Long Reads

The unexpected joys of becoming a godparent

Welcome to Stylist’s first ever Love Week, where we’re celebrating the relationships that matter the most to us with a series of beautiful essays. Here, writer Beth Edwards pens a love letter to her first godchild.

Back in the autumnal glow of October, I called one of my oldest friends on WhatsApp.

She’d recently given birth to her first child, a daughter called R. My friend’s image popped up on my phone screen and I was slightly blindsided. We wouldn’t normally use the video function. But what did I know? A lot had changed since we’d last spoken. I’d gotten a haircut, she’d given birth to a tiny human.

The video connected and I realised that her husband was joining the conversation, too. I suddenly twigged the rationale behind the video – they wanted to ask me to be their daughter’s godmother. Such a monumental question merited a face-to-face interaction.

I was thrilled. Beyond thrilled, in fact. I was glowing. 

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My first goddaughter! A few friends of mine were already godparents or spiritual guides (the secular version). It felt like I’d joined a privileged club that few get entry to. And for me, I had always wanted admission. I’d drop hints to all my pregnant friends. I’d (semi)-jokingly broadcast that I was up to the job to anyone who’d listen (with child or otherwise). I’d even roped in my Mum to outline my credentials whenever she saw a pregnant family friend of ours.

But it wasn’t until I was actually asked to be a godparent that the gravitas of the question truly hit me. 

Being there for your friend’s child – forever – is a big deal

“Being there for your friend’s child – forever – is a big deal”

I was being asked not only to be the cool aunt who brought the best presents, but to look after R, to furnish her with spiritual and emotional nourishment, to be there if her parents were no longer. I sat down and swallowed it all in.

Being there for your friend’s child – forever – is a big deal. It’s an elevation to somewhere near grandparent status. Most of all, it’s testament to the strength of the relationship between parents and godparent. What I didn’t expect in becoming R’s godmother, was that I’d rekindle closer relationships with her parents. And that has been wonderful. 

To clarify, I want my own children one day in the future, too. Having them is on my radar, but not in sharp focus just yet. For many millennial urbanites, myself included, having children is a) not a priority above a career and b) not financially viable. Having godchildren instead, however, allows us to piggy-back on the joys of pseudo-parenting, having an involvement in their life without taking on the full breadth of responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with having a child.

It’s the perfect compromise for the burned out millennials who are having their own children much later than previous generations. According to the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics, pregnancy levels have been falling among 20- and 30-somethings, but rising in women in their 40s. It seems that we’re all pushing back the moment that we take the plunge and sign up for a lifetime of parenthood. 

what is a godparent

Beth taking a first selfie with her goddaughter, R

Now, in February, I’m only been a few months into my new role, but what have I learned so far? Well, beyond the obvious importance of remembering birthdays and deciding if I’m going to be “Aunty Beth” or “Auntie Beth”, it’s an appreciation that this is a life-long relationship. It’s a slow-burn, no flashes in the pan. I want to be significant in R’s life, not a godparent in name alone.

(Another lesson learned – I want to be Olivia Colman in godmother form. I bet she’s a great godmother. In fact, I bet she’s great at everything.)

My drive to succeed as a godparent comes from the positive relationships I have with my own godparents. I’m grateful my parents broke with convention and chose their closest friends as my godparents, rather than asking family (who arguably had a shoe-in with me already). I’m also lucky enough to have a grand total of four godparents to call my own. 

I have T&H, a couple who let me stay with them in London and were instrumental in cultivating my love for the city’s architecture. I have M, who became my second mother and at whose house I spent most childhood weekends playing with my godsister. Of course, having a godsister is another perk to the wondrous godparenting network. Finally, I have K, whose subtle powers as a godmother have paid dividends in my adulthood. When I decided to quit my job and move home, it was her I spoke to most.

As for my relationship with my own goddaughter, I want a closeness that isn’t suffocating. I want to be there for all the formative jelly-and-ice-cream birthday parties, but not necessarily her first day of school. We don’t live nearby, but I want her to know that I’m there for her – especially when she turns 18 and I can (and will) dig out as many embarrassing baby photos as I can get my hands on. This godmother has got her priorities right. 

On a shallower level, I want her to like me. When we first met, and I held her, she cried. A priest had just poured blessed water over her head, not once but three times, so I get that she was distressed. Luckily, later that day I managed to squeeze in some lovely cuddles and our bonding was restored. I looked into her eyes and it hit me: I hope she likes me. I hope I can live up to her expectations, as well as my own.

For her baptism, I gave her two presents. One was a set of Little Feminist picture books, featuring activists like Rosa Parks and artists like Frida Kahlo. It’s never too early to understand the power of women. 

being a godparent

“I looked into her eyes and it hit me: I hope she likes me”

The second gift was a bottle of Warner Edwards Gin (hear me out…). For my baptism, my godparents bought me a bottle of port to lie down until I turned 18, as is tradition. But seeing as R’s Mum and I first formed our friendship over copious amounts of gin, and Warner Edwards became our favourite brand once we were old enough to afford it, I gave a bottle to R. I will “lie it down” until she turns 18, when I look forward to introducing her to its delicate and refined taste.

So, cheers to you R, my delightful goddaughter. May I always be able to listen, to love and to get in the rounds of gin. 

Images: Getty

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