Q&A: Being a good godparent from far away

Ryan, who is single and childless, asked me in person about how he can be the best godfather to his goddaughter, who is a year old. Her parents are his best friends, and he's so happy and honored to be one of her godparents. (For some people, the godparent role includes responsibility for religious formation, but in Ryan's case that's not part of it, but he's more of a second father/trusted uncle.)

She lives about 3,000 miles away from him, so he doesn't have frequent physical contact with her. And her godmother (who Ryan knows but not very well) is closer and has been buying all sorts of clothes and presents and he doesn't have the first idea what kind of stuff to give a baby. So he's feeling at a loss about what he should be doing at this point.

I asked him what kind of relationship he eventually saw himself having with her. He said he thought they would be buddies, and he'd take her to do outdoor stuff and sports, and that as she grew he'd be the one she could trust to have her back, and help her make good decisions about school and careers and relationships, and always be in her corner.

Once you have a goal, you can work backwards. So I said all he really had to do right now was stay in the mix, so that once she was old enough to be more interactive the relationship would already be there and they could just spend the time together that made sense to both of them. I suggested making sure her parents had recent pictures of him, so they could do the whole photo book "Who's that?" game with her now, so she'd recognize his face and be used to hearing his name. Regular Skype calls. And, since he travels a lot for work, I thought maybe he could start sending her postcards when he's out on the road.

I also suggested starting some little thing that would be their thing, that wouldn't be a big deal but would be just with the two of them. I was thinking about how my uncle (who is only 20 years older than I am) asked me whenever he saw me, for as long as I can remember, "So what did they do to you in school this week?" It always made me laugh. And now that I'm back in school I'm just waiting for him to ask me again, and I know he will because he's a super smart-ass like that.

As we were talking I could see Ryan's mind start cranking. And then the next time I saw him, he showed me a picture of her on his phone that her parents had texted him–he'd sent a baby t-shirt from his alma mater, which happens to be the uber-rival of her parents' alma mater, and in the photo she was wearing his shirt and smiling.

How did adults who were important to you stay present even when they weren't physically there? How do you stay present for the kids in your life that you can't see all the time?

37 thoughts on “Q&A: Being a good godparent from far away”

  1. No godparents for me, but I know that my yearly trip to the State Fair with my Aunt and Uncle was *the* highlight of my life as a kid. Even when we moved to Texas, my parents made sure to send me back home for the Fair.For the kids in my life now, I talk to their parents somewhat regularly (FB, emails, phone). And for my daughter’s godparents we mention them before prayers at night and talk about their dogs (she’s on a big “pet” kick) when we’re out and about.

  2. my godparents lived overseas, and culturally, it was religious in its symbolism. They were older and thus, there was no contact after my baptism and our move to Canada.My son’s godparents live 4 hours away, are lovely people who are very busy but try their best to always remember key occasions. My son is five and now can talk to them on the phone. It’s limited but helpful. This couple were selected based on religious custom and I don’t expect much more from them. However, as my own parents are aging (in their 80s), I hope this couple stay in touch.
    My ex and I are godparents and since our divorce, I think I am carrying most of the contact (perhaps not). The family is very busy (child is 3 of 4 kids) so I don’t see him often (4 hours away) but try to acknowledge all the key holidays/milestones and keep in touch with parents through email and FB.

  3. My uncle used to take apart the giant tangle of (cheap) necklaces that always ended up in my (ballerina) jewelry box. When he’d come over, I would bring him this knotted-up bunch of chains and he would carefully undo them all, and we’d chat. It wasn’t a big deal, I suppose, but I remember it so well. The point being, it doesn’t have to be something huge.For those who might be interested in the religious aspect, I found this article really helpful:
    I’m not a big Oprah fan, personally, but this guy has some great ideas about being a godparent, from a distance, and with a thoughtful and questioning faith.

  4. @Moxie, I love all of the ideas you gave Ryan. Really, they’re great ideas for anyone with a child in their life (especially if you aren’t able to see them in person that often). It’s these kind of things that I think kids remember forever and ever. Stuff and presents are fun, but I think the rituals and just being present is what truly lasts.

  5. The godmother’s actions should not have any bearing on what Ryan chooses to do for or with his goddaughter. It is very difficult to not turn this situation into a competition for the child’s affections. From your conversation, it sounds to me like Ryan is on a good path. He just needs to remember to not let the godmother’s actions make him feel like an inadequate godfather.For our family, the godparent role is purely ceremonial, so in my head it’s more aunt/uncle than godparent.

  6. In my family of origin, my godparents were a Catholic married couple, one of whom was my dad’s cousin. They sent me an Xmas ornament and a birthday gift every year, came to my 1st communion, Confirmation, and wedding. They were also on the list of guardians for me, should anything have happened to my parents when I was a child.As I am not a religious person, and neither is my DH though we are both culturally Catholic, we don’t really put much stock in the concept of godparents, though both of our kids technically have them. Our DD’s godfather is actually DH’s cocaine-addicted brother, so we’re not expecting anything in the way of spiritual and/or life guidance there!
    Ryan sounds like a fantastic person to have in a child’s life.

