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If a friend asks you to be a godparent to their darling child, whether that child is yet to be born or already has a few years under their belt, no one can deny it’s a huge honour.
Perhaps it’s akin to being asked to be a best man, usher or bridesmaid – but with the added awareness that your friend feels you’re a responsible-enough role model to have some input into their child’s life, rather than just a fun party animal who’ll organise a rip-roaring hen or stag do.
But what is expected of a godmother or godfather?
You may be reading this as you mull over how to respond to such an invitation. Or you may have foolhardily said an enthusiastic “yes!” and have now panic-searched for some info to help you work out what it is exactly that you’ve committed to.
Perhaps this is going to be your first godchild – or maybe you have several, and you’re searching for ideas as to how to ‘godparent’ better.
Wherever you are on your journey, this blog will tell you everything you need to know – certainly in order to decide whether or not to accept your friend’s invitation – but I hope a bit more too.
I have four godchildren and my husband has (wait for it) seven. (We think it’s cos he’s a vicar that he keeps getting asked…all that holiness and everything.)
With a couple of overlaps, that’s nine between us. We also have sixteen godparents to our own children (four children, each with four godparents). And I have two godmothers who are still active in my life.
So, for the past decade-and-a-half, we’ve been navigating what is expected of a godmother or godfather. We’ve made plenty of mistakes and we’re definitely still learning, often picking up tips from our children’s godparents too, so I hope this is helpful to anyone else wondering about godmother/godfather roles and responsibilities.
What are the requirements of a godfather or godmother?
Before we think about what is expected of a godmother/godfather, let’s think about what you need to become one.
If you’re reading this looking for some help in choosing godparents for your child, you may be wondering whether there’s some kind of list of required characteristics – a bit like a job advert. Sadly it’s not as cut-and-dry as that but I hope these thoughts are helpful.
Firstly, you’ll need to check with the priest, vicar, minister or pastor of the church you’re getting your child baptised into. Some denominations require a godparent to be baptised or even confirmed into that denomination in order to be godparents.
A helpful workaround: if you’re desperate for a particular friend to be a godparent but they don’t meet this requirement then you could still call them a godparent and treat them as one, even if they’re not allowed to stand up in church and say the vows with the other godparents. Being a godparent is not a legal role, after all.
Beyond that, however, I’d suggest that the people you choose to be godparents should ideally have an active Christian/Catholic faith (depending on your denomination) so that they can be spiritual role models to your child.
Failing that, someone who is at least open to faith and able to encourage your child’s spiritual journey as they grow up.
You may want to choose someone who is good at staying in touch, especially if you live far away from them, so that the relationship isn’t likely to fizzle out after a few years.
And someone who is organised and likely to take a keen interest in your child would be helpful too!
What is the modern role of a godparent?
Whereas traditionally godparents might also have acted as will executors and/or guardians for their godchildren in the event of parental death (something a lot more common in the past), these days there are no such expectations. What is expected of a godmother or godfather is rather different these days.
A modern godparent is expected to:
- pray for their godchild
- be a spiritual role model in the Christian faith (or at least feel comfortable supporting their godchild’s growing faith)
- take an active interest in their godchild’s life and development
- remember birthdays and special occasions*
- keep in touch
*Contrary to popular opinion, the role of a godparent is not to buy lavish birthday and Christmas gifts! However, often these are really good markers during the year, and provide handy ways to keep updated with what’s going on in your godchild’s life.
Our daughter’s godfather, for example, always sends a card and a small gift on the anniversary of her dedication, preferring to mark that rather than birthdays or Christmas. It’s a lovely tradition, one which catches our delighted daughter by surprise each year as she’s not expecting any special post in that month!
As a child gets older, a modern godparent might also be the person to share hobbies, interests and skills with them – for example, take them on a mountain climb, to the opera or teach them how to fish, depending on shared interests.
My husband and I are not at all sciencey or practical, but our youngest is obsessed with how things work. Fortunately, he has a godfather who’s an engineer! Whenever we meet up, he can answer all our son’s questions, and maybe one day teach him some practical skills too.
Later on, a godparent might even be able to wrangle some work experience for their godchild, if they show an interest in the same profession, or even advise them on their university choice or career plans.
