, and the ability to bring something special to the child’s life that the parents are unable to offer. Most people select someone in their immediate family, but in many cases, people choose close friends. Godparents can and should be a part of the milestones and special events of the child’s life. Typically, the mothers will choose the godmother and fathers will choose the godfathers, but this is not a firm rule. Ideally, the parents together should choose the godparents that are best for their children.
Finally, the adage, “It takes a village to raise a child” is perfectly embodied by the idea of the “godparent” and is a truism for the past and especially the present. Given all the modern-day pressures parents are under, having godparents makes complete sense in 2021 (and beyond). These days, it is easier to “parent by committee” because everyone brings different strengths, knowledge, and experiences to the table, which all serve to further enrich the child whose life they are a part of.