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Redefining godparents’ responsibilities: Where do we draw the line?

Imagine this scene: A mom tells her child, “O, anak, mag-mano ka sa Ninong at Ninang” (Go and get blessed by your godfather and godmother, child). And for the godparents, mom chirps in with something like: “Don’t forget, his birthday is in two weeks, and he wants the latest phone sana.” Or, “you haven’t given him a graduation gift and an additional allowance when he told you guys that he was going on a field trip with his classmates last month.”  Nervous laughter, trailed by an awkward silence would most probably ensue. If you are that godparent, suddenly put on the spot, how would you even deal with that?

What exactly is the essence of godparenting and what are godparents supposed to do and not do? What are the criteria to follow when choosing the ideal godparents of our children? If godparenting is such a blessing and a calling, why has it been a source of anxiety and expense lately for some people? And when invited to be one, is it really a curse to say no?

Where did the concept of godparenthood come from?

A godparent, as explained in Encyclopedia Britannica, is, “one who stands surety for another in the rite of Christian baptism. In the modern baptism of an infant or child, the godparent or godparents make a profession of faith for the person being baptized (the godchild) and assume an obligation to serve as proxies for the parents if the parents either are unable or neglect to provide for the religious training of the child, in fulfillment of baptismal promises.”

This tradition can be outlined back into the cultural exchanges brought on by the galleon trade and Spain’s governance of the Philippines. Compadrazgo, a Spanish term for godparenthood, is an important and quite interesting part of the Filipino way of kinship. And because Filipino culture embraces the idea of extended family ties, this concept means that even non-relatives are accepted into the family circle as godfathers (padrinos, kumpares, or ninongs) and godmothers (madrinas, kumare, or ninang). Being godparents, they are expected to stand in as allies to parents in marital matters and the general well-being of the child. Compadrazgo underscores the relationships between the godparents and the biological parents. In fact, aside from the responsibility of spiritual guidance, godparents have been elevated to the status of “second parents,” and should be ready to take on actual parental responsibilities if, for any reason, the biological parents are unable to do so. What a tough act.

Side note: it is customary for Filipino couples to get one or two pairs of godparents during their child’s intimate christening. However, others often get as many as 10 pairs or more to ensure that their child grows up with the best people surrounding him with love (apart from the financial gain). Or partly to show off? We don’t know.

Nevertheless, this concept of godparenthood was traditionally developed to provide an additional guardian or counsel to a child especially in religious and spiritual aspects. Christening is a rite of passage for every Catholic child, so that they will gain salvation and will be cleansed from original sin (which we have supposedly inherited from the downfall of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden). But while Christians know that Jesus was baptized in Al-Maghtas, also called Bethany beyond the Jordan, the concept of having godparents during baptism does not exist biblically.

The church has blessed godparenthood as an important aspect of a Christian’s spiritual journey throughout life, and there are “rules”: Qualifications are usually based on their age, faith, and religious life, and especially or infant baptism, one must be at least 16 years old, a Catholic, and should have undergone the Catholic sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist.

However, even when godparenthood has no liturgical context, Filipino godparents are to be a non-parent role models providing the important spiritual guidance and mentoring in the life of a young person. In essence, the godparenting concept only becomes good when it is meant and perceived as a positive adult influence on a child, providing them with wisdom and inspiration whenever he needs it. As godparents are looked up to as role models who provide a positive influence, especially during the formative years of a child’s life, he is also required a higher level of accountability to personally live with integrity.

Being in a religious country like the Philippines, godparenting is often considered as an honor, and to some extent, a privilege, especially when one’s affluent friend handpicks you during a baptism and makes you a proud part of the roster. This godparenthood usually extends to the child’s sacramental Confirmation, and Holy Matrimony in the future. Yes, especially in the provinces, Filipino parents believe that one’s godparents during christening should also be the principal sponsor during one’s wedding. And why not? As a godparent, you are automatically an extended family, which means that as your godchild grows and marries, you are still expected to be the second parent the couple who will always be there for them in their wedded bliss…or uhh, otherwise.

Who determines the responsibilities?

If you are invited to be a godparent for the first time, you might question yourself if you are even right for the role. While there is no singularly accepted set of godparental duties, the child’s parents usually determine the responsibilities. But they, too, are expected to have a solid ground and objective when choosing potential godparents before asking someone to take on the role. Being a godparent in the Philippines means that you are ready to be a second parent to a child or a couple, being a guide with a responsibility to assist them emotionally, spiritually, and yes, sometimes even financially. Whew.

Moreover, it is common practice in the Philippines that part of being a godparent, one’s job is to give gifts to their godchildren during birthdays, Christmas, graduations, and other personal milestones. Given all these seemingly challenging requirements, a soon-to-be godparent should talk with the parents to determine what roles and responsibilities they are comfortable with and capable of. Asking about godparent responsibilities for baptism and beyond can help create clear communication between both parties and make the expectations more realistic and manageable.

When does godparenting become a burden?

It’s quite difficult to succinctly explain the emotional and mental ramifications of godparenthood to most people. You might have come across memes about how a parent obliged a godparent (especially those OFWs) to shoulder the grand first birthday of a child, insisting that “come on, you work abroad, you can definitely afford it. Don’t be a cheapskate,” followed by “I knew that you would turn me down. I should not have asked you to be my kid’s godparent! Oh, that christening gift you gave? We didn’t even like it.” Or worse, if it’s the godchild who is unabashedly putting obligations on you.

