How do you pick godparents/guardians for your child(ren)?

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My friends are her friends

I do not have any children yet, but something I have been thinking about lately is how parents decide who would take care of their children if something horrible happens to both of them. How do you ask someone to take care of your children if you pass away, and how do you tell someone you haven’t chosen them? For example, with two sets of grandparents, who do you put in the will as legal guardians if the worst happens?

Great question! Time for another round of SHE SAID/SHE SAID, with your hosts Ariel and Stephanie…


This is a question that completely haunts me and Sean. I mean, some of the reasons are obvious (“OMG, something could happen to us?! What would happen to Jasper?! & etc.), but when we really sit down and try to reason out who we would ask to take care of Jasper if we no longer could, we consistently draw blanks. That’s not entirely true — individually, we each come up with people, but together? We’ve never been able to come to a mutual agreement.

First and foremost, we’re not religious, so for us, a godparent would be the designated guardian in the event that he or she (or they) were necessary. We’ve gone through the grand-parents, and rationalized out who is likely to be the best choice there. Our criteria was pretty straight-forward: we looked at the relationship Jasper has with each grandparent & the grandparent’s spouse, which includes how the grand-parent treats Jasper and who is most likely to raise him in a way that is somewhat similar to how we would. After that, we considered things like the financial situation of each grand-parent, the housing situation, and how stable that grand-parent is.

The tricky part? While we love our parents, we’re not sure if a grandparent would be the best substitute parent in a situation like this. Neither of us were raised with godparents, so we really don’t have a realistic idea of what the non-religious role entails. When I was pregnant Sean had the idea that we create a “Jedi council” of sorts — five or six friends that we really trust and who we think could, collectively, keep Jasper as awesome and happy as possible. This doesn’t really play out in reality, because how do you ensure that these people would all pitch in? Who would Jasper live with? And so on.

There are a few options within our friends, but every time we go down one path, we come up with more reasons why the person or people wouldn’t fulfill our ideas about what a parent is in the context of us and Jasper. And, I think, therein lies the real problem with a situation like this — you have to realize that no one is going to be the parents that you would be, and move past that. If something happened to us, whoever would raise Jasper would have their own parenting philosophies. There’s no way to predict what those would be, and no way for us to have peace of mind that Jasper would be in 100% Sean-and-Stephanie-esque hands.

Clearly, I’m still trying to figure this one out. I look forward to reading responses from other parents!


I love this question, although I’m coming at it from the other side of the spectrum — as an adult who was raised with an actively involved godmother.

My parents selected their best friend, the woman who had introduced them, to be my godmother. She was a consistent presence in my life all through my childhood, and her daughter and I were raised as godsisters … a relationship that roughly translated to cousin-hood. My godmother and godsister were important to me growing up; as an only child who had no blood-related cousins until I was in my teens, the sense of belonging to a larger family was beyond valuable.

When my parents would go out of town, I would usually stay with my godfamily, and I always knew that if anything were to happen to my parents, I would go live with them. It was reassuring. I knew where I would go, and I liked it.

This is all to say: good on you for thinking about this! I think having godfamily is super important — more than just in case of tragedy, but also just as an opportunity to establish a supportive extended family of your choice for your children. At least for me, I loved growing up knowing I had a special “other” family.

When it comes to making the decision, there are several factors:

  • Parenting philosophies (do you generally agree with how children should be raised?)
  • Resources (would they have the resources to take your child/ren if something happened to you?)
  • Existing relationship (do your kids already know and like them? From a child’s perspective, this makes things much less scary.)
  • Their willingness

For that last bullet point, this is key: you don’t just TELL someone you’ve picked them to be godparents. You ASK them if they’re interested. I’m the same opinion about marriage proposals — it shouldn’t be a “popping the question,” it should be a long heartfelt discussion.

For those of you who have chosen godparents for your children, how did you do it? How did you bring up the issue with the friends/family you were considering, and how did you talk to your children about it.

Comments on How do you pick godparents/guardians for your child(ren)?

  1. Not going to lie, I hadn’t even thought about it even though growing up the position I was in with my godparents was very similar to Ariel’s.

    I would love to hear more opinions from other parents for sure!

  2. This is interesting for me because our kids’ “Godparents” are not the people we would want them to stay with should something happen to us. Because we are Catholic, “godparents” specifically means people who will help guide the kids in the Catholic faith. We have other people who we have agreed would be the best guardians for our kids. They have a good income, dependable housing and resources, are trustworthy, and are already actively involved in our kids’ lives, and most importantly, they interact well with our kids and show heartfelt affection to them.