These are optional extras though and certainly not compulsory – after all, you can’t predict what your unborn child is going to end up wanting to do as a career!
Godmother/godfather roles and responsibilities
What is the responsibility of a godfather? What is expected of a godmother?
All the things I’ve just mentioned are merely ideas and possibilities – but hands-down the most important responsibility of a godfather or godmother is to journey with their godchild spiritually.
At the heart, this involves prayer. You may be a committed Christian with a healthy prayer life – or you may be a committed Christian with a shoddy prayer life, like me. Or you may have hardly prayed in your life, but somehow you’ve ended up with a godchild!
Whichever category you most identify with, this gorgeous godparent prayer journal (written by me and designed by the super-talented Cath over at Hope and Ginger) will definitely help you as you grapple with how to pray for your godchild.
It has 52 prayer prompts – one for each week of the year, but obviously you can work through it faster or slower as suits you.
Each prayer prompt gives you a different idea of something to pray for your godchild – perhaps their parents, school life, faith, mental health or friendships – with a related Bible verse and plenty of space to jot down your prayer and anything you feel God might be saying to you in response.
It can also help to have a bit of a diary or schedule for your prayers.
With four godchildren, I pray for a different one each day, Monday-Thursday. This helps me really focus on each godchild and pray for their specific needs, rather than lump them altogether and end up praying really generic prayers. It also often prompts me to message them, or their parents, to get updates for prayer.
Prayer, I would say, is the most important aspect of what is expected of a godmother or godfather
But I’m not a Christian!
I’d always emphasise the importance of seeking out Christian godparents if you possibly can, but I do know that it’s not always possible.
So if you’ve ended up as a godparent but don’t have your own faith, my advice is to do all you can to support the faith of your godchild and/or their family from your less-faith-filled perspective.
Perhaps this might include buying a faith-based gift for a special occasion. Further down this blog post, I’ve posted some links to several gift guides which will be helpful sources of faith-based gifts to encourage your godchild in their faith.
Perhaps it will simply mean listening as your godchild and/or their family talk to you about their faith and how it works out in life. Perhaps attending your godchild’s church with them occasionally will help you to understand more about what the family believes.
There are plenty of ways you can support your godchild in their growing faith without having one of your own. But it stands to reason that if you don’t feel you can offer this support, if you don’t feel you can fulfil what is expected of a godmother or godfather, then perhaps you might be better off politely declining the invitation.
I’m a Christian but my godchild’s family are not
We are in this situation with several of our godchildren, and know full well that we’ve been asked to be godparents because although the parents (our friends) aren’t sure what they believe, they very much want to give their children opportunities to explore faith for themselves. And choosing a Christian godparent seems a good initial step.
This is a wonderful opportunity! You get to share your faith and experience with a child who’s otherwise not having very many faith influences in their life, which is exciting!
You might be starting to feel the pressure at this stage, but please don’t worry. You don’t have responsibility for whether your godchild believes or not – no one does apart from the child themselves. Their faith is between them and God.
What you can do is simply model to your godchild what a life of faith looks like. Some ideas of how you could do this include:
- buy them an age-appropriate Bible, Christian book or devotional – birthdays and Christmases are great excuses for this!
- take them to church, a church holiday club or Christian camp
- remind them that you’re praying for them when you write or text
- be open to talking about faith with them
- send them a worship playlist to listen to
- offer to pay for a Christian camp or holiday
- pray, pray and pray!
Building a relationship with a local godchild
If you have the privilege of living near to your godchild, there are plenty of ways to build a good relationship. But it’s also important to remember that there’s no right or wrong way to do this, and that what you’re able to offer will depend very much on your situation. Hopefully this section will give you a good variety of ideas to prompt your own thinking too.
Babysitting your godchild is obviously a great way of not only building a relationship with them but blessing their parents! And this is more crucial than it sounds – with relationship breakdown rates sky-high, supporting your godchild’s parents by allowing them to go on dates together will have a knock-on positive impact on your godchild too.
Taking your godchild out for 1:1 time is another wonderful way to both build a relationship and bless their parents with a little time off, or to spend with their other children.