  7. The postcards idea is a great one. We had a family friend who did that for us as kids, and it was awesome getting postcards from all over the place. He also used to bring back foreign coins from his travels, which we loved.I think Skype makes it much, much easier for distant people to stay involved in a kid’s life- but really, the big thing is the effort and the commitment to be involved.

  8. Mail, mail and more mail. My daughter gets regular mail from her far-away grandparents and it really helps maintain the relationship. She loves getting something that is just for her. A postcard, card, stickers, whatever. Sounds like such a great godparent!

  9. Ryan, who is single and childless, asked me in person about how he can be the best godfather to his goddaughter, who is a year old. Her parents are his best friends, and he’s so happy and honored to be…

  10. We’re godparents, and our children also have multiple godparents. We basically do what Moxie has advised – remembering birthdays, christmases (or any other key occasions), and skyping. Photos (my son’s godparents are included in the “family picture book” that he made in nursery) And reminding our children about their godparents. We skype with our goddaughter about once a month, send her birthday and Christmas presents, and basically just try to stay in good touch with her parents – just by staying on the parents’ radar screen we’re pretty much staying on her radar screen πŸ™‚

  11. Yes, postcards are great. I had a relative-by-marriage who was a foreign correspondent, and he sent me postcards from all over the place when I was a kid, and I still have them.My godmother sent me a Christmas ornament every year for the first 18 years or so of my life.

  12. Another thumbs-up on the postcard parade.Also, if there is some kind of holiday involved–in my case of godparenting, it’s Christmas–sending a holiday gift is nice. I send snowflake tree ornaments to all my goddaughters (and would to any godsons too) each year. Easy, lovely, will give them a gorgeous collection when they are grown. (My parents started that tradition with me and silver snowflakes by Gorham; I’ve done Lenox but Waterford/Marquis, and Swarovski (?) do them too.
    Sorry, I see Laura already mentioned it but I wanted to add this in too.
    PS–if there is any religious component…use it. I still have a list of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit on the cabinet from when we were quizzing our goddaughter about them for her confirmation.

  13. One thing I think is huge is when you spend time with the child do what THEY want to do, instead of always having an agenda yourself. Not that you don’t ever make plans, but often letting them decide, following their play, etc. I know that I’m closest to my relatives who did that and MY kids are closer to their relatives who follow their lead so when that person is around the feel like Kings. (In a good way, not a spoiled way, those people have to tell them “No” sometimes, too!)Also, I had relatives who always sent $2 bills for birthdays, which was so special and I saved them all, so something fun like that, or the $1 coins or whatever can be fun and special for kids to receive. I cultivated a relationship with a great aunt and uncle who I NEVER saw, once I got older, and the reason they stuck in my mind was because of those little gifts. They didn’t spend a lot (certainly not as much as grandparents or aunts and uncles) but the specialness of counting on the $2 bills (even just one for a birthday or two!) made me curious and somewhat attached and I enjoyed getting to know them when I got older.

  14. We made Bug a photo book of relatives and people who are his “aunties and uncles” – and the last time he saw one of them, who he’d never met before, he said “Hi, Auntie Na! Hi, Baby N!” and sat right down. So for anyone to access to photos this is great for little kids.

  15. My godfather came to visit and took me school clothes shopping every year. He also paid for a piano and piano lessons, and saved a little nugget for my college education. And, he took me to a major theater performance once a year. He was a writer, and I was an aspiring writer, so we wrote lots of letters and I sent him samples of my (terrible) poetry and he encouraged me. I felt like he was someone else taking care of me, helping provide some things my parents couldn’t do on their own, and he was a creative inspiration as well.

  16. Does he travel internationally? Kids LOVE pocket change from other countries. Even cheaper to mail if the pocket change happens to be in paper format (like some Chinese $$).

  17. Yes to what Katherine said. My husband’s sister lives far from us. We see her twice a year. We have plenty of nearby relatives, but this aunt is by far the favorite. She came for M’s 4th birthday — for a whole week. And when she comes she just plays with M — plays and plays and tickles and reads and watches and listens. M loves her.

  18. He could set up and contribute to an education fund. That’s a gift that she would learn about as she grows up and will appreciate – whatever paths she takes – when she is ready. My Uncle Charlie , whom I did not get to see in person very often, helped me financially through my first years of post-secondary education and so he set me on the path of the rest of my life, for which I am eternally grateful.

