The Role of Godparents

When a friend or relative asks you to be a godparent, it’s quite an honor. It can be so flattering that too many people are quick to accept without truly considering the other side of being a godparent: the responsibilities.

There is more to being a godparent than dressing up for a service, party and bunch of pictures. Traditionally, the role had both social and spiritual implications. If you truly want to take on that responsibility and be a great godparent, there are a few things you should know about your role.

Brief History

The concept of a godparent mainly came out of the early days of the Catholic church. When Pagans were converting to Catholicism, it wasn’t just the babies being brought in for baptism. Whole families were often getting baptized together—but how would newly Christian parents raise their children in the church that they themselves were just learning about? Enter the sponsors, now known as godparents. Each newly baptized Christian had a veteran Christian who would act as a spiritual guide and mentor.

Traditionally, the role had both social and spiritual implications. If you truly want to take on that responsibility and be a great godparent, there are a few things you should know about your role.

As time went on and Christianity spread, there were fewer adult converts and more children born into the religion and baptized. The role of the godparent remained. In some cultures it was elevated. Godparents were considered as co-parents to the actual mother and father. Christians weren’t the only ones to have godparents, though—many other cultures had similar roles.

Main Role

The main role of the godparent is still to be responsible to share in the nurturing of the child of a close friend or family member. In modern times, even people who are not very religious still like to invite an adult mentor to be in a child’s life. The term godparent had become broader because of this, so it’s not necessarily always in reference to a specific religion.

You might want to talk to the parent about where they stand on religion and spirituality—do they expect you to go to their church and make a profession of faith and a vow to help raise the child in a certain belief system? Or are they just looking for someone to be a positive role model and give the child love and guidance? Be sure you discuss this role with the parents so you can decide if that’s something to which you can honestly commit.

In Case Of Emergency

Traditionally, godparents are not just honorary titles. If anything is to happen to the child’s parents, it is the godparents who were expected to step into their shoes and fill that role. Should the parents meet with some horrible, untimely end, the godparents would take in, adopt and raise the child as their own.

Needless to say, this is a huge commitment. It’s important to ask your friend if this is part of their vision of a godparent. It may not be—they may have other arrangements. If this is what your friends are looking for, and you’re just not ready for that, you need to speak up and admit it now. If necessary, be willing to step down so your friends can choose people who can fill that role for them.

Be There

More than anything, your role is to be another person in that child’s life who the child can love and look up to for acceptance, support and guidance. Even if your friends are not that religious, and don’t need a successor, they still chose you because they love you enough to want you to have a special relationship with their child. Honor that role by making every effort to connect to that child and be a part of his life.

You don’t have to be the smartest, or the most fun—in the long run, just be there for the kid. That’s going to make the most powerful difference in the child’s life.