One of the many important decisions parents of newborns make is how to choose godparents. There are many misconceptions about the role of a godparent in a child’s life. A godparent is not just the guest of honor at the baptismal ceremony – it is a lifetime commitment and should be prayerfully considered by both the parents and the godparents-to-be.
According to Katie Dawson, director of parish faith formation for the Diocese of Orange and mother of five, picking godparents “can be a crap-shoot.” The way to minimize the risk of an epic fail, is for parents to really think long term when they consider who among their friends and family to ask to take on this important role in their child’s life.
Dawson urges parents, “First, look for someone who is full of faith and will help your child grow in his or her relationship with God and faith. You also need to have someone who is capable of having a positive, long term relationship with the child and will be both a good influence in their life and a role model.” With this in mind, it is better to choose someone who lives relatively close by so they can see the child at least on birthdays and holidays. When the child gets older, godparents can serve as a “second voice” for the parents to offer guidance and support to the child as they progress in their faith journey.
Because godparents are also partners in faith formation they should be strong in their Catholic faith, attend Mass and, if married, they must be in a sacramental Catholic marriage.
Sometimes family politics can make choosing appropriate godparents tricky. Sometimes godparents are chosen to honor the friendship, family relationship or because not choosing them might cause hurt feelings. “Only two names are placed on the Baptismal certificate,” notes Dawson. “But there is no restriction on the number of ‘honorary’ godparents. This loophole often helps navigate the family dynamics issue.”
All of this underscores why it is important for parents to have a frank discussion about the role and expectations with prospective godparents to make sure they understand what you are asking of them. It is equally important to let the prospective godparents know there will be no hurt feelings if they decline. They may not be comfortable with the responsibility and should have an easy out.
In the Latino community, the concept of the “comadre/copadre” is very strong. Godparents literally embrace their role as a co-parent. However, modern American society is less conducive to the idea of “co-parenting” with other close adults. “It takes intentionality to be involved with a child even among relatives,” says Dawson. “The godparent is a partner with parents and therefore should be invited to life events, especially the Sacraments. They need to “be there” for the child, and that necessarily involves communication.”
Unfortunately, even with careful consideration and full disclosure the relationship with the godparent, for whatever reason, may deteriorate over time. If the child has developed a close relationship with the godparent, this can be especially difficult. Sometimes the godparent of a sibling can step in and help fill the gap, or parents can ask someone else to be the “honorary” godparent.
Despite the responsibility and commitment, godparenting can be a great gift and blessing. There is the potential for a beautiful relationship for everyone involved, but it takes effort to build a lifelong bond.