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Godparenting 101: How To Be the Best Godparent
Updated on
September 11, 2023

Godparenting 101: How To Be the Best Godparent

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Godparenting 101: How To Be the Best Godparent.
Godparenting 101: How To Be the Best Godparent

You’ve been asked to be a godparent. Hooray! What an honor it is that the parents want you to play a major role in their child’s life.

Once you come down from cloud nine, you may start to wonder exactly what it is you signed up for.

Traditionally, a godparent is known as someone who helps a child understand their religious upbringing or who acts on the parents’ behalf if they are unable to provide care. Perhaps the strongest image that comes to mind is that of Cinderella’s doting Fairy Godmother who makes all of her godchild’s wishes come true.

In real life, godparents fall somewhere in the middle. Think about godparents as being slightly less “bibbidi-bobbidi-boo” and a bit more “cool older sibling.”

A godparent acts as a role model and the voice of reason, serving as a sounding board and moral compass through the years. They’re the person a child celebrates with in the best of times, and whom they turn to when times are tough. You want them to call you when they’re contemplating a dicey decision (like getting matching tattoos with friends on spring break) and want someone to spend quality time with (being their adult plus-one at the Imagine Dragons concert).

If you’re asked to be a godparent, you may immediately think about all of the things you can, should or must do for your godchild. But as with all fulfilling relationships, it’s an honored role that may change your life for the better.

The Reverend Ruth Beresford of Christ Church Christiana Hundred in Wilmington, Delaware put it best: “If you are asked [to be a godparent], I highly recommend you accept the invitation, for it will enrich your life.”

What Am I Required To Do as a Godparent?

Do you need to fulfill any requirements to join the godparent club? That all depends on why parents are giving you this honor.

If parents are asking you to become a godparent as part of their religion or faith, there may be different requirements for each religious tradition. If parents are asking you to be a godparent as a symbolic gesture outside of any particular faith, requirements (if any) would come as a result of a conversation between you and the parents.

Catholic Godparents

The Catholic church has the most specific requirements for godparents.

Father Tom Mull of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva, New York says that according to Canon Law, godparents must be:

  • Over 16 years of age
  • Fully initiated Catholics (meaning that they have received the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and First Communion)
  • Must not be one of the parents

The Catholic church only requires a child to have one godparent, but parents may assign a second godparent, called a “Christian Witness.” The second godparent should have been baptized in some type of Christian faith but they do not need to be Catholic.

Within the Catholic church, Fr. Mull says that the official role of a godparent is “to stand as witness” to this faith. Together with the parents, godparents “are charged to be people who help guide their child in the ways of faith, answering questions, offering encouragement and witnessing by their ethical decisions and lives what is right and what is wrong.” He said that godparents also “serve as a reminder that the Church is bigger than the family, and others care and pray for the child.”

For detailed information on the godparent role within the Catholic church, you can find the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law here.

Protestant Godparents

Protestant churches have few, if any, prerequisites for the job.

Of her Episcopalean church, Rev. Beresford says that any Christian can serve as a godparent for another person “seeking life in Christ.”

“There is no official responsibility for godparents,” said Rev. Beresford of the Episcopalean church. But godparents do “make promises on behalf of their [godchildren], to help them turn from evil and follow Jesus Christ, trusting in His grace and love.”

She likened accepting the responsibility of becoming a godparent to the “purposefully ambiguous and open-ended” promise you make with God in wedding vows. “We promise to love, honor, and cherish, but don’t specify what that should be like because it has to change along life’s journey.”

Pastor Gary LeCroy of St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church in Hoboken, New Jersey says that though there is no “test” to become a sponsor (which is what we commonly think of as a godparent), those stepping forward for the job should be familiar with–and believe in–the text that they are asked to say during a baptismal ceremony, which “basically makes sure that [the godchild] receives the teachings, or the Catechism, of the church.”

