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In Godparents We Trust -- But Should We?

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Kate Tuttle: It's such an honor to be chosen as a child's godparent, and it feels like such a big responsibility to select godparents for your own children. And yet, years later, how many godparents are really doing anything at all for their young charges?

Woman and boy

A recent New York Times article chronicled a British debate over godparenting, focusing specifically on the (allegedly) lousy godfathering job performed by novelist and enfant terrible Martin Amis. Apparently Amis isn't the only bad godparent out there: The brouhaha about him set off a spate of confessions by other negligent godparents -- including one who said, "My godson wouldn't recognize me on a bus .... I promised the priest I would train him in the ways of Jesus; instead, I've ignored him for a decade."

I can relate. Although I've stayed reasonably close with the one godchild I've been given -- my friend's 12-year-old son, Asa -- my own children have been neglected, let's say, by about half their godparent crew. My husband's godfather was 12 years old when he was given that honor; I think the two have seen each other once since my husband's birth, now nearly 40 years ago. Although neither I nor my children's godparents ever signed up for anything terribly religious (I did stand up at Asa's christening, but it was a pretty liberal event, with vague promises to protect him from evil, whatever form that might take), it did seem that at the time, we godparents all thought we'd be a help of some sort as the children grew up. We aren't alone, though: As the Times article says, "Godparenting, it seems, has always been more talk than action."

Although godparents are no longer expected to raise the child in the case of parental death (this is a very old-fashioned belief about godparents that hasn't been true for centuries; if you have children, you should designate legal guardians with the same lawyer who prepares your will), in some families, they're still asked to help guide a child in a chosen religious faith. In others, parents are simply hoping to gather a few chosen adults who can step in to provide love and support for their child, perhaps taking him or her to the zoo on occasion, ponying up a savings bond or silver cup and, later in life, arranging a plum internship. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child -- and certainly, in most families, it takes more than the two parents alone.

If we should, as the Times article suggests, reinvent the role of godparents, what attributes and responsibilities would top your list?

next: Kevin G. Schmidt, a Natural in 'Unnatural History'
6 comments so far | Post a comment now
Matt June 12, 2010, 6:26 AM

Last time I checked god parents are there in the case that you and your husband or wife, I don’t judge, are unfit to take care of your children, or you die.

Anna June 13, 2010, 4:19 AM

Godparents are there to make sure the child is raised in the Christian faith. There to make sure the parents are attending church services, participating in the sacraments, praying etc. What is the true meaning of Christmas and Easter kind of thing. My godparents were also to be my legal guardians if my parents died. I am a godparent now to 2 children. I stood as witness at their Baptisms. I probably should be doing more…

Monica June 13, 2010, 10:26 PM

These days the term God parent is just a novelty saying. People throw it around either not taking it seriously or not nothing what they are implying when they choose.

Kristen June 14, 2010, 4:35 AM

As it states in the article, godparent was once meant as legal guardian if anything should happen to the parents. People still choose to use it in ceremonies but it really is pointless UNLESS the “godparents” are close with the child. It’s a personal matter, thats it.

Anonymous June 14, 2010, 6:10 AM

Godparents are purely symbolic. I’m godparent to my best friend’s children and I’m Jewish!!

Anonymous June 14, 2010, 11:20 AM

I take my goddaughter out quite often to go fishing, to a movie, the waterpark, or camping… she helps babysit my son when I need to get my hair done. We’re quite close and if she had been on better behavior last year, she would have followed me to Hawaii for Christmas. She’s trying much hearder this year in hopes she’ll be able to come along which I think she just might!

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