New Parents’ Guide to Godparents

What does it mean to be or to have a godparent?

All right, so someone very close to you has given you the nod. They’ve chosen you to be a godparent for their child. It is an honor representing that they have a level of trust in you that exceeds the average. It goes beyond friendship, even family bonds. Be honored and relish the moment.

But, you probably have questions. What does it mean to be a godparent? What are my duties and what will the parents expect of me? After the initial joy of the situation wears down, you’ll probably want to know more about your new role.

In today’s world, the definition of being a godparent has evolved. It now exceeds traditional notions of religion. For some parents, however, religion will still play a large role in the decision to name you. But don’t worry too much. Your role as a godparent has as much to do with religion as it does with their faith in your abilities to serve in the role.

Sometimes, faith isn’t the only requirement.

What is a Godparent?

Traditionally, a godparent is the sponsor of a child at his or her baptism. Typically, godparents have included a godmother and a godfather. The child being baptized is known as their godchild. The role derives from the Christian faiths, and is most widely known in popular culture as a being deeply rooted in Catholicism. In early Christianity, a sponsor was required for anyone seeking a baptism and admission into the faith. Technically, Catholic canon law still refers to the godparent as the sponsor.

In earlier times, the godparent assumed a role promising to keep an interest in the welfare of the child. Those duties also included guiding the child in his or her faith. Rather than being an emblematic role, godparents in the early Catholic Church assumed the roles of the parents in their absence. That is a high standard to maintain. But current traditions and norms have fortunately supplanted this aspect of a godparent’s duties.

Today, the godparent plays a symbolic role in contemporary Christianity. For many Christians, the role is one of honor and tradition. Whether or not your faith will be a consideration has more to do with the faith of the parents and your relationship with them. It is now far from being a purely faith-based duty. Instead, today’s godparents often are of different religions. Moreover, parents may select a godparent based upon his or her character. Think of a godparent in two distinct situations. First, one of guidance in faith. Second, one of guidance in matters of character.

Even though the role is rooted in Christianity, your role as a godparent may be more than religious. For some parents, religion may not even be the determining factor. However, more traditional faiths may require a godparent to testify as to the stability of their faith.

Can I have more than one Godparent?

Yes. Most Christian faiths only require one godparent. By tradition, the role has grown into including a godmother and a godfather. While the Catholic Church only requires one, some churches, like the Church of England, recommend up to four.

This also opens the door for non-Christians as well. Some couples opt to follow the obligations of their faith by selecting a godparent of their religion. In addition, they may then select a godparent that is not in their faith but who holds a position of love and trust in their lives.

So, what does this mean for you? You could be one of many godparents for one child. Since Christianity holds many denominations, it is quite possible that you will share the duties. All in all, it’s a great way to offer the godchild the best of his or her social circles.

Regardless of parental choice for godparents, always keep in mind the religious preferences involved. Religion can always be a touchy topic. Chances are you were chosen for your demeanor and standing. Let those attributes continue to guide you through the process.

So, how do Godparents work?

At first, the function of a godparent is to attend the baptism. This is a deeply ceremonial event. There, the godparent will acknowledge their commitment to helping the parents to raise their child in their faith. While each church may have slight differences in the ceremony, most baptisms involving infants are close to identical.

Your main role as a godparent will be to stand with the parents at the ceremony. Afterward, as time goes on, your role may grow. While this is a religious event, it doesn’t mean that your role as a godparent stops at the boundary between theology and the secular world. If you’re not a religious person, you may actually be a perfect guide. Meshing faith-based beliefs and secular life isn’t always easy. As a godparent, your godchild’s parents may ask you to help make those lines less blurry.

What do Godparents do, exactly?

In short, the answer to this question could be anything. But in the traditional sense, a godparent’s primary purpose is to guide the godchild in all matters of their faith.

