So you’re expecting a baby, or maybe you’ve recently delivered. Congratulations! Get ready for an interminable string of decisions, many of which will be presented to you as utterly life-changing for the sweet, vulnerable little person you’ve just brought into the world.
Among these decisions is whether you’ll baptize your child. If you’ve decided you will, guess what? More decisions! Where? When? What to wear? Reception afterward? Who’s invited?
And, importantly: who will be your baby’s godparents? The decision to baptize initiates your child’s lifelong relationship with the Church, and the godparent decision reflects this by beginning what is ideally a lifelong relationship.
So it’s kind of a biggie, but relax. There’s no one right way to choose your child’s godparents. Here are a few guiding principles to help make this one choice a little easier (but just this one — you’re on your own for finding a pediatrician).
What godparents aren’t
Let’s start by dispelling a few myths about this role.
Godparents are not necessarily going to serve as your child’s guardian upon your death. There are some cultural practices in which these roles overlap, but it’s not required by the Church, and at least in the U.S., baptism grants no legal status. If you do want your child’s godparents to serve as legal guardians, be sure to have that conversation explicitly, and formalize it in a will. But it is entirely possible to have different people fulfill these separate roles.
Godparents do not have to be your best friends. They’re there to serve a particular role in the life of your child (and, by extension, of your entire new family), and you’ll want to choose someone who’s up to the task. This can be tough; godparenting is an honor, and some friends might expect an invitation. But you don’t owe it to anyone.
Similarly, godparents do not have to be reciprocal. If you’ve been named godparent of a friend’s or sibling’s child, you’re under no obligation to invite them back. Most people understand this, especially because it can be a complex decision. You’re usually choosing godparents together with your spouse, which means balancing the expectations of two families and friend groups. So even if someone in your life is harboring hopes of godparenting, you will most likely be met with understanding if you announce you’ve chosen someone else.
What godparents are
Godparents are your partners in helping to raise your child with faith. At the baptism, you and they make a commitment to teach the child the beliefs and practices of the Catholic faith.
What this looks like practically varies between families, but it does mean that godparents ought to be people who participate in the life of the Church. This doesn’t mean they need to be perfect (none of us are), but they should at least make a regular, committed effort. They should be people who pray — partly because in those early days of parenthood you’ll want all the prayers you can get.
There are a few requirements for godparents that are worth noting here: for a Catholic baptism, at least one godparent must be a fully initiated Catholic; the other can be a Christian of another denomination (and is then officially referred to as a “Christian witness”). You really only need one godparent, but if there are two, it must be one man and one woman (but they don’t need to be married to each other).
Questions to consider
As you’re deliberating the choice of your child’s godparents, here are a few things to think about:
Will these people be part of my child’s life?
This question might include things like someone’s physical distance from you — not necessarily a reason to exclude a potential godparent, but something to think about. My husband and I live far from any family, so we’ve intentionally chosen local folks for our children’s godparents as a way of expanding our “family” close to where we live. This question also covers a potential godparent’s ability to commit: this is a lifelong relationship, after all, and you’ll want to choose someone who’s ready for that.
Can I talk with them about what I expect godparents to be?
The specifics of a godparent’s role can vary, so be sure to think about your own expectations. Will there be regular birthday and Christmas gifts? Special godparent outings? Participation in family events? There are no right and wrong answers here, and you’ll figure it out together as you go, but be willing to give your family’s godparents some guidance.
Does my family have expectations or traditions around my selection?
If this is the first child of a new generation, your siblings or siblings-in-law might secretly be jostling over this position without you even realizing it. Their expectations should not dictate your decision, but they’re worth considering along the way.
Once you’ve made your decision, it’s time to make an invitation! I’ve invited both my kids’ godparents about a month before my due date: that way they knew they were invited to come meet the baby at the hospital (I allow very few people into that precious 48 hours, but godparents are among them).
The invitation to be a godparent for your family says a lot about your esteem for these people and your hopes for your relationship going forward. While it may at first feel like just one more thing to think about in that interminable string of life-altering decisions, this choice, at least, is a fun and meaningful one.