How to Be a Great Godparent
simple ways to guide your godchildren
By Nancy Flanders
Three years ago, when Eric and Erin Grant began considering godparents for their daughter Brookelyn, three years old, they knew what they wanted in and what they didn’t. While many parents choose their child’s godparents as an act of obligation to certain friends or family, the Grants had no intention of doing so. Instead, they sat down together to make a list of the people in their lives who truly live their faith. They wanted to provide Brookelyn and her new three-month-old sister, Savannah, with godparents who would not only be a source of support to them but also be strong spiritual guides.
“We wanted godparents who were models of what we feel ‘living out your faith’ is,” explains Erin. “People who trust in God, pray all the time, and always trying to improve their relationship with God. Who could our kids see as an example of living out their faith? Who are the people who make me want to be a better Catholic? Because if they make me want to be better, then they’re going to make my kids want to be better. Meg [Brookelyn’s godmother and Erin’s friend from college] completely transformed me. I became much more humble and learned a lot about how to be a better Christian. By not even talking directly about religion or faith, she really taught me a lot. That’s what I want for my children.”
According to Joel and Lisa Schmidt, co-founders of ThePracticingCatholic.com, Catholic godparents today don’t play the important roles that they once did. Godparenting has become more of an honorary title than a responsibility. In today’s culture, there are little or no expectations associated with it.
“We were invited to a baptism in the Latin Rite by friends of ours,” says Lisa, “and I was struck most by the prominent role the godparents played. The parents never held the child. The parents never responded. It was always the godparents. I walked away from that thinking, Wow! The Church has a special place for godparents, and it’s easy for us to misunderstand that.”
“The thing that was striking was the liturgical prominence of the godparents in the old rite,” explains Joel. “When you contrast that with the new rite, the godparents are there, but they don’t really have a prominent role. Now that most people don’t necessarily live close to their families, we don’t have a lot of large extended families going to church together for the most part. The culture has changed significantly.”
According to Joel, the godparent role use to carry some hefty responsibilities, including stepping in as a parent if one of the child’s parents died while the child was still young. In today’s society, in which families are often spread out across hundreds of miles, those types of responsibilities aren’t attached to the godparent role.
However, parents and godparents can revitalize the importance of godparents and ensure that the role becomes central to our children’s lives once again. Parents must take the decision seriously, and the choice of whether or not to accept and embrace the role of a godparent shouldn’t be downplayed either. A few key factors can turn an ordinary godparent into an extraordinary one.
Spend time together
Godparents are chosen by parents to be a leader in their child’s life. It’s difficult to lead someone in a faithful life if you rarely spend any time with them. In order to be the best godparent to your godchild, you need to first be a constant presence in her life. Attend Mass with her if possible. Take her on outings—just the two of you. Go to her dance recitals, school plays, basketball games, birthday parties, and graduations. It’s the easiest, best, and most important way for your godchild to completely understand her importance to you. If distance makes it impossible to spend time together, Skype can make the difference. Make sure your godchild knows you are there for her and proud of her, despite the miles between you.
“Brookelyn’s godmother Meg lives two hours away,” explains Erin, “but she makes sure she’s here for any event that’s important to Brookelyn. And as Brookelyn gets older, they’ll be able to talk on the phone and visit each other much more often.” Her godfather Thomas moved a bit further away, but Erin and Eric hope he will still be able to be a presence in Brookelyn’s life.
Joel advises that being active in your godchild’s life in one way or another will let the child know that there’s someone out there who cares about his or her well-being on all levels. Even when a child is too young to understand, you are planting the seed.
“They are just always there,” explains Erin of Savannah’s godparents Sam and Kristin Todzia. “They are there at church, and anytime we’re with them, they pick her up and kiss her and love her. That’s how you show a baby that you love them and how you model God’s love. Plus, they are there as a support for us if we have questions. Brookelyn asked where Jesus lives, so I sent a text message to Kristin to ask her how she would explain it to a three-year-old. Godparents can be a resource for us as parents, like a second opinion.”