    We’re actually in the process of sorting this out now ourselves, which brings me to another point:beyond asking the godparents/guardians if they are interested,it is a a good idea get some legal work done or put everything in writing so that there isn’t any he said/she said business if something does happen, and so you can set up specifics of how things should go down: should holidays be split up between families? Is there a family member you secretly don’t feel comfortable leaving your kids alone with? What kind of access will the guardians have to any funds given to your kids? This can not only give you peace of mind, but it can also save your friends and family from having a blood feud over these decisions. This is probably obvious, but it was a revelation to us– when a family member died and we saw their estate ripped to shreds– that verbal pacts were totally not sufficient!

    • Same here, we chose my partner’s sibling as Godparents, however should anything happen to us our will stipulates that my parents will be our son’s legal guardian.

      From a legal perspective, at least where I live, the Godparents are not the rightful guardians in the event that both parents are killed, so we had to make sure we had in writing who we wanted to raise our son if anything happened to us.

      We also did stipulate how much time our son would spend with his other grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family. They are all such an important part of his life now, and we would never want that to change.

      • It’s not just where you come from! Godparents do not magically become legal guardians. It’s a pain in the you-know-what to fill out a will, but as parents we MUST DO IT for the sake of our children.

        It makes me sad that so many parents think that calling someone a godparent makes those people into legal guardians.

    • Same with us. We have two single people that are not in a relationship with each other. While I love them and know they will help in her faith formation. They are not who I would leave our daughter too.

  3. As Rodrigues said above, it’s important to figure out not only who you’d like to have raise your kids, but what sort of access other people have to them as well. Regardless of whether your child ends up being with family members or dear friends, money will be an issue. If you have a house, will your house be sold? Will the proceeds be placed into trust for your child(ren), or will a certain sum be paid out per month for a care of the child(ren)? Putting money in trust for a child is something to consider; if they would like to pursue their education, having at a fund that is dedicated solely for that purpose (depending on your province or state’s legislation, you can dictate the terms of your child’s access to this money) can come in handy. If there is life insurance that your child will receive, the same things need to be considered – as well as who will handle the money.

    If your executor(s) and child’s guardian(s) aren’t the same people, it’s probably a wise idea to at least introduce them to each other and let them know what the situation is. If there are problems with this (on either end), you can always change things and pick different people – but better to find out beforehand.

    The best thing to do is talk to a lawyer and find out what sort of rights and responsibilities a child’s guardian has in your province/state. It’s also a good idea to let your executor know that they’d likely be administering your estate for many years – particularly if you have funds held in trust for your child’s maintenance/education/whatever.

    We haven’t yet started our family, but thanks for pointing out another discussion that we should start having (since it might take some time for an agreement to happen, ha ha) as soon as possible.

  4. Picking a godfather for my son was a no-brainer…it is my younger brother (who has two kids of his own). He loves Gavin so much, and Gavin loves him back (especially now that he knows Uncle Josh loves video games). I know Josh would do everything possible to raise him pretty damn close to the way I am.

    My son actually has two godmothers…one is my best friend and sister-in-name. She never wanted to have kids until Gavin came along, and he melted her. He is the one who proved to her that not all kids are snotty brats and can actually be well-behaved. Should my brother not be able to take care of him, she would, in a heartbeat. Gavin’s second godmother is his dad’s roommate. She is amazing – she is unable to have children, and so has taken it upon herself to teach Gavin everything she knows. She’s taught him so many nursery rhymes (a lot that I’d forgotten about) and songs, and is also helping teach him Spanish. She would not be able to care for him if both his dad and I were gone, just because of her physical limitations (she’s diabetic, blind, on dialysis, and has neuropathy in her feet), but she is a huge part of his life, very nearly another parent.

  5. I feel lucky in this question. My husband is best friends with my sister and brother-in-law, who are the people I would want my daughter raised by. It really was as simple, for us, as asking them if they would be willing to raise her and be her godparents. Their reactions were fairly similar and went something like this, “Duh. It better be us.” My husband also happens to be their daughter’s godfather, and we would become her guardians if anything ever happened to them. It is comforting to know that the two people that I look up to the most are also the people who would watch over my little one if anything happened to me and my husband.

    The legal stuff still needs to be hammered out though, and that causes me some discomfort. I worry that there would be some issues on my husband’s side. I worry that his siblings would want custody of the little one. This is one of the only worries I have about my own death. [Not that I think that will be happening any time soon]

  6. I was raised Catholic too – I’m agnostic now but I still think of a Godparent as something different from a Guardian. My parents are Irish Catholic and we don’t have any family here, so my brothers and my Godparents are all friends of theirs. We always called my parents’ friends “aunt” and “uncle” but it was kind of a way of making it official – these adults are now part of the family.