But what if you are not a member of that same faith? It’s an ideological question at best. Why? Because you know your godchild and his or her parents very intimately. What matters most to them is something you will always have in the back of your mind. Regarding matters of faith, you can provide the guidance as you understand it.

However, don’t discount your faith. What in your beliefs matches with the godchild’s? That common ground can be unifying not only in personal relationships but to our communities as a whole. Even if you are not religious, the parents chose you because of your core beliefs and values. What guides you may be similar to their faith-based principles.

In short, faith is often a concern when it doesn’t need to be. Your choosing was not to be just a godparent, but a role model. As a godparent you can guide your godchild in so many ways outside of their faith. That trust his or her parents placed in you makes you the perfect mentor. By being close with the family, you’ll be a perfect bridge between parent and child. Like a trusted aunt or uncle, you may be the one your godchild turns to for advice.

Being a godparent exceeds the boundaries of religion. You’ll be a trusted source of information and support as your godchild grows.

I’m now a Godparent. What’s this going to cost me?

Being a godparent is going to cost you one thing: your time. Outside of that, the expenses of being a godparent are minimal. You can choose to spend as much or as little on your godchild. Remember that you were chosen for who you are, not your financial standing.

But there will be some costs. As a godparent, it is typical to perhaps bring a small gift to the baptism. Keep it simple if money is an issue. Choose items of intrinsic value to the parents and your godchild. After all, you are becoming part of the child’s memories.

Going forward you’ll probably attend birthday parties. Those are gifts you would have purchased anyway. But as your relationship grows with your godchild, you may choose to do some activities together or assist in other ways as your finances dictate. But being a godparent, in reality a mentor, doesn’t have to cost much. Instead, focus on the time aspect of the relationship. When all is said and done, that is what your godchild will remember most. That you were there.

Does my religion matter as a Godparent? What if I’m not Catholic?

In some instances, yes. If the baptismal ceremony is Catholic, one of the godparents must be a practicing Catholic. But for other faiths, your faith may not be an issue. Be sure to ask those questions in the preparations leading up to the baptism.

In recent years some parents have opted for a witness to stand with the godparent. While the religious aspects of the baptism may not recognize you, it will solidify the family’s choice in you as a godparent.

Finally, don’t fret over religion. If the parents chose you, then religion is not an issue with them, either. This role is about your godchild and the faith his or her parents are placing in you.

What legal rights do I have as a Godparent? Can they get custody?

Being a godparent is a religious and/or social role with no legal requirements. As such, you will have no rights of guardianship over your godchild. Legally, the law and the permissions granted to you by the parents of your godchild limit your rights.

But being a godparent does recognize the trust placed in you by your godchild’s parents. Anyone can petition for custody in the event of a need for temporary or permanent custody. If, for example, the parents pass away, they may name you as guardian. Again, these circumstances are limited, controlled by law, and the wishes of the parents.

Can Godparents be the same gender?

Yes. Some Christian faiths do not require godparents to be of different genders. However, some may require or request that at least one of the godparents is the same gender of the child.

Realize that many Christian faiths do not recognize same-sex marriages. But some do. However, dogma doesn’t always surpass dignity. You may find that the religious celebrants welcome you and your partner or spouse with enthusiasm. After all, the reason for the celebration is for the well-being of your godchild.

So, check the requirements of the church performing the baptism. Some faiths allows for more than two godparents. It’s the communal aspect of baptism that makes it an extension of the world beyond the family’s church.

Is it okay to have grandparents as Godparents?

Grandparents are always welcomed to be godparents. As a matter of fact, the Catholic Church and others like it often prefer godparents to be family members. Why? Because, as we all know from experience, friendships sometimes wane. Friends are at times less rooted to a place than family, too.

In smaller families sometimes grandparents are the only choice. And they are a perfect choice for many children. It’s one of the few circumstances where age is not a disadvantage. Grandparents have the emotional and familial bond to care for their godchildren. Furthermore, they have years of experience and wisdom lacking in younger godparents.

