Can you say 'no' to being a godparent?

Many of us have one, some of us ARE one…but what’s the deal with Godparents? And can you ever say no to being one?

So, a good friend of mine was just asked for the fourth time to be a godparent. Four godchildren? FOUR? If you’re a standup Godparent, that’s a lot of gifts. And a lot of wearing nice shirts to baptisms. And not being hungover for baptisms. And churches. And baptisms.

And so, the question cropped up: how many godchildren are too many godchildren? And really, in the modern world, what role are they expected to play? Like wet nurses, chimney sweeps, or lamp lighters, is ‘godparent’ a role that is not longer relevant?

I am not overly sure who my godfather is (we’ve never met), and my godmother and I haven’t seen each other in over five years. Have either of these people shaped who I am today? Well, no. Not at all. And they only had one godchild to neglect – what about people who have more than one?

I asked around, from godparents to godchildren to god-experts and even God himself (yet to hear back), and the answers were interesting. My first question was all about that big choice: how did you choose your child’s godparents?

One pal put it down to genuine interest:

“We thought a bit about it when I was pregnant with my first child, and had some people in mind, however we wanted to wait until she was born, to see who was actually really interested and involved in her.  As it turned out, all our ‘preliminary candidates’ weren’t there a lot, however my childhood friend was suddenly visiting all the time, showing so much love and support, and both my husband and I went “Ah!  It’s her!!” It just clicked naturally.”

Right, so if enthusiasm and consistency were key to the decision – can one person really be expected to uphold this commitment to more than one child? Should people take on more than one godchild?

Some said no – “I personally think it’s best to just have one.  The whole point is to develop a special relationship.”

Others said yes – “There shouldn’t be a limit on the amount of godparents. There more role models your kid had the better upbringing it will have. More love equals more legend.”

Ok, got that. But what is that person actually meant to do in the child’s life? Should it be an active role, or just a silent support in the background? Like, do they chaperone the 16th birthday birthday; or do they secretly hold back their vomit-streaked hair after too many beers, and swear not to tell the parents?

One girlfriend reckons it’s just about providing some variety to boring old Mum and Dad:

“As they (the kids) get older, it’s just being having another trusted and reliable and clever adult that they can have around, to talk about things they might not want to talk to us about, to have their own ‘special’ adult who they don’t have to share with their sibling, and to have as a role model, but someone who is different to their own parents.”

So I guess it’s a combo of holding back vomit hair but also delivering a cOoL oLdER pErSon speech about not drinking too much.


Underpinning the moral, religious, and 16th birthday-party-related quandaries of the godparent role, I have always understood there to be a legal obligation as well. Does accepting the godparent role make you the official legal understudy to Ma and Pa if they cark it?

Fear not, godparents, contrary to popular 2010 comedy starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel “Life As We Know It”, godparents are NOT the legal guardians…unless they are stipulated to be so in the parent’s legal will.


Encyclopaedia Britannica does say that a Godparent is, “one who stands surety for another in the rite of Christian baptism. In the modern baptism of an infant or child the godparent or godparents make profession of faith for the person being baptised (the godchild) and assume an obligation to serve as proxies for the parents if the parents either are unable or neglect to provide for the religious training of the child, in fulfilment of baptismal promises.” 

…So there’s that.

And so, if you’re impregnated, soon to be impregnated, or simply grappling with a long list of ‘Godparent Choices’, here’s the deal.

Your chosen Godparent must also share the same opinion regarding a sequinned tuxedo.

If you’re religious or spiritual, you want someone who will help guide your child along that same path during the course of their life. If you’re a straighty-180, you want some a little left of center for some diversity in your kid’s world, and vice verca. Try and pick someone who exhibits genuine interest in your new baby, and for god’s sake pick someone who is set to be a friend for a long time….not because you think they will look good in the photos from the christening.
And if you’re really lucky, you might even find the person who can: chaperone your baby’s future 16th birthday party, hold back their vomity hair, deliver the Cool Older Person speech and tell you what happened after.

And no, that’s not me.

Are you a godparent? Are you good at it?