    Although I’m not practicing, I can see having our future children Baptized (former Catholic but still paranoid about Limbo!) and I can see granting that Godparent honor to friends of ours. But if something happened to us, our children would go to my sister-in-law and her husband, no question.

    • Total side note to you to put your mind at ease: when we went through classes to have our kids baptized, we were told limbo is no longer official dogma, and that the position of the church is sort of undecided and open when it comes to people who ‘haven’t had the opportunity to know the teachings of Christ’.

    • Limbo was actually a misunderstanding between two ecumenical councils. According to the story my 8th grade teacher at a Catholic school told us, the original council discussing the issue (I can’t remember which it was, but anyway) couldn’t come to a conclusion and so wrote a note that read “Limbo” under the topic, meaning that the council was “in limbo” or undecided about the issue. When the next council convened quite a while later and reviewed the notes, they thought that “Limbo” was the answer to the question!

      Upon further research, the mistake was corrected, which is why it’s no longer taught. Though, to my knowledge, they still haven’t come up with an answer.

  7. I’ll join the chorus of folks for whom “godparent” and “guardian” are different things. Our daughter has a godfather who is specifically tasked with attending to her spiritual development (Episcopal, not Catholic but similar in principle). He made her a scrapbook of her baptism, buys her presents on Easter and will be available for questions of a spiritual nature that she doesn’t want to ask Mom or Dad about in the future. But he and his partner aren’t interested in raising kids, so were something to happen J would go to my brother and his wife, who love her, are set up for kids, and where she would grow up among family and other children.

    • Agreed with others, “godparent” = Catholic mentor (very rough definition as I’m not Catholic); “guardian” = person whom you designate to raise your child and/or be the executor of your estate. However you of course can call the person whatever you want 🙂 , I’m just saying.

      Re: Executor/Guardian, I would suggest consulting with a Trust & Estates attorney. Your work might even provide this service or at least have a recommendation. This info could even possibly be included in your prenup if you choose to have one.

      However (and now I’m going to contradict myself), it might also be helpful for the original “asker” to wait until you actually have a kid, to decide this. Circumstances change, you’ll be able to see how people act around your kid, etc etc.

      Good things to think about in general, tho!

  8. my husband and I have chosen god-parents as the source for our daughter’s, religious safeguards should something happen to us. AND we have chosen my sister and brother-in-law as guardians…is that ok?

  9. I picked my best friend as a godmother to my unborn child and tried to “propose” in an original way. I gave her a retro photo album that contained a small note that read “will you be my godmother?” written in childlike writting. She said yes! To me, it’s a great way to tell her I love her and want her to be in my life as a family member. My sister in law, on the other hand, expected me to ask her and has since created fights and drama in the family over this, even though I tried to explain I love her and she has a role to play as an auntie.

  10. In my faith, which is Wiccan you have your child blessed or “Wiccaned” before the age of six months. It is the one thing you cannot do, without considering this question…my husband and I picked young parents around our age that practiced our faith that also we knew “wanted more children” but could not have them. We were very happy with our choice, and it really touched them also (they cried) and because of this my little four month old has two people who adore him, and people who we know would raise him how we would choose to raise him. We were very blessed though, and for us the question was about ethics, spirituality, love, and age.

  11. When our daughter was born, we asked our two best friends to be her godparents. Since we’re atheists, what we meant (and asked them to be) was a special, not-related person who would love her and always be in her life because they chose to be. They both take it very seriously. A few years later, her godfather married my little sister (she commented up above). They’ve lived near us her entire life and are definitely the non-parental adults she’s most comfortable with. I know they couldn’t take our places, but I know they would do everything they could for her. We need to make everything official legally, but we have talked to both sides of the family and made our wishes known.

  12. For my Daughter her Godmother is a very dear friend of mine who also fits the religious designation (we are both catholic) and her Godfather is another dear friend who does not meet the requirements to be her religious godfather but is her godfather all the same because he fits the role entirely. These are godparents who will play a special role in her life and whom she loves very much. They both take it seriously and were tickled when I asked them.
    My boyfriend was raised by his grandparents after his parents were unable to care for him. (remember that death is not the only thing that can take you from your child) It was very important to him that we designated who would care for her should something happen to us. Our wishes are known and legal and i would encourage everyone with a little one to take the time to make a will and document all this. you never know what can happen.

