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.
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.