Dahil palapit na ang pasko, share ko to, gusto ko kasi malaman kung meron pang ibang tao na ganito. Pa share ng experience nyo at paano nyo na handle.
byu/Nakasipinip_Gibutac inPhilippines


If the phone and request of additional grad gift does not represent toxicity in godparenthood, hear out Ana C.*, as her story might hit home. “Being asked to be a godmother automatically equates to me as a responsibility. As somebody who was educated in a Catholic school, it was drilled into us that being a godparent means standing up as a parent to the child, in the absence their actual ones. Remember when Sirius Black told Harry Potter that he was his godfather in the third Harry Potter book? Harry was so excited, and Sirius was hellbent on to providing the best life for Harry,” she said.

Ana C., an advertising manager, recalled that when she was around 9 years old, her aunt asked her to be the ninang to her first grandchild. At the back of her mind then were several questions because she was just a child, whose concept of life was having fun and playing with her friends outdoors. Thinking about it, she knew that she was underage (how could she be expected to provide wisdom and guidance to the child?). Not to generalize, but in their province, Ana C. shared how people just randomly list you as godparents even without a personal connection. “They just think about their child having many ninongs and ninangs so he could go to a lot of people every for Christmas and other occasions for gifts. For me, it defeats the purpose of being a godparent. I mean, it’s great to give gifts which means you remember them during their life milestones, but for you to be seen as a money-producing entity is quite embarrassing for the Church,” she shared.

It became too much to handle for Ana C. when a child suddenly ran to her after church and did the “mano” (bless) because her mom told her that she was her godmother. The mom was Ana C.’s distant cousin which she wasn’t even actively talking to or know on a personal level. “Apparently, during the child’s baptism, I was unavailable but the family got a proxy, a representative, who attended and stood as a ninang on my behalf,” Ana C. said.

Oil on canvas by Jun Impas
Oil on canvas by Jun Impas

For her, being a ninang to the children of her closest relatives and friends is not a problem, otherwise, she would politely decline. “Being a godparent is more than just the yearly aginaldo (gift). The role automatically makes me responsible for a child in his formative years or when his parents are gone. Some people do not take this well and will tell you that it is a blessing to be asked, some would even be mad at you for being a tightwad. This only shows that they do not really know the weight of being a godparent,” she revealed.

Come to think of it, being a godparent doesn’t have an end date. So, if you think you’re off the hook when the child turns 18 or 21, think again. But even then, that’s a very long time. And what if in the middle of this journey, you and the child’s parents have a falling out? Everything’s somewhat scary.

Being a godparent is not all about getting a load of gifts during the holidays or special occasions but the influence you have on the life of a child. It’s not about It’s not about popularity and affinity, like how some parents request (or coerce) wealthy people, semi-celebrities, vloggers, and politicians to be their child’s godparent. Security in the future? I don’t think so. Godparents are not ATMs or department stores where you can easily get those red money envelopes or expensive gifts from. If and when they can, ninongs and ninangs can give some cash or gifts, and even help look for a job for the child in the future, but even then, this is extremely disheartening reason to get them. They are supposed to be mere witnesses of your commitment to raising a child which you have dedicated to the Lord, not an investment you are making for the child’s future.

From the point of view of frustrated godparents, the whole concept becomes expensive, time-consuming, and even daunting when the parents are ultra-religious or has jealousy issues about you and your other godchildren (yes, it happens!). Now, how many godchildren are too many? You tell me, as long as your kind heart could accommodate…but until when?

And if being asked to stand in as godparents is considered a blessing in our culture, will saying no mean you are declining that grace? Be prepared to feel guilty because if you say no, you are immediately heartless. So, can one even say no? Yes, you can say no. Your life, your decision, your rules. You should not pressure and obligate yourself into committing to anything you are not comfortable with. However, you should break it to them gently, carefully, and graciously. You do not need to come up with lazy alibis including your workload, and how your life is disorganized at the moment. You just have to tell them nicely that while you’re thrilled to know and be part of the child’s life, you might not be the ideal godparent and you don’t want to let them down.

What makes godparenthood good?

Personally, I am a ninang, too, to about more than 20 kids (usually to children of classmates from Kindergarten and family friends who I really know and grew up with). Since they are in the province, I am fortunate because their parents do not oblige me to give gifts during the Holidays, their birthdays, or any personal milestone. I just usually and voluntarily give cash gifts and bring them stuff whenever I go home, but my kumpadres and kumadres never nagged nor pestered me because they know that gift-giving is not an obligation.

In fact, they usually video call and ask their children to make meaningful conversations with me, which would start with a simple hi, to updates of their personal lives (“You know Ninang, I have a crush now” or “Ninang, mom and dad say that I am too young to party. Are they right?”), to asking for my help in their English or Art homework. I appreciate how their parents would send me photos of their proms, grades and progress in school, quiz, and sports competitions they won at, and other achievements.

You see, when godparenting is done right and for the right reasons, everything becomes a worry-free and guilt-free kind of love. It is semi-parenting without the pressure. It is a privilege, like how I am blessed to be perceived as a Ninang in its truest sense. It is something I have been fortunate to have, and for this, I am truly grateful.


*Name withheld to protect privacy

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