How to be a Godless Godmother

December 30 | Guest post by AmandaPanda
Photo by Flickr user denkrahm, used with Creative Commons license.
I am an atheist punk, and have been since about the age of 12. My best friend, and mother of my godchild, is Christian. We respect each other's viewpoints and have adopted each other as family, so it only made sense that when she got married and started procreating that I would be officially added to her new family — as the godmother.

Her mother was upset. She adores me, she really does, but she raised a question that I'm sure a lot of people in her Christian family had — how can an Atheist be in charge of a Christian child's religious upbringing? Classically this is the job of a godparent — to make sure religious values are infused into the child's upbringing, while the parents are busy with all that other jazz (feeding, clothing, housing, etc.).

Instead of teaching her biblical stories and traditional Christian tale, I opted to teach her about values that I feel every good human being should have. Together we learn about respect, cooperation, understanding, forgiveness, courtesy, responsibility, loyalty, self-control, open-mindedness, and so on and so forth.

During the summer I had a chance to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my then four (now five) year old godchild. Together we practiced patience as we carefully measured out the ingredients to make a cake. She was enthusiastic about cracking the eggs, and after a few practice runs (and a very eggy sink), she learned to be gentle and let go of her frustration over her failed attempts. In the end she was rewarded with a delicious cake, mostly of her own making. Not only did she learn how to be patient, careful, exert self-control and calmness, she also practice counting, measurements and time keeping.

Amanda's god-daughter! Looks like some of that punk might be rubbing off.
Throughout her life I have always tried to behave in a way that would welcome imitation from her. When we play I am always polite, say please and thank you, show her respect by providing my undivided attention to whatever it is we're doing together, play whatever role it is that she assigns to me, try to empathize with whatever she is saying, be forgiving when mistakes are made and take responsibility for when I make mistakes, etc. As a parent, it is hard to do these things all the time, while worrying about children and the general stress associated with being a full-time parent.

I also provide a lot of reading material for my godchild. Being an English major and taking a few children's literature courses, I have
sought out well written, educational and character building books and provide them to my godchild regularly, on gift giving holidays. My godchild loves to read and play with books, so I know that providing these materials in the field of her interest will also help her grow into a well developed adult.

By teaching her to be a moral person, with or without Christian values present, I feel that I am fulfilling both a traditional and non-traditional role as her godmother. I am proud of the job that I am doing and I am proud of the way she is turning out.

One day, when I decide I am ready to start a family, I will return the favor and make my best friend the godmother of my child. And although I am not a Christian, I would like my child to have a well-rounded exposure to both a religious and non-religious household, so they may choose what is right for them when the time comes.

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  1. First off, I've got to point out what I assume is a typo (!)
    "she learned to be genital" – I'm guessing she learned to be gentle, right? :p

    Second, this is an interesting read for me, as my best friend is a strong Christian, compared to my agnostic stance. It's good to see that you've been able to fulfil your godmother role without feeling you have to pretend to believe in something you don't. I'm sure your goddaughter will grow up with a healthy respect and tolerance for the beliefs of others.

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  2. This is a pretty interesting article – I always wondered how religious/non-religious cross-overs would work! Amanda, it sounds like you're doing such a great job as a 'godparent'.
    My non-religious parents didn't want godparents for my sister and I, so we have 'best adult friends'. It's worked out very well for us ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. I really think that unless the parent and the godparent are both seriously religious and motivated there is not a whole lot of religious education going on. Neither or my godparents or my brother's bothered much with church.

    I think of it as an honorary title, stating that you are the bestest Aunt/Uncle/Honorary family member ever.

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    • This is how my family always did it. I didn't even realize the religious upbringing was a part of it until I I was a adult.

      I've been trying to explain it to people now that my husband and I are talking about kids, so this whole thing is actually super helpful.

  4. Fantastic piece! <3 It's great that you're able to take on the role of helping your friend instill strong values in her little girl. ๐Ÿ˜€

    One of the things we faced in designating godparents for our son was that we had friends who are close to us and matter greatly, and who will be important in our child's life no matter what, but because we didn't have a Catholic co-godparent to make the whole thing religiously official, it didn't work out. That said, our son's godparents are great people and close friends; it's not like we didn't have options.

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  5. Great article. As we are not religious, we're torn over whether to have "godparents" or "guardians" or not. This gives a little food for thought, thanks.

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  6. I have long thought that we need a culturally acknowledged way (a ritual) to expand our families "officially" so that those who do not wish to participate in religious ceremonies have a means of adding adults to their child's lives without having to do the "godparent" thing. I know lots of people who have created their own rituals–and love that they do so. We need more ways to celebrate children and the adults who love them in this world! (FYI, I'm an Episcopal priest–and our kidlet has godparents who are charged with loving him NO MATTER WHAT, which to me is the crux of the matter!).

