My Godparents Sucked, but Good Godparents Play An Important Role in the Village

Black children deserve the kind of support system that is going to have their back no matter what. Godparents can make that happen.

black godmother with her two goddaughters walking around the city
PHOTO: Lupe Rodríguez/Stocksy. Photo: Lupe Rodríguez/Stocksy

It's interesting that, although the African American proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" is something that I hear white people say all the time, most of the white people I know personally did not grow up with godparents, nor do their children have them. Meanwhile, in my culture, in Black culture, it's common.

I have godparents—two sets, to be exact. Unfortunately, they all are some of the most passive—and that's a nice way of putting it— godparents on the entire planet. They rarely acknowledged birthdays and never came to a graduation. When both of my books were published, I never received a "congrats." And yet, not even a month ago, after not hearing from one of my godmothers in a few years, she wrote talking about how proud she was to be my godmother. Performative stances are just that.

Sadly, it seems a lot of people only agree to become a godparent for the sake of bragging rights and being able to stand up on their church pulpit when their god baby is being blessed. Beyond that, they are pretty MIA. What's worse is most of them don't get how that affects their godchild throughout their entire lives. Because yes, we, the godchildren, actually expect that if you take on a position that literally has the word "god" in it, you're going to be serious, intentional, and, most of all, consistent.

What Is a Godparent?

When the mother of my two goddaughters—the oldest is 11, and the youngest is 3—initially asked me to take on the role, it took me a year to agree. Between what I experienced with my own godparents, along with all of the stories that I heard from others, I wanted to make sure that I was clear on what the position entailed and if I could realistically step up to the plate.

"The godparent is definitely an esteemed role among 'the village' community," shares Brandi Jackson, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker and holistic therapist and health coach. "I believe it implies one of the first people that a godchild can reach out to for support, guidance, mentorship, learning rites of passage, support emotionally, a liaison with parents, and financial support as appropriate."

"You can be mindful of what the role encompasses. If you are actively aware of the full scope of engagement that goes with the title, you can help your godchild understand how you can and will support them," Jackson says, noting this allows the godchild to engage with you and understand what to expect from you. "You are signing on to be an advocate for your godchild, which means building a healthy and engaged relationship with your godchild to foster a connection where they will organically treat you as one of the first people they can be supported by outside of their parent or guardian figures."

What Does a Godparent Do?

You might've heard somewhere that a godparent is the one who becomes the legal guardian of their godchild should their parents prematurely die prematurely. That's not exactly or automatically the case. That's only so if the parents state in their will that they want them to be. In fact, a godparent isn't a "legal position" at all — unless the parents opt to make it one. It's also important to note that godparenting has somewhat evolved out of being solely a spiritual appointment as well. Many "non-spiritual agnostic people" are godparents.

"You definitely can be a good godparent without being religious or spiritual if that's not part of the family's focus for your role in the child's life," says Dr. LaTasha Perkins, MD, a family physician with expertise in mental health.

"Lots of people take on roles in our lives, including mentors, life coaches, aunts. There is so much more to our development as a person than spiritual—the social and emotional aspects are important too," she says. "We want our young folks to be good people and leaders. If you aren't religious, your focus can be academic, for example—helping them succeed in school when their parents aren't available. It's all about the village raising a healthy, centered person."

"The role of a godparent is even more important today because of the events going on in the world," says Dr. Catherine J. Mills, Psy.D, a licensed clinical psychologist. "With the COVID-19 pandemic, rise in mass shootings in schools, and the adverse consequences these events have had on our mental health and the mental health of children, children need stable, supportive adults to guide them," she says. "Sometimes children have questions they want to discuss with a trusted adult that is not their parents. This is when having a godparent would be beneficial."

I talk to my godchildren at least two to three times a week. Once a year, I spend a week with them while their mother takes a vacation or travels for work. I don't miss a birthday (my goddaughters and myself are all Geminis and Geminis take birthdays very seriously). My older goddaughter and I have virtual movie and phone dates. I am very present in their lives.

Godparents Are Part of the Village

Anyone who has kids knows that good support is often not only hard to find but one of the greatest blessings once you do. Someone who you can get on-call advice from? Someone who your children can reach out to on a dime? Someone who will literally love your children as if they are their own? Someone who looked you in your face when your child was just a baby and promised to be present for every milestone, every achievement, every special occasion?

A godparent is a true godsend. There is no debating that.

Personally, I think that's why godparenting is especially beautiful and relevant within the Black community. It's because we're traditionally big on family—not just blood ones either. Most of us grew up calling someone "auntie" or "uncle" who wasn't our parents' sibling. Most of us can name at least three people who played a direct role in mentoring us through something related to adulting who weren't in our family tree. Most of us have memories of individuals who invested in us, profoundly so, who weren't relatives. It's a part of what "our village" is all about.

"Being a parent is hard, and you need a team, a village, a tribe to ensure that the child is surrounded with what they need to thrive," Dr. Perkins says. "Having a godparent within your village is important because there is a level of security in a community united to raise kids to have a good future."

Yes, our parents are our parents. Still, all of us have had some "icing" on our cake that has made life so much sweeter. And one of those people, if we're fortunate, is a godparent—or two. And if that person is "all in"—trust me—their plate is quite full when it comes to holding the position.

As a single woman in her late 40s with no kids, who has now chosen not to have any, my goddaughters are healing and restoring me. I have no blood children, but what I do have is love for children, and it has brought so much to my world.

Godparenting is awesome. A billion times over.

Godparenting really is such a joy.

It does take a village to raise a child—especially in this day and age.

Godparents are extremely relevant and necessary.

Most importantly, please don't do it if you're not all in.

Children, especially Black children, deserve the kind of individuals who will have their back, fully, no matter what. And honestly, if there was a tagline for what being a solid godparent is—that would be it. Now, more than ever, there is no wiggle room either. Be all in with the privilege because our children deserve it—it indeed is one.

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