  13. Hey everyone! I just wanted to apologize/clarify here that I may have significantly confused this issue by using the term “godparent” for “guardian.” That’s what we called it in MY family, but it’s clear that I didn’t even think about the differences in language between my godfamily, Catholic Godparents, and legally designated guardians. Sorry about that! :/

  14. I am the godmother of my best friend’s daughter and the unofficial godmother of her older brother (the original godparents left – my husband is also in the same situation with these kids). Because we are agnostic/atheist, we agreed we’d be their ‘auntie’/’uncle’ who would be involved in their lives, and teach them about the Deaf community (all the adults are Deaf), and about their parents as people – not just as mummy and daddy.

    We’re really involved with the kids and love them to death – especially because we can’t have/don’t want kids. Their parents split up a couple of weeks ago and my husband is concerned because the father seems to have pretty much left the kids as well. It seems that my husband will have to play the father role-model in the future, we’re just feeling our way through this situation as they are too.

    However, the ensuing discussion of this article has raised a very important point for me. I do not know if I will be expected to take the children if anything happened to the parents, or if the grandparents of the kids would allow me to stay in contact with the kids – and if so, how often.

    This brings me to a bit of a tricky dilemma – how do I raise this with my friend without seeming morbid/greedy/pessimistic? Any advice?

  15. We chose “guardians”rather than “godparents” but we lovingly refer to them as god-mama and god-papa.
    For me, I mean us, it was an easy decision — my best friend, of course! Sure, there were other people to consider, but they didn’t meet the criteria (not even close to be honest).
    My best friend and her husband fill the role perfectly, despite the fact that we live far away from each other. I couldn’t ask for a better best friend, and feel blessed that my kids will also have a special connection with her and her family.
    Great topic! I love hearing how other parents made this decision.

  16. As a not-yet-mom but a former paralegal for an estate planning attorney, I’m going to echo what others have said above about the legal aspect of guardianship.

    The hardest part is figuring out who to choose as a guardian and then asking them if they’re ok with it. But there’s not much point in doing that if you don’t get it in writing. If you can afford it, hire an attorney to get it all on paper. If you can’t afford an attorney, find a legal aid office in your area or a similar place that can help you do it yourself for free in a legally sound way.

    Also, once you figure out who you want to take your baby, revisit the topic every few years. When I was a child, I know my parents changed their minds as we got older, depending on who was currently important and present in our lives.

  17. When I was growing up, my sister and I had godparents of the legal-guardians-if-something-terrible-happens-to-the-biological-parents variety. They were (and are) very close family friends, and they had their own kids who are close in age to my sister and me. Our families lived in the same town, and their kids and my sister and I had (and have) the same cousin-like relationship Ariel describes.

    Back then, my parents tried to go out of town for an overnight once or twice a year on their own, and when they did we’d stay at our godparents’ house. I think that was a great way to get even more comfortable with the idea of staying there permanently if something had happened to my own folks. I’d highly recommend that to other parents.

    Also, it made a big difference that we all lived in the same town. I can’t imagine the trauma of losing parents at a young age, but the idea of having to handle that AND relocate to another city or state sounds incredibly difficult. If we’d had to move into our godparents’ house, we could have continued going to the same schools, keep our same friends, and have a consistent sense of where home was.

    • When we were kids my parent’s asked my aunt if she would be our guardian. I remember being told by my mum and dad that if anything happened to them my aunt and cousin would come and live in our house with us because they lived on the other side of the country. I found that very reasuring as a little girl!

  18. This was a pretty easy question for us to answer, one of the easiest of parenthood so far. My husband was childhood best friends with my older brother. My older brother has no kids of his own yet but he is stable and financially secure and we both love him and he loves and knows both of us, plus he loves our son to pieces. It was a no-brainer for us. I have never discussed parenting philosophies with my brother but even if he would make different choices from us, I know he would try his best and they would be made out of love for our son.

  19. We chose our closest friends as godparents from Miles, and we fill the same role for their two children (their kids have different religious godparents, but we are in their living will as guardians). Both sets of grandparents are wonderful, but we felt that based on parenting style and Miles’ relationship with them (we’re all very close, and spend a lot of time together – they’re our “tribe”), our friends were the best choice. We are in the process of doing the will thing right now (ugh) and are wading through all the other aspects – money (life insurance and our house), relationships to blood relatives, etc.