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    • Joy–I'm a priest too, and I have to say, I love this idea. I've often wished that we had a way to include (perhaps in prayers at baptisms, or somewhere else), an acknowledgement of ALL the adults who are committing to this child's welfare and development. For so many we baptise, the church community is only a small portion (or not really even a portion) of those adults who are committed to the child's care and (for lack of a better word) moral development.

  7. see i never had the view of godparents teaching religion. i was brought up with the godparents were the person one was in trusting their child with god forbid anything happened to them. so with that in mind that's how i choose my kids god parents the only time i took religion into mind about it was if the god parents had received their sacraments because i'm catholic and you need your sacraments to be a god parent

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    • I think this must depend on the parish or diocese or something – I was baptised Catholic with only one Catholic godparent (the other isn't baptised at all).

      • When we took RCIA in 2007, we were told that only one godparent had to be officially Catholic. I don't know how far-reaching that is.

        • I am Catholic and just had my son baptized in the Catholic church. We had to have at least one practicing Catholic who has gone through Confirmation as one of the godparents. We have a good family friend who fit that bill, so she is the godmother. My brother is a Methodist, but they allowed us to have him as a "Christian witness," but he is really the godfather in our eyes.

  8. My parents weren't very religious, but they designated godparents for the lesser known, but still important task of taking care of me should something happen to both of them (dad's brother and his wife). Mom's best friend was designated the fairy godmother. Godparents didn't really have much to do with me, and as I grew older mom and I made a list of people that I would want to be my guardians if she died and she wrote it into the will. My fairy godmother took a great deal of interest in my life. It was her job to take me shopping, take me for fun days out when mom was too busy and answer all the embarrassing questions mom couldn't handle.
    Fairy godmothers (and fairy godfathers!) have been a great tradition in our family and I intend to carry it on when I have offspring.

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  9. I love this, especially your examples of the ways you subtly tend to your goddaughter's moral development–teaching and modeling patience, perseverence, etc., the same things a more traditional godmother might teach her in religious terms.

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  10. i too am a godless god mother. i did not renounce satan in the service. i let the other godparents do that. i don't like to take sides.
    i call him my godson but i refer to myself as his fairy gothmother.

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  11. Loved this article. My partner and I do not practice any religion in particular, and chose three close friends of our who all have unique, awesome qualities we hope they'll impart on our daughter. We call them "guideparents."

    We also have named a family member as her official guardian in our will should anything happen to both of us; I personally don't think these very separate roles necessarily need to be performed by a single person and/or couple…

    Thanks for sharing your experience! Sounds like you are a wonderful role model for your goddaughter!

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  12. I'm a Catholic. (I can already hear the *crickets chirping* through the internets. I'm an *offbeat* offbeat mama.) Our kids' godparents were/are offbeat, and we chose them because A) they are wonderful friends and we want our kids to emulate their values; and B) while they are familiar with Catholic tradition, each of them has a critical posture toward certain Church teachings (as do my husband and I), and we want our kids to not be in lock-step, but offbeat, ya know?

    Their godfather is an out gay former Jesuit priest, who sat in the front row during Mass holding hands with his male partner. (The first wedding my oldest daughter attended was her godfather's marriage to his husband.) The godmothers are a lesbian couple, a former nun who left her religious community when she met godmother #2, a professor of feminist-postcolonialist-liberation theology.

    According to our priest (a liberal Jesuit), only one godparent has to be a practicing Catholic, so we were in the clear there, since the lesbians were still in the fold. That being said, our kids' godparents are more about being an avuncluar presence in their lives, rather than imparting religious teachings. Actually, if my kids' godparents did half of what AmandaPanda described doing with her godchild, I'd be ecstatic, because my kids' godparents live so far away that we hardly see them. Next year, though: in San Francisco, of course! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  13. I was so pleased to find this article!

    While I am not an offbeat mama (nor positive if I will or will not be in the future) I AM an offbeat god-mama and I like to tune in here periodically for tips because I believe whole heartedly in treating my beautiful godson as if he were my own when we're together. I may not see him everyday, and I may not be 'in charge' of his upbringing; but the impact that I am allowed to have on his life I embrace with every fiber of my being.

    I am an agnostic. I question more things than I believe- but I have the utmost respect for those who have found their own unique spiritual paths. My godson's mother is a semi-practicing Christian and very accepting of my views as well.

    The balance we have found is the way we both encourage some form of belief and wonder. Neither of us would ever TELL him to believe in any specific thing. But will support and cherish those things he comes to believe on his own.

    In the meantime we, and all others in his life, do all that we can to instill positive, moral messages in him that are transcendent of any specific religion or belief.

    I am happy to see how well other people have taken on this role. Thank you for this post!

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  14. This is a great article! I am a firm atheist, but have many many friends and family members who are religious, and I think it is important for them to know that although we don't adhere to the same beliefs as them, we are still COMPLETELY capable of raising children in a moral, stable, happy and well-rounded household. Bravo!

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