Our resident agony aunt Rhona McAuliffe helps a reader with a problem. This week, can you quit as a godmother if you really hate the job?
One of my oldest friends asked me to be godmother to her first child about nine years ago. I’m not religious, didn’t have any children – I still don’t have kids – and wasn’t all that drawn to them. But because myself and my friend were so close, I didn’t even think about accepting the ‘honour,’ attended the christening ceremony and got help from friends on what gift to buy (a personalised, expensive one).
Apart from that, I thought I’d be liable for an annual birthday and Christmas present and that we’d see each other regularly anyway, as I would be seeing my friend.
Instead, since my godchild has been old enough to go to things like pantos and the cinema, I am expected to take her as some sort of bonding exercise. My friend sends me on-sale dates for show tickets or links to presents that her daughter might like for her birthday (6 weeks in advance of the date); I’m invited to whichever fun park or inflatable hell place she decides to have her birthday parties at every year; am charged with supplying the cake (‘surprise us’) and am expected to have her for a sleepover once per month.
I’m not into kids generally but feel quite uneasy around this one - she’s spoiled and completely expressionless, so spending time with her is hard. The weird thing is, I have much more fun with her younger sister.
My friend’s passive aggressive texts and prompts make me angry, especially as our relationship has drifted, but they also make me feel like I’m not doing my ‘job’ properly.
Because I don’t have kids, I also feel like my friend thinks that I have never-ending time and money to splash on her daughter.
She’s forcing a bond that isn’t there and I’m ready to quit. How can I pull back from the growing list of responsibilities?
Not Mary Poppins, Kildare.
Although I was appointed two godparents at birth, they never really featured in my life. One because he was too busy screeching around London in his Lambo (I know, I’m sorry), trying to laugh page three ‘girls’ into bed (it was the eighties) to register his godfatherly duties; the other (who was in her late fifties when I was born) because she was soon diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers and spent the rest of her days in a care home. As a result, I’ve never really considered the role of godparents as anything other than a formality; a kind of ceremonial farce played out for the benefit of the presiding priest or the [insert faith here] primary school that bumps believers up their interminable waiting list. Amiright?!
The internet says no, as it happens, I’m not entirely right. There are no stats to chart how earnestly delegates take their godparenting roles but I would estimate, based on my findings, that I am in a 25% minority in thinking the title is all but nominal (plus annual presents).
"When you’re asked to be a godparent, as well as being flattered, unless you clarify the terms of the arrangement from the outset."
New societal norms — rising divorce rates and single-parent families; overworked, exhausted parents; children being separated from their mums or dads via social mobility — mean that it is only natural that we would want to broaden our families to include some much-needed back-up. Which is maybe why, despite living in an increasingly secular society, we are still appointing ‘god’ parents or guardians in church as well as in non-religious naming ceremonies.
So, perhaps rather than the traditional task of supplying some low-level spiritual guidance (a.k.a minimal contact with the subject), contemporary godparents are expected to really cover some ground.
In the same way we’re now casually hosting a gender reveal parties, I also wonder if the traditional role of the barely present, humble godparent has now had the full Dr Phil makeover? Or certainly, expectations have swelled. And expectations are the problem here.
When you’re asked to be a godparent, as well as being flattered, unless you clarify the terms of the arrangement from the outset (who does that?), you don’t really know what you’re taking on. Godparents are often now chosen based on their skills and capacity to mentor the child in a particular area — music, travel, career, spirituality, soundness — or, more primitively, because of their bank balance or the fact that they don’t have any children (future bank balance is also a factor here).
Word also quickly spreads of particularly attentive godparents, who end up building a bulging portfolio of godchildren. Others think carefully before turning down the honour for a variety of reasons, or even resign their position, as happened with this Telegraph journo.
I completely understand why you feel frustrated and over-burdened, especially if your friendship with your godchild’s mum is already undernourished. I also get that you haven’t necessarily warmed to your godchild yet. Friend’s children are like friend’s husbands — it is absolutely impossible to expect that we are going to adore them all. The good news on that front is that a nine-year-old is barely formed.
"Rather than rolling with your friend’s outsourcing of expensive, ticketed events, say that you would prefer to lead any cultural outings from now."
The personality they have now will not be the personality they have at 16 or 20 years of age. And according to the longest-running study of its kind, established to chart our inherent character, our adolescent personality is barely recognisable in our octogenarian selves, we change so significantly. So, I guess what I’m saying is, bear with her if you can and consider her current apathy ‘a phase.’
Rather than rolling with your friend’s outsourcing of expensive, ticketed events, say that you would prefer to lead any cultural outings from now on based on both your interests and availability. Rather than planning intense one-on-one time, you could also start hooking up with friends who have kids of a similar age so that the pressure is off and she is likely to be far more entertained. Loosen the current dynamic – removing your friend as Creative Director - and take back control. If one sleepover per month is too much for you, say that you would prefer if sleepovers were a more casual, every-now-and-then arrangement, that you would like to find your own rhythm with your goddaughter now that she’s getting older.
Hopefully — if you broach it sensitively, with conviction — it will be enough for your friend to check herself, to refrain from dictating the terms of your relationship.
The alternative is she (somewhat irrationally) fires you with immediate effect. I sense this might be the outcome you’re gunning for?