The following is adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Can I turn down being the godmother? My sister is 12 years younger than I am and is six months pregnant at age 35. I have one 22-year-old son and, as much as I love being his mother, I’m looking forward to finally being able to do a lot of the things I put off while he was at home and in college.
As the only sibling, I have a feeling that my sister is going to ask me and my husband to be the godparents of her child, which I don’t want to do for two reasons: (1) We are not religious in any sense of the word, and (2) As much as I love my sister, I do not want to raise another child. (I know that’s not the definition of a godparent, but it appears that most people, including my sister, equate “godparent” with “guardian” these days.)
Is this incredibly selfish of me and should I just agree because I am her only sibling – her husband is an only child – or is there a way to gently suggest that someone closer to her age would be a more appropriate choice?
I have every intention of being very involved in my new niece or nephew’s life. I just can’t imagine being a parent again at my age if the unthinkable were to happen.
A: I don’t think anyone should be a parent who is wholly uninterested in being one. So, being true to yourself here is important, even if it will get you tagged as selfish. It will – I know this from a past bear-poking episode. When I backed a sibling’s decision to say no to a request to be the worst-case-scenario parent of record (http://wapo.st/1FM9Dd6), I heard about it.
The thing is, though, neither of the reasons you cite means you have to say no to the godparent request. You can be honest with your sib and say you’re not sure you’ll be the godparent she wants, given your absence of religion and your desire to be child-free. However, you can be the child’s guardian in the sense of choosing a home that’s better for the child than yours, in the event the unthinkable happens, and of managing finances and legal issues.
You can agree to be more like a fairy godmother than a substitute mother. An assurance that you’ll make sure the child is OK is honest information that allows your sister to adjust her plans and expectations accordingly.
Re: Godparents: I think your point is one that people often forget: As a parent, you aren’t necessarily dooming someone to raising your child (by naming a godparent), but rather saying, “Hey, I trust you the most to make these decisions, whether that’s you taking in my kids or deciding where they go.” I think sometimes people get caught up in “OMG I HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF THESE KIDS.” And, hopefully, it’s never an issue, but good to have it settled.
– Anonymous 2
A: Exactly, thanks.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.