As a child’s godparent, you should be celebrating her milestones in the Church each and every year. Treat her baptism as her birthday in the Church by sending her a card and a gift. Make Christmas and Easter extra special, and if the child is named after a saint, you can celebrate that feast day as well.
“Send an ornament each Christmas, and when the child is 18, she’ll have a box of ornaments she can take when she moves out,” suggests Lisa. “Send a note, have a Mass offered on the feast day of the saint she is named after or on her baptism date. Sign your letters, ‘Love, your godparent’ and address them ‘to my godchild.’ When you say, “I am this child’s godparent,” it helps to elevate your level of importance in that child’s life.”
Random acts of love
You don’t need to wait for a special occasion to send your godchild a note or gift or take them out for a fun day. Lisa says that sending random spiritual gifts such as a Bible with a note attached can make a big difference to a child, especially during the teen years. It’s a great way to remind your godchildren of your own faith and help them to stay strong in theirs.
“There’s a lot of cultural things pulling people away from the Church,” says Joel. “Hanging around as a conscience allows you to guide children back towards Jesus and back towards the Church. Even if it’s not a ‘Christian’ thing, such as a popular album with a note on it, it can make the connection to Christ.”
Take care of your own spiritual health
Lisa says that to be there for your godchild, you need to stay spiritually healthy yourself. Seek spiritual guidance and counseling to strengthen your faith, because being strong in your own faith will help your godchild be strong in hers. Lisa advises that godparents stay in a state of prayer.
Joel agrees. “Being a godparent,” he says, “should really be a call. Godparents have the opportunity and responsibility to be a positive example of who that child is called to be. I just think that when you’re not someone who is in the house all day, there’s a really unique opportunity to do some gentle witnessing in a way that other people don’t.”
Be present in prayer
Praying for your godchild is a must and should be included in your prayers each and every day. As a godparent, you should also consider attending Mass on your godchild’s birthday and sending a Mass card to them for their special anniversaries. You can also pray together. Teaching your godchild to pray the Rosary can help build a lasting bond.
“Don’t underestimate the power of prayer,” says Lisa. “Send your godchild a note that says that you are praying for her. Children love getting mail. Our oldest child is five, and she knows that we pray for her every day. I can imagine that if one of her godparents sent her a note, she would probably go through the roof! And if they said, ‘I prayed for you today,’ what a gentle example that would be for our daughter to help her understand the importance of godparents as well. She knows we pray for her every day, so how cool would it be for her to know that her godparents also pray for her every day?”
Joel also says that it’s important for prospective godparents to know that it’s all right to say no if they don’t feel that they can really be there in the child’s life, or if there are aspects of Catholicism they are struggling with.
As more parents begin choosing godparents who have a deep faith, and godparents take the role more seriously, our children will have a better understanding of their faith, be witnesses to faith that is lived out in everyday life, and be able to mirror how their parents and godparents bring their faith to everything they do.
Simple ways to be a great godparent
Attend each of your godchildren’s special events, including birthday parties, first Communion, confirmation, and graduations.
Attend any extracurricular events you can, including basketball games, recitals, school plays, and science fairs.
Attend Mass together, if not every Sunday, then on holidays or feast days.
Send random notes or gifts, such as saint medals, a Bible, rosary beads, or any music or books you find inspirational and helpful in growing in faith.
Teach your godchild your favorite prayer, and pray it together often.
Pray for your godchild and make sure she knows that you pray for her daily.
Send a special ornament to your godchild each Christmas.
Take your godchild out for a special lunch or outing.
Call or Skype with your godchild if you live too far away to see her often.
Attend Mass regularly and continue to nurture your own faith so that you can lead your godchild by example.
Celebrate the anniversary of your godchild’s baptism by having lunch together or sending a gift and note.