How to be a good godmother?
August 4, 2012 4:28 PM   Subscribe

How can I be a good, long-distance (secular) godmother?

I am godmother to the daughter (3 yrs old) of a close friend from uni. I live a long way away, and kids are a bit of a mystery to me. I'm looking for tips on how to be the best godmother I can, when I'm with her and when I'm at a distance.

Some background: I have chosen not to have kids and am happy with that choice. I guess that makes this relationship all the more important to me.

I am one of 4 godmothers (!) to this little girl. The others are, like her parents, committed Christians; I am not religious and there's no expectation that I would tend to the spiritual dimensions of godparenting.

The distance thing: I have been living on the other side of the world for almost 8 years, and that's not likely to change in the near future. Fortuitously, I've seen my GD twice this year, for a few days each time. I have now resolved to travel back to my home country each year to see her, as well as family and friends: many of my other friends also have kids now, some of whom I've never met (Facebook does have its uses!).

Interacting with kids: I am keen to forge a strong relationship with my GD over the coming years. At her age, I think this will equate to playing creatively together, telling stories and talking with her about her ideas - and having fun together? The fun and creative play don't come naturally to me - but fortunately she loves books so we definitely have a common interest! I come from a small family and didn't have any younger cousins / family friends around me when I was growing up, so interacting with younger people without sounding like a school teacher has always been a challenge for me.

I do find it hard not to be hurt when 'rejected' with "not you - Mummy!" and I think as a result I have kept at a distance from her and waited for her to approach me - which she generally does, she's a sociable type! Fortunately her younger brother has become very attached to me and that compensates for it - but I feel I've been bonding far more with him than with her.

- Do you have any suggestions for how I can 'prepare' (in any sense of the word)for some fun play? She'll be 4 when I next see her.
- Do you have any advice for interacting with her over Skype or through other means (e.g. things to send her which will help to forge bonds)?
- Any advice on how to be friendly and approachable without being overbearing? i.e. being less distant?

Ideally I'm hoping to get tips that will also be relevant to getting to know my other friends' kids.

Any advice gratefully received!
posted by skippy_gal to Human Relations (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Think about the grownups who played an important role in your childhood, and try to emulate the behavior that you can now look back on with appreciation.

Do what she wants (within reason). A grown-up who will happily agree to play hide-n-seek, or read a story, or build a fort, is usually a bit rare and very exciting for a kid.

Don't take rejections personally. If she turns you down in favor of mommy - well, that's ok. Mom trumps everyone else, pretty much. Also, at times turning to mom might be a matter of shyness, or being cranky, or who knows what. You can let it go for a bit then try starting a tempting activity without her and let her approach you in her own time.

As far as Skype, I think as she gets older it will matter that you care about what's going on in her world, who her friends are, what she's worried about. The non-judging adult who listens a lot and seems to take you seriously can also be rare and exciting for a kid.

As for what kind of stuff to send her - as you get to know her and as her personality develops I think you'll start to get ideas.
posted by bunderful at 5:31 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was a young child, Getting anything in the mail that was addressed to me was incredibly exciting. Sending her a postard every so often, and maybe a book to hold them in would be awesome. She could collect them and look back over the years- a tangeble bit of proof that someone thinks of her and loves her, even very far away.
posted by Blisterlips at 5:38 PM on August 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Do you have any nieces and/or nephews? I find that treating godmother-hood similar to aunt-hood works well. (And if you aren't an aunt, think about your own fun aunts and uncles.)

For kids, it's amazing how much of a thrill snail-mail is: cards, letters (with your own drawings!) etc. Toss in a dozen or two stickers, too: kids love stickers, and they're cheap. When you're with her, consider things to do: taking her out, just the two of you, will be exciting, even if it's just to the playground at the nearest park. Puppet shows, trips to the zoo, even just lunch at a fast food place --- it's the time you spend that counts.

