I'm Not Religious, But It Was Important For Me To Choose 'Godparents' For My Son

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 
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As I got closer to having my son, I began to think about godparents. Growing up, I had several godparents (purely symbolic because my parents are of two different religions), and I enjoyed different relationships with them all. I was especially close to my godmothers. I would go to their houses for sleepovers, and we’d have special days together doing things like going shopping or bowling, or something fun I wouldn’t normally do with my mom. I wanted to foster relationships like this for my child too, but the selection process proved difficult.

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My godparents had been my parents’ closest friends, but none of them had any sort of relationship with each other. My son’s father and I aren’t particularly religious, so since our appointment of godparents was going to be purely symbolic, we knew there were no set rules for whom we could choose.

As we sat in the hospital room holding our newborn son, we decided to pick our best friends. I have several best friends, and so I chose my friend who lived in the same city, especially because she was present when our son was born. (She saw everything.) My other best friend lived across the country, and I wanted at least one of his godparents (his godfathers both live in different states) to live close enough that he would be able to see them regularly and forge a tight bond from early on.

There are many facets and factors to choosing a godparent depending on whether you’re approaching it in a religious or symbolic way. The dictionary definition of godparent is “a person who promises to help teach and guide someone in religious matters as part of a Christian baptism ceremony.” When you are choosing godparents for a religious ceremony, there are often certain rules you have to adhere to. They’re all essentially along the same lines, but then some get more restrictive.

Generally, the person has to have been baptized and has to be in good moral standing with a church. In some Catholic dioceses, both godparents must be Catholic, while in others, only one of them must. In my best friend’s sect of Christianity, godparents must be married, which is one of the reasons she didn’t choose me. These restrictions have caused some people to have to rethink their original choices because they didn’t fit their religious criteria. With many of the people I talked to, this was not an issue or a bone of contention within the relationship. Obviously, one would assume that there could (and have been) some hurt feelings during this process, but if the reasons are laid out ahead of time, then maybe it isn’t as contentious as one would assume.

There was only one friend I spoke with who was forced to choose a godparent that they were not happy with because of the restrictions of their religion. She was forced to choose a relative whom she wasn’t close to because the person she wanted to be godfather was gay and therefore would not be recognized by the Catholic church. The person she was forced to choose has absolutely no relationship with her child, and the friend she wanted to choose acts as a godfather should without the benefit of a title.

In the non-religious version, a godparent is basically a glorified version of an aunt or uncle — someone who forms a more special bond with your kid. In either event, you’re obviously allowed to pick whomever you’d like, but after talking to lots of people on the subject, people are more inclined to choose a sibling or relative when a religious ceremony is involved. I do have siblings, but because we aren’t close, I wouldn’t have asked any of them to be godparents for my child.

Based on the definition of godparents, it would make sense to have a sibling or relative because the person who is the godparent is meant more as a spiritual guide. If you are motivated by something other than religion, then picking someone within your immediate family isn’t necessary. When I saw friends choose their siblings as godparents, I was so confused, because to me, a godparent was always someone you wanted your child to have a special relationship with outside of your family.

This got me thinking more about how asking someone to be the godparent of your child could impact your friendship. I know that my other best friend was probably disappointed by my decision not to ask her, especially because we’ve been best friends since high school and are incredibly close. When she told me that she wasn’t choosing me to be godmother to her son, I realized that her choice was more religious and less symbolic. Her church was more restrictive about the criteria for godparents, so while I was disappointed, I knew that it was about something bigger than me. It only became an issue when, with the birth of her second child, she chose one of our mutual friends who didn’t fit the previously given list of requirements instead of me. I was pissed. I thought that if she was going to go against the rules set forth by her church that she would do it for me given how close we are. I silently fumed while the friend flaunted her newfound status on social media, and then I just kind of sucked it up. As upset as I was, I didn’t want to destroy our friendship over something that was fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of our relationship.

It seems, though, that people are beginning to move away from the religious ceremony and gravitate toward the nonsecular symbolic version. Because that’s how I grew up, I always thought it was the normal way to go about things. Godparents were the people you chose to be in your children’s lives, not people who were going to be in their lives anyway because they are related. Of course, it is a deeply personal decision, and even though many people are forgoing the ceremonial aspect of it, it is still something that they are choosing to do for their children to create lasting, strong relationships with the special people in their lives.

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