No one can deny that there are so many decisions to make when it comes to raising children, and most of them start the minute that you bring that precious cargo home with you. You suddenly find yourself thinking about things you never had to before, and in a whirlwind of nappy brand choices, feeding dilemmas and establishing sleeping routines, you rapidly become a master at quick thinking. (Well, at least on the days that you’ve had any sleep, that is … at other times you just rely on coffee.)
But what is perhaps one of the first and most significant decisions to make in your child’s life is the appointing of godparents, or the people who will play a similar role (also known as mentors, guide-parents or guardians).
For many, it’s one decision that can’t be made quickly.
“I was quite picky about who I chose to be my son’s godparents,” says Vicki Drinkwater, a mum of one. “I used to have a recurring dream – and still do, occasionally – about something happening to me and my husband, and Addison being left on his own. The decision I made had to be the right one, and it took a really long time.”
Drinkwater’s focus was on choosing people she was confident would take her son, and those who would look after him as if he were their own if anything were to ever happen to her and her husband.
She was also aware of not picking individual people, for fear of causing conflict between them and their partner if they weren't a part of the decision.
“I ended up asking two of my best friends and their husbands to step up,” she says. “I feel confident in my decision and know that it was the right one.”
Alison Barfoot agrees that choosing godparents for her daughter was a very important decision. “Godparents for Ayda were decided way before she was born. Actually, if I think about it, possibly before she was conceived!” she says.
Barfoot explains that she wanted to be able to turn to Ayda’s godparents for guidance without judgement. It was also important that they would act as her daughter’s moral compass and be a constant in her life.
“I want Ayda to know there are others in this world who love her and will protect her in almost the same way her dad and I do,” she says. “I love the promise her godparents have made to all of us as a family – I find it humbling and overwhelming.”
But it’s not always the case that parents agree on whether or not to appoint guardians, as Tracey Brown knows only too well.
“We first discussed godparents when I was pregnant with our first child, but my partner shot the idea down immediately,” she says. “He hadn't really considered it, as he doesn't have godparents himself, but I was raised Catholic and I never really considered not having godparents for my kids.”
Despite discussing it again when Brown was pregnant with her second child, the couple still couldn’t agree. As a result, the boys remain without godparents or guardians, although Brown admits that if she had her time over she would have pushed the issue more.
“I don't know why, but it just feels like something I should do for my kids,” she says. “I feel like, in some ways, I've denied my children this right.”
For others, however, the decision to not have anyone in the role is something of a foregone conclusion from day one.
“We decided not to have godparents for Mia for a couple of reasons – most significantly, we are not religious,” explains Caroline Jones. “But I was also really aware that the choices you make about important people in your life change over time.
“I had seen breakdowns in relationships with friends where the people they thought would be in their lives forever no longer were.”
Jones’ observations are backed up by the fact that she doesn’t know who her own godparents are. “I believe that, at one time, they were friends of my parents,” she says.
“I don’t feel like Mia will miss out in any way by not having ‘official’ godparents or guardians. I have good, solid relationships with my sisters, other members of our family and close friends, and I know that they will be there to guide her throughout her life – particularly when she doesn’t want to listen to her parents!”
Of course, as with all these things, choosing (or not choosing) godparents or guide-parents for your child is a personal decision, and one that only you and your partner can make.
If you’re struggling, Wendy Haynes, celebrant and author of How to Be An Inspiring Godparent, Mentor or Guardian, offers some advice, saying that one of the most important things is to choose someone who will be around for your child.
“Choose someone who will take an interest in their wellbeing, spend extra time with them, and always be accessible and open to them for discussion of problems or options in the future,” she says.
“Also ensure it’s someone you trust, who you respect, and who you would want to be an influence in your child’s life.”
On the flipside, Haynes stipulates that it’s never a great idea to choose someone purely because you don’t want them to be upset if they’re not asked.
When you’ve made the decision about who you’d like to ask, Haynes suggests being clear about what exactly you want and expect from them. She also advises that it’s important to consider what this means to you as parents.
The potential godparents have to carefully consider a few important points, too, says Haynes.
“Be clear on what the parents are expecting from you, but also think about if you can extend yourself and give to a child in a way that ensures they know they are loved and cared for,” she says.
“It might be as simple as writing them a letter, ringing them, taking them out for a special occasion, visiting them at home, or the gifting of presents – or perhaps, more importantly, the gifting of your presence."