Calling for a Fresh Approach to Godparenting

The arrangement that we know as "godparenting" could could be infused with relevance and a fresh approach. Perhaps young widows and widowers might be the people to breathe new life into the old convention of godparenting.

Even in this age of modern medical miracles (MMM, as I call it) we still face painful situations where one or both parents do not survive to see their children into adulthood.

We will cover a little history of the role of godparenting and then discuss a current paradigm for the role.

The seeds of godparenting in the United States were being planted in fourth century Europe when the western Christian church suggested mature Christian people should sponsor new converts. This provided an attesting to the convert's sincerity as well as providing support to the convert who was embarking on the Christian life. By 800 AD, sponsors began arriving at infant baptisms to take vows in the infant's name, agreeing to instruct the child in the Christian faith if birth parents faltered. As well, mortality rates were high, so, in medieval Europe, godparenting created a web of real support. Eventually, the popularity of godparenting became such that an adult's reputation was actually enhanced by the number of godchildren they boasted of. The record is held by a child with twenty-two godfathers and three godmothers in 1445. Jewish and Chinese cultures have their version of godparenting as well.

Today, with declining association with religious systems and lower mortality rates among young adults the web of godparenting has also been in decline.

I would like to entertain the prospect of reviving this old role with a fresh paradigm.

Godparenting can stretch a family to transform friends into relatives, and relatives into friends for the protection of their children. When a spouse dies, having a pre-existing web of support that extends beyond your nuclear family could be a lifesaver for your children.

Dan Oberg of Wenatchee, Washington currently has thirteen godchildren from three separate families. He notes that relationships evolve over time and circumstance. The Obergs are godparents to blood relatives and friends. When Dan's sister-in-law died suddenly, the Obergs made it a point to spend a weekend a month focusing on their grief-striken godchildren. After a year and a half, the Obergs relaxed their pace of support.

Dan says, "I see the role as an extended family 'adoption,' and I take the commitment seriously. I find the role wonderful at times, in that you really get to be part of a larger family network, but confusing at other times, since it is such an undefined role and kids (naturally) change so fast and so much as they grow up. They "come and go" emotionally a lot."

The Obergs see godparenting as forming family relationships that extend beyond biological or nuclear-family boundaries. Oberg says, "My hope is that we give our godchildren a sense of being loved, nurtured and discipled in a wider sense, which will give them a taste of the kind of security of love that I wish we all had in this world."