My mom was well into her 40th week of pregnancy when she and my dad sat down to eat dinner with their friends Joe and Marilyn in July of 1974. My mom pulled out her chair far enough to accommodate her huge belly and gingerly lowered herself into it while chatting with Marilyn about baby names. "He," she thumbed toward my dad, "doesn't like Renee or Joanna, so we don't have a name yet." Just then, unnamed me started for this world. My mom's contractions came hard and fast as the four friends piled into Joe's black Cadillac. They arrived at the hospital just in time. I was born 20 minutes later.
Forty years after that eventful dinner, my mom tells me, "It seemed only natural to name them your godparents. They were good friends, Catholic, and had a big family. And I liked the name Molly Jo. Your dad was fine with it when I told him it was a version of Mary for Marilyn and Jo for Joe."
My name bears the memory of my godparents, but in that span of 40 years, almost all other connections to them are gone. As sometimes happens, my parents' relationship with Joe and Marilyn diminished over time.
As a little girl this worried me, since my sole understanding of godparents was that they would take care of me if my parents died. From the little I knew of Joe and Marilyn, they were nice people, but I didn't want to live with them. I was sure my aunt or my best friend's parents were a better choice. In that distinctly childlike way, I lived in fear of my parents dying not only for their loss, but for the possibility of living with people I hardly knew.
As an adult, I understand that a godparent is more than someone who harbors an orphan. But still, the definition and boundaries of godparenting are loose and wild. Even as a godmother myself, I'm not always sure what the job entails. While I don't begrudge my godparents their absence, I would have liked to know them better. I would have liked them around for my confirmation, my high school graduation, my wedding. But godparents are sometimes distant entities, mine a sort of hat tip to the early days of my parents' marriage.
In choosing godparents for my own children, I wanted to prevent the distance that years encourage. For them, I want godparents who are not billowing curtains of memory so much as regular pieces of furniture. I want godparents who are present, available, influential, kind, faithful, special, attentive, and participatory. I want my children's godparents to be that special combination of the family you have and the family you choose.
When we were pregnant with our first child, my husband and I had a great debate about who our son's godparents would be. We didn't have a dramatic story about nearly delivering at a restaurant like my parents, so we had to navigate the ordinary, sticky terrain of choosing from among family and friends. My priority was choosing a family member with a regular faith practice. My husband, who had his sister in mind, was less concerned about the faith practice part.
I knew my sister-in-law would be loving and that she would put in the time and energy to develop a special relationship with our son. But she wasn't actively involved in her faith, so I was hesitant. Ultimately, we chose her with the thought that perhaps our child would reinforce her responsibility to her faith. And the fact that our son's other godparent had an active faith life made us feel secure in our decision. But really, the whole decision-making process left me with an acute awareness of how little I understood the role of godparent.
When my belly was huge with baby number two, my husband and I again faced the question of who to choose as godparents. I had been a parent for a couple of years by this time and felt slightly more clued in to what I wanted in a godparent. But to choose just the right people, I decided I really needed to examine my own role as godmother, a position I have been gifted with twice over--once to my best friend's daughter and once to one of my nieces.
I asked their mothers why they chose me. Like us, my niece's mother used the at-least-one-practicing-Catholic model. "I would have to say that we tried to choose at least one 'solid' godparent for each of our kids," she said, "meaning that the child would have at least one faithful, Catholic godparent that we were certain would remain a part of our child's life and would be there for our child in the event that we could not be, as morbid as it sounds."
My best friend's response was that my "experiences in faith" were "vast and varied, strong and questioning, which makes you a very good choice for a godparent!"
I am faithful and ready to take over in the event that my brother and sister-in-law could not be there. And my faith life is "strong and questioning," as my best friend noted. But do those things make me a good godmother? Am I the godmother to these two girls that I would want for my own daughter?
No sooner had I asked myself the question than I saw all the ways I was just as absent as my own godparents, Joe and Marilyn. While I have a stronger physical presence than my own godparents did, I am ashamed to admit that I am not exactly the regular furniture I want to be.
I asked a wide variety of parents and my own goddaughters what is it that makes a good godparent. I wanted to know what their expectations were for a godparent and how involved in the life of a godchild they felt a godparent should be. Basically, I wanted to know what I could do better. The answers to these questions resulted in my putting together what essentially amounts to the seven habits of highly effective godparents:
1 They practice a daily faith life. Ask a Catholic parent what they look for in a godparent and the resounding response is regular faith practice. That's who we are first and foremost as godparents, someone beyond the parents who serves as an example of living out the faith. At this point in my self-examination as a godmother, I can say, yes, I give this to my goddaughters. I go to church. I love God. I mean it. I can be proud of this much, that in spite of my imperfections and sinfulness, I have a regular faith practice that feeds me, and I hope even in the smallest way that my example of this feeds them.