A sponsor does not necessarily need to be Christian in his church, says Pastor LeCroy. “The thought behind that is that non-Christians can still nurture someone and teach the faith of the parents.”

You can learn more about becoming a godparent in the Episcopalian church here, and read about the godparent role in the Lutheran church here.

Can Grandparents Be Godparents?

Technically, there is nothing to prevent grandparents (or any other relatives) from serving as the godparents for their own grandchildren. Though often, grandparents already play such an important role in their grandchildren’s lives that parents select other relatives or close friends to fulfill the godparent role.

“In ancient times, if something happened to the parents, godparents had the physical responsibility of taking care of the child,” says Pastor LeCroy. Therefore, parents may have preferred selecting godparents who were on the younger side to ensure that they would be ready and able to care for their godchildren.

Today, godparents are appointed by tradition and have no legal responsibility or right to raise children if the parents are unable to do so. So, a godparent’s age is less of a factor.

I’ve Been Asked to Be a Godparent, and I’m Thrilled! So…What Do Godparents Do?

The thing about becoming a godparent that is both thrilling and intimidating is that you get to decide how you’d like your relationship with your godchild to move forward.

“In my opinion, the day-to-day role is to be someone the child can look up to, someone who is fun and shows the child some of the joys of life, someone who is available should the child have a question or just want to talk, someone who is a friend and a role model,” says Fr. Mull. You may want to carve out special traditions for you and your godchild to do together through the years. When and how you do that is totally up to you. Here are some ideas to consider:

As a godparent to a baby:

  • Be present in baby’s life. Visit or video chat so that baby learns who you are.
  • Join the family at church, or perhaps offer to entertain baby so parents can focus on the church service.
  • Support the parents by making sure they have everything they need–food, rest, support–to raise their child.

As a godparent to a school-aged child:

  • Teach each other new skills, like doing cartwheels or making slime.
  • Have a movie date (or a virtual watch party) and talk about the good/bad choices each character made.
  • Send actual handwritten cards in the mail to let your godchild know they’re always in your thoughts.

As a godparent to a teenager:

  • Help other people…together. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or raise money for a charity.
  • Talk to your godchild about your own teenage years (within reason!), and discuss things you might have done differently.
  • Make memories by doing something unexpected that parents wouldn’t necessarily do (but would still approve of), like taking your godchild on a special vacation or riding every roller coaster in a two-hour radius.

There are no hard and fast rules about what to do or what not to do, which is both liberating and intimidating. And you may already be putting pressure on yourself to be the absolute “best” godparent you can be. But chances are that if you’re this article, you’re already on your way to doing just that!

Gifts for Godchildren

The most important thing godparents can give to godchildren is the gift of time.

Make sure to check in on your godchild and their parents throughout the years, not just at birthdays, holidays and religious celebrations. Cards, keepsakes or monetary gifts are lovely, but they’re not required. You’ll make more of an impact in your godchild’s life by showing up for them and caring about what they care about. So call to say hello, show up at your godchild’s soccer game or send a postcard whenever you travel…or even when you don’t.

If you’d like to give a gift, especially for baptism or a major church sacrament, it can be difficult to find items that have the right balance of meaning, utility and fun. You might need to think outside the box and look at smaller retailers or Etsy artisans for options and inspiration.

Here are some of our favorites…

Faith-Filled Gifts for Your Godchild

Thoughtful gifts from a godparent to a godchild – for baptism and beyond.

A Very Special Gift for You

Should you choose to accept the very important role of godparent (which I assume you do since you’re still reading), you should know that you’re in for a real treat.

You could be by your godchild’s side as they make their First Communion. Maybe your godchild will teach you how to “floss,” do TikTok dances or follow a social media platform that doesn’t even exist yet. Perhaps you’ll be virtual pen pals who see each other every Christmas. You might even be able to convince your godchild to attend your alma mater.

If you’re open to connection and you invest time into the relationship, becoming the godparent of this tiny little human may have a gigantic impact on you.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.