  20. before Herself was born, we tried to decide on godparents/guardians several times. we were consistently stumped. (part of that was actually my husband conflating the two terms, and my discomfort with that.) there were people we’d trust, but they live so far away we didn’t they our girl would grow up knowing them. but when she was 4 months old, we had occasion to spend 10 days with my BIL & his husband, and after that it was a done deal – never mind that they live across the country. they are so in love with Herself, and we’ll make sure that she grows up knowing them. (For now, that means regular skyping and visits when we can.) We asked them a few weeks ago, after running through our lists again. it was weird for me to choose BIL over my own brother, but we also kind of can’t see my brother (as much as we love him) raising a kid. Religious faith was a minor point, altho it did enter into the decision between my parents and the BILs – they may not be very observant, but at least they were raised in the faith we’re raising Herself in. (And it has yet to be determined how observant we/she will be.) Hard decision, but in hindsight, easy peasy.

  21. My siblings were 12, 14, 16, and 17 when I was born, and the eldest two are my godparents. The middle child would have looked after me had my parents died, as she was the first to marry and have children. (That’s according to my dad’s will which he made in 1994, when I was 11. Not sure who would have taken care of me before that.) I don’t have children yet and am not sure who we would choose, but maybe my godmother sister. She had her first child in March at age 43, and is unlikely to have more. She lives on a farm and she and her husband are wonderful parents.

  22. This issue means a lot to me. I’m about to pop my kid out at any moment, and my hubs and I are just stuck on this. For me, it means a whole lot because I actually had to deal with the death of my parents and having to go live with guardians. Lemme chip in as someone who lived through the kid’s perspective.

    My bro and I went to go live with my godparents/guardians when my mom died when I was 16. The couple was my mom’s best friend and her husband. It turned out to be an awful situation, not because they are necessarily bad people, but for a few reasons.

    #1- They did not have a similar parenting style to my mom’s AT ALL. The details get a little too drama…but lets just say the adjustment was NOT easy (well, it just never happened)
    #2- I was not close with them before my mom died. I had KNOWN them my whole life, but I don’t know if they ever even hugged me before we lived with them!
    #3- They agreed to be our guardians because they loved my mom, not because they loved us. And they never, ever said “I love you” to either of us while we were with them.
    #4- I wish my mom would have asked us how we felt about the choice of guardians. We were pretty much told “This is how it is, no protesting”. We would have at least liked an opportunity to tell her who we would prefer, and talk about why her choice made us uncomfortable.

    I’m sure this is a decision that everyone takes very seriously, so in making your choice PLEASE keep Ariel’s suggestions in mind (they are right on)…but most importantly, who ever “signs-up” for this needs to have a genuine, tender love for your child. They need to be the people who give your kid hugs and kisses, who get down on the floor to play with them, who offer to babysit just for fun…etc! This may mean the best person might not be your best friend or even the grandparents…maybe it’s your partner’s aunt or your cousin or WHOEVER as long as they are LOVING. I could have dealt with the different parenting style, the bad cooking, and a lot more if I felt truly loved and cared for.

    Good luck to all of you making this choice, I hope it’s something that none of you have to go through.

  23. My son’s godparents and his guardians are entirely different people. Xander’s godparents are a good friend of mine who dove right in as “Auntie Ashley” as soon as I announced my pregnancy, and a close friend of both of us who is also the father of Xander’s best friends. However, in the event that something happens to us, my best friend and her husband will get custody. They love Xander like one of their own boys, have a stable family, stable income, etc. It’s more complicated because Xander is autistic, and I’m confident that they could handle that as well. My best friend burst into tears when I talked to her about why I wanted them to be his guardians.

  24. Legally, (I believe) the best thing to do is have a very clear, but flexible will. It seems having a nominated “carer guardians” (not the legal term!) and then a set of trustees. So the trustees help make big decisions (or you could specify their specific realm of power, as it were), particularly financial ones (eg. if you have four kids and the guardian family has loads already, the trustees could enable the guardian family to build an extension using the deceased’s money – becuase it would be in the children’s interest.
    Maybe! I’m no expert but when I spoke about this with someone recently it seemed like a good idea.

  25. This is an interesting topic, and one that my husband and I have been thinking about for a while since we have been pushing our parents to get their own wills done.

    When my step-sister was waaaay younger, her mother talked to us and made it understood that, in the event that something happened to her and the birth father, we would be my sister’s guardians. It never ended up as a necessity (my sister is in her twenties now), but it definitely effected our interactions with her, knowing that at some point she might have to come live with us.

    We want that same situation with our son, but are finding that none of our family members match our parenting styles and values. If we suddenly died tomorrow, it’s understood that he would go to my husband’s parents, and we know that they would love him and share him generously with his other grandparents, but it’s not the most ideal situation.

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