My goddaughter is my own daughter’s best friend. I don’t get much 1:1 time with her as I think my daughter would complain too much that she wasn’t invited! But our home is her home, and vice versa. She’s spent a lot of time at our house, I’ve fed her lots of meals and she’s had sleepovers here.
Last birthday we even did a mummy-daughter date with the four of us (her mum is my daughter’s godmother too), to celebrate the girls’ birthdays, which fall close together. We’re talking about doing the same for the next birthday, and I can see this becoming a lovely godparent/BFF tradition.
There are no rules for what is expected of a godmother/godfather in terms of how you build that relationship – simply that you do it!
Building a relationship with a (geographically) distant godchild
We live in a different city to seven of our nine godchildren, and out of our own children’s sixteen godparents only two live locally, so I understand well the challenges of building relationships with godchildren who live in a different place.
Our son’s godmother has always been absolutely brilliant at getting to know him, despite only seeing him around once a year.
She used to send regular postcards to him (every few months) to check in with him, remind him that she’s praying for him, and asking if he had any specific prayer requests. As he got older, he started to reply himself. Now that he’s got a phone, she texts him instead. I love that the two of them have a relationship which doesn’t have to go through me and my husband.
We’ve been less good at this with our own godchildren, but we’ve always made sure to check in at birthdays and Christmases, and as our godchildren have grown older and got their own phones, we’ve tried to take opportunities to message them and encourage them directly.
What I would say – and we’re definitely feeling this now as our oldest godchildren are in their mid-teens – is that you need to start building a relationship as early as possible.
Don’t just wait until your godchild can read or write, or until they have their own phone, as then it will be so much harder to ‘start’ being a godparent. It’s much easier to start straight away, whether that means baby cuddles, sitting on the floor and playing cars together, or pushing your godchild on the swings. All these acts of love are crucial trust-builders to a small child.
There’s no one right way to get to know your godchild. But what is expected of a godmother or godfather is that they will at least take the relationship seriously.
Be creative, keep communication lines open however you can, and make the absolute most of every moment you have with them, especially if you don’t see them very often.
What does a godparent give as a gift?
Whether it’s for your godchild’s baptism, or for subsequent birthdays or Christmases, at some point you’re probably going to want to buy your godchild a gift and, especially if you don’t have similar-aged children yourself, you may need some ideas.
In addition, you may be wondering what does a godparent give as a gift? Are there different rules or expectations? How much should I spend?
Relax – there is (or should be) no formal expectation that godparents buy gifts at all, let alone spend a lot of money. Whether you choose to buy gifts (or how much you choose to spend) is up to you.
What I would say, though, is that buying a small gift for birthdays or Christmas (or both) not only gives you an easy way of staying in touch with your godchild, but also a brilliant opportunity to give something which will encourage them in their faith.
My own godmothers have always sent me birthday/Christmas presents and cards. Even though I didn’t see them often as I was growing up, these regular cards kept the lines of communication open so that we were able to have a good relationship and maintain it into my adulthood. When I do see them, conversation flows easily because we make an effort to be in touch a couple of times a year.
For this reason, sending birthday and Christmas gifts to my godchildren has always been a priority for me. Even if I do nothing else, at least I’m in touch twice a year!
I largely give a ‘Christian’ gift at Christmas (a Christian book or resource) and a more secular gift (like a toy, game or craft) at birthdays, although I don’t stick rigidly to this.
I have some helpful gift suggestions if you’re looking to buy a Christian gift for your godchild.
- Baptism gifts for babies and small children
- Baptism gifts for older children and teens
- Baptism gifts for adult godchildren
The blog posts are headed ‘Baptism Gifts’ but many of the suggestions would make awesome birthday and Christmas gifts too.
I also have more general suggestions here:
- Christian fiction books for children and teens (all ages)
- Bibles for 0-18 year olds
- Bible devotionals for children and teens
I hope this has helped to clarify what is expected of a godmother or godfather, as well as given you plenty of ideas of how you can go about it. Every godparent-godchild relationship is unique, so how you build yours up will look different to the next person.
Whatever it looks like, this is definitely a relationship which is worth investing in. I hope you and your godchild bring each other joy for many years to come!