2 They are open to spiritual conversation. My goddaughter once said, "You shouldn't poke around and bug people about what their relationship with God is like. That's between them and God, but if they are talking with you about it, of course you should try to guide them in the right direction."
While I recognize it's unlikely either of my godchildren is about to approach me with questions about the theology of dating, a godparent has to be the type of person who could handle that conversation. To this I say, bring it. But don't worry, I won't bug you about it.
3 They listen without judgment. When my best friend said I came from a "strong and questioning" place, she meant I haven't exactly always embraced my faith. This, I really hope, makes me an asset to my goddaughters. I've kicked and bucked and seriously taken the faith to task. I'm cool if my goddaughters are doing that, too, because I know now that Catholicism withstands critical questioning really well. This makes it easy for me to listen without judgment.
My niece believes having a godmother is like "having a sister who is older and who has already been through all of the experiences that you're going through and who can help without the awkwardness of confronting parents." This suggests a godparent is a sort of twilight person, not exactly best friend and not exactly parent. We are spiritual go-betweens; it's both the heaviest of burdens and the lightest of gifts.
4 They pay attention to the long view. Godparents are not in the trenches every day like parents. What we have is the gift of the long view. There might be periods of time in my goddaughters' lives when their faith practice is lacking. Godparents don't have to be the ones arguing with them every Sunday about the value of getting to Mass. We don't have to be the one nagging them about getting to confirmation class. We just have to pay attention to the long view. We have to pay attention to how far from the faith a godchild has moved and ask ourselves how we can nudge him or her back. We have to try to be a part of the team that gets the godchild to a place where he or she finds chasing God really exciting.
5 They are interested in the fullness of a godchild's life. One of my goddaughters says, "The responsibility of a godparent is to guide the godchild to the right decisions. These decisions may make or break someone's life. For example, maybe the godchild likes someone who is a bad influence on them. If you're not in their life more than spiritually, they might get involved with this person and get hurt or become someone you never thought they'd be."
Toward this end, I want my goddaughters to know I am interested in all of the incoming texts that constantly pierce our conversations, the songs they are posting on Facebook, and the pictures they are tagged in on Instagram. Goddaughters, I am interested in all of you. (And when you're ready to talk about the theology of dating, I am ready for that, too.)
6 They practice presence over presents. Nearly every person I spoke with about the role of godparent mentioned the misguided notion of godparent as gift giver. "Many times," wrote one parent, "gift giving becomes the 'job' of the godparents." Gifts are fine, but the best gift godparents can give their godchild is the last, and most important, habit of highly effective godparents.
7 They set aside prayer time for their godchildren. I may be guilty of throwing Joe and Marilyn under the bus. Just because I rarely saw them doesn't mean they weren't praying for me. In fact, counting the blessings in my life and knowing the kind of prayerful people they were, I would guess that they were and for this I am grateful.
I, for one, don't pray enough for my goddaughters. I mean to change that. In the middle of my day, I try to remember to throw up one of those catch-all prayers for them. The ones we might say at stoplights when our minds wander to random places, the ones that go, "Hey, God, please help Abby today. Please guide her to decisions that will bring her closer to you. Please help her to feel your presence today."
That was the kind of prayer my husband and I were throwing up when we finally chose our daughter's godparents. We went with two family members: our daughter's uncle and one of her cousins. They really are that special combination of the family you have and the family you choose. One of them is in fact my goddaughter Abby. I figure she knows the gaps I have left gaping, and knows where I could have been and where I should be more active.
In short, those unwieldy lines and amorphous boundaries of godparenting will find definition in her. She'll be one generation better at the job than I am, and maybe someday she'll find my own daughter worthy of the same job for one of her children. If she does, it will be partly due to our success as parents in raising a child who finds fulfillment in chasing God.
But since my husband and I are nothing if not imperfect, I am grateful we have godparents--those spiritual go-betweens--to pray for our children, to reinforce our Catholic values, and to be an example of what an active, questioning faith looks like. USC
By Molly Jo Rose, a writer living in Indian with her husband and two children.
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|Title Annotation:||choosing the right sponsors|
|Author:||Rose, Molly Jo|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2015|
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