And what the heck: be an 'aunt' to her brother, too!
posted by easily confused at 5:43 PM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites] is for aunts, but I think it might give you general ideas of things to add to this relationship. The website isn't for everyone, but if it fits your taste, it might have some good suggestions.
posted by thatone at 5:55 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I bought each of my Goddaughters a charm bracelet when they were babies. I occasionally purchase a charm for them and each of girls has added to their bracelets over the years. When I see them - and sometimes it's a few years between visits - the girls tell me about their bracelets and the important milestones they honored with a charm.

I gives us a way to reconnect and catch up after a long while apart. I always wear my charm bracelet (which is frigging ridiculously full).

The original charm was religious, but there's not reason it couldn't be entirely secular.
posted by 26.2 at 7:44 PM on August 4, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas, these are great! I do have a charm bracelet, have never worn it much... maybe its time to recycle it (bit by bit, of course).

I don't have any nephews, nieces, aunts or uncles - mine really is a small family! My parents are both introverts and workaholics (no surprise - like me!) and I can't remember many adult friends who were around much when I was growing up... but I will try to think of people I knew who I could model: thanks for that suggestion!
posted by skippy_gal at 8:28 PM on August 4, 2012

She wasn't an official godmother, but a family friend used to pick out books for us for each birthday and Christmas, and they were always perfect because they suited us in particular and weren't mainstream books. I still have several of her books and think with great fondness of her when I see them. It's random thoughtfulness that says "hey I know you, kid, and I wanted to share this with you." It doesn't have to be books, but find a themed thing, something small and random you can give to them regularly to create a strong memory and connection.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:30 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

My sons' godparents realized very soon that the distance (3500 km / 2200 mi) between us, and their general cluelessness about kids meant that gifts would likely be a disappointment (after buying an extremely expensive hand-painted t-shirt that could only be dry-cleaned...for a two-year old). They set up a savings account for them and have deposited a sum monthly, with the idea that it would be used for "getting started" expenses when they turned 18. In one son's case, the fund was enough to pay for his first year at trade school. In the younger son's case, even though he's not 18, it paid for a deposit to the private film school he's been accepted in. If my boys hadn't used the money that way, it could have gone to travel, the tools of their trades, a down payment on property, whatever.

They always send birthday cards, as the kids grew older they've loved calling their godparents on the g-parents' birthdays, holidays, etc. We've sent the boys for a week to visit in the summer and they get spoiled rotten (which is great for both the g-parents and the kids).

As a long distance aunt myself, I began sending my niece, when she was about 10, one special Christmas ornament each Christmas so that when she had her first tree of her own, she'd have special ornaments with some history behind them (I decorated my first tree with cheap dollar store trinkets that looked sort of okay, but I missed the sentiment of the decorations from my parents' house, and I wanted my niece not to go through that).
posted by angiep at 11:32 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am in a situation very similar to yours - a long-distance, child-free, "secular" godmother to my niece. I agree with the great suggestions already proposed in this thread:
- send her plenty of things through the mail, it's a real thrill;
- call her regularly; even if it's just kid small-talk, ask her what she's doing, what she likes, etc.;
- don't take her rejection personally, and really listen to her when she talks.

It will get easier to have a more personal bond with her as she gets older. When my goddaughter was old enough to understand, I began giving her things that were personal and important to me that I might otherwise have passed on to my own children - for example, a birthstone ring I received from my own godmother. I try to keep abreast of her interests as they develop, and send her books about those interests. I also send her things that are related to my interests, if I think she'll like them -- for example, DVDs of a tv series I've enjoyed, or a particular film she might not otherwise be exposed to.

There's an amazing interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky, in which he's asked, basically, how to talk to a child (about 7 minutes into the interview). He says something like, "Tell your child your truth, with humility." I think that's something you could keep in mind when approaching your goddaughter. If you want to be "friendly, approachable, but not overbearing" with her, just have confidence in your life experience, and be open to her and truly interested in her. You don't need any special techniques or preparation.
posted by Paris Elk at 3:52 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

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