Godparents wanted: Messy, poor or ugly needn’t apply
There’s only one thing more cool than having a celebrity baby. Choosing a celebrity godparent.
The Beckhams want Kate and Wills for baby Harper Seven. Elton John got Lady Gaga. Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman share Rupert Murdoch’s two young daughters. Michael Stipe and Drew Barrymore have Frances Bean Cobain. And Jake Gygenhall claims Matilda Ledger all to himself.
Rarely a bastion of insight and wisdom when it comes to relationships, Hollywood’s take on godparents (rich, relatively famous, well-connected and good looking) don’t apply to many of us. But what we do share is confusion about what the role means in modern day life. Just what is today’s godparent expected to do?
First, some history. Godparents were invented as a result of the practice of Baptism, around the 2nd century, because certain faiths required every child have a “mentor” to act as a physical and spiritual guide. Originally parents filled this role, up until the Middle Ages when it became acceptable for other people to take up the responsibility.
Legally speaking, today’s godparents have no formal or legal obligation regarding their godchildren, nor do they “automatically” become guardians of the child in the event that the parents pass away.
But parenting blogs are filled with discussion on this topic. And for good reason. It’s really confusing no matter what end of the spectrum you’re coming at it.
Parents struggle with deciding who to ask, and whether their lack of faith renders the role obsolete.
One friend I spoke to, who has a close relationship with her own godparents (close friends of her parents, without children of their own) said not knowing “how” to conduct a ceremony without the religion, was putting them off doing anything at all.
Another said they avoided the problem altogether and held a “blessing ceremony” inviting friends and family as a gesture of welcome and involvement in their child’s life.
Godparents don’t get off easily either; and many agonise over actually accepting an offer.
Sometimes their reluctance comes from not understanding the role they’re expected to fill. You know you should be flattered to be asked, but how much responsibility does it actual entail? What if you’re living in another country? Are you under any obligation to see them all the time?
For other people, it’s about feelings of guilt. Or purely as a result of having several godchildren already “allotted” to them. At what point can you have too many?
That goes for the number of godparents too. Celebrities further up the chain are particularly guilty of this. The Danish royal twins Isabella and Vincent share six godparents, and Liz Hurley’s only son Damain has seven.
Godparents and potential godparents can also be in conflict, at some level, with the way their friend is planning to raise their child.
The Guardian ran a really interesting Q/A on this kind of scenario earlier this year. A woman turned down a friend’s invitation because couldn’t reconcile the traditional, religious aspects of the role with her own feelings about faith.
The best advice in any tricky area of human relationship often comes down to communication; ask how you’d like to be asked and treat the role as you’d have it treated.
American blogger and guardianship attorney, Daniel A. Jimenez, says choosing a godparent or mentor for your child should come down your own relationship with the people in question. Ask yourself, are you going to be friends in 10 years time? And have an open conversation about what role you’d like them to play in your child’s life.
As one friend I spoke to said: “We choose people we admire and who’d be in [our children’s] lives anyway. Even though they don’t live close by anymore it doesn’t matter because they are surrounded by friends and family that love them.”
If all else fails, you could always bend it like the Beckhams and just ask a handsome prince.
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