Do Godparents have to be married?

They do not. But it has been customary by tradition. In light of that, godparents who are married do not need to be married to each other. But, to be a godparent in the Catholic Church, the godparent (if married) must have been married in the Catholic Church.

While the requirements may vary from church to church, generally speaking, it is not a requirement for a godparent to be married. In some ways, inviting godparents into a child’s life creates a larger community as a whole. Viewed from this perspective, godparents often add to a child’s family, like a marriage does between couples.

Can I have Godparents of different faiths?

This will depend upon the church. If the baptism is Catholic, the answer is no. However, many parents choose godparents from outside of the faith. As discussed prior, many parents choose these “witnesses” to function just like a godparent. It is a nod to the requirements of their faith and the selection of that person they feel best suited to be their child’s godparent.

What it comes down to is the parents’ choice in a godparent. Whether you call them a godparent or a witness, they are fulfilling the same roles. If a religious institution discounts you because of your faith, don’t take it personally. Rejoice knowing that you were selected because of your personality, beliefs, and stature. These are the ideals sought in a godparent regardless of doctrine.

And as it goes, it is also a representation of the openness of your godchild’s parents. Community extends beyond a church’s walls. Your role will be to foster your godchild’s experience in his or her faith within the backdrop of a larger community.

How old does a Godparent need to be?

The minimum age for a godparent in the Catholic Church is sixteen years. Some churches have no age requirement. However, in those circumstances, approval from a church leader is typically required. If you’ve been selected as a godparent, it’s likely that the parents have taken this qualification into consideration.

Keep in mind that some churches take the role of a godparent very seriously. Church leaders may frown upon choosing a godparent because they are a favorite relative or friend. This is especially true when parents choose godparents of a lesser age. Why? Because this is a position of responsibility, honor, and trust. As a godparent, whether in a religious or secular sense, your duty to the child is the primary concern.

Do my duties as a Godparent ever end?

Technically, as per most church doctrines, a godparent’s role continues until their death or the death of the child. But sometimes a godparent cannot continue in his or her duties. In those instances, they still remain the godparent. People move, change jobs, and travel. You’ll never know where your life is going to take you.

But as a godparent you can make accommodations. Write or call if you’ve moved far away. After all, your role as a godparent is to oversee the child’s growth in faith and to mentor them in other ways. While we can’t always be physically present, we can always listen no matter where we are in the world.

This is perhaps one of the greatest points to keep in mind when someone asks you to be their child’s godparent. Can you make that commitment? It’s a serious commitment, meant to stand the test of time. And as mentioned earlier, it has its responsibilities. Weigh these factors. If they seem too daunting, it’s all right to say no. Because in the end it’s about what’s best for the child.

And if you can’t commit to be a godparent, you’re making the responsible decision in declining the honor.

Gift ideas from Parents to Godparents at or after baptism

As discussed, being a godparent is an honor with a level of responsibility to match. If you’re a parent, show your gratitude to your child’s godparent. Your selecting them is a testament to your faith in them as a person, and as a person that you will entrust part of your child’s life with. It’s by no means a light undertaking when considered.

And just as godparents aren’t required to give anything other than their most valuable assets―love and time―to their godchild, parents as well aren’t required to gift items to godparents.

But it is a token of thanks and gratitude.

Here are some perfect, simple, and heartfelt gift ideas to give godparents after your baby’s baptism:

  • A framed photo of godparent and godchild.
  • Your baby’s framed handprint, or a bible with your baby’s handprint.
  • If the godparent is religious, a personalized devotional or religious icon.
  • Jewelry, either religious or secular.
  • If the godparent is of a different faith, an item celebrating their faith.

Just remember to keep it simple, and personal. An item that lets the memories of your baby’s baptism live on is often the best gift you can give.

And always be thankful for your godparent’s support and love. They are walking the journey of parenthood alongside of you.

Thanks For Stopping In

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