  19. I feel like this post was written for me. My godfather and father both were far away for much of the time I was young (one was a pilot and the other in the military) and I have never felt like they were inaccessible or “distant”. With my godfather, being present involved lots of phone calls and notes… I have one note that just says “I LOVE YOU, KID” from the year I was just learning to read. With my father, he would leave letters for me to open once a week while he was gone. (I felt for a long time like my mother picked them out, and now that I’m older and have a closer relationship to him I realize that it was definitely his own goofy self.)Some of the things they did were hits and others definitely misses… I think the important thing was the continued demonstrated effort, across the miles, to get involved. My mother also spent quite a bit of time referencing them both, so I would definitely advise Ryan to get in good with the parents and stay there. πŸ™‚

  20. Great post, Moxie!’Raising Resilient Children’ speaks of the importance of having positive adult influences in the lives of children. People that are not related to the child but have care, concern and love for the child because of the child and not ‘because they have to.’ (as a relative ‘has to.’)
    We are blessed to have godparents of our daughters (5.5 and 3.8) that are very involved, though between our family and they godparents we live in four different countries. Wow. Never really thought about that before. One set of godparents (not married) traveled twice to our country in East Asia expressly to visit with the girls last year. We make sure the girls know this. They feel valued in their care.
    Like most, we keep lots of photos and have ‘memory night’ each Saturday evening, showcasing the people of their lives and place they have visited.

  21. Boy, I wish there was a way to share this post anonymously with DS’s godfather! He is a good friend of my husband’s but has been mostly uninvolved in his life. He came for his baptism and for his 2nd birthday party, and came to the house to visit once when he was in town for work (lives about 4 hours away). No card or aknowlegement of his 1st or 3rd birthdays. Christmases, nothing. Luckily DS’s godmother & other godfather are much more involved, but they are family. I have hopes that they will have some sort of relationship beyond a signature on the baptismal certificate, but I’m not holding my breath. It makes me sad.

  22. I’m godson to my best friend’s oldest son, now 4-years-old (!!!). They moved 300 miles away when he was just under a year old. I was HEARTBROKEN.What his parents and I have done is just to try to stay in frequent contact. I talk to my BFF weekly, usually, and almost always talk to the kids, at least briefly. I’m not set up for Skype but they do know how to use it, so my godson is usually trying to show me things through the phone. I play along. πŸ˜‰
    I send birthday cards and cards for other holidays: Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween. I send gifts when I can. And since my godson is a little older now, I’ve started sending him letters. I bought some stationary that’s just for him and I write him short, cheery letters, trying to reference something that his mom or dad told me he was interested in or doing in school or whatever. I send postcards when I go on vacation. Everyone loves to get mail, especially kids.
    It really helps, of course, that his parents talk about me to him and just sort of keep my existence fresh in his mind. It was one of my best moments when my BFF called to tell me that my godson had taken a picture of me to his school for Show & Tell because the theme of the day was the same letter as my name. I cried. πŸ™‚

  23. One of my dearest friends has a pretty special relationship with my kids, and she lives a 4-hour plane trip away. We lived in the same city when my first child was born, and she held him when he was 1 day old. Every year, on his birthday, she tells him about the first time she saw him and how it was so monumental to her that she even remembers what she was wearing. (One year — I think he was 5? — he said “that’s kind of creepy, Aunt M,” which is her favorite reaction by far and has now been worked into the yearly story.)She talks to them on the phone regularly and always plans some special time with them when she’s in town. I have to say, it doesn’t take much — just her interest in who they are and what’s important to them has made them love her as if she were family. They think of her boys as honorary cousins.
    In August, I’m going to stay with her while she has her second son, and I plan on showering her son and stepson with all the love I can muster in a few short days. I like to think that her boys feel the same way about me as my guys feel about her.
    Just the fact that Ryan wants to know what he can do to nurture this relationship indicates he and his goddaughter will share many special moments together. She’s a lucky girl. πŸ™‚

  24. When my brother and I were kids, our Aunt Julie sent us pajamas for Christmas every year, and we always opened them on Christmas Eve so we could wear them to bed and while opening presents the next morning. We loved that.My mom has something like 18 godchildren (really!) and she takes each one out to dinner, just the godchild and her, for their birthdays.
    We have one godson, and I try to send him a little something (fun socks, a book, stickers) for each major holiday, even the ones that don’t usually include gift-giving.

  25. I love Moxie’s ideas and also the Christmas ornament idea!-1 to the Hallmark “Record-a-book” though. We got one from a relative, and while the thought and effort was nice, it’s really annoying to have around the house. We hate toys that make noise, and IMO a talking book ruins the good things about a book πŸ˜‰
    Better to have regular Skype sessions that are more interactive, IMO.

  26. My aunt (also godmother) sent me a card for every special occasion when I was a kid – birthday, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s day, Halloween, etc. It was SO EXCITING to get mail, and that was definitely her thing. I still remember it fondly!

  27. I have been meaning to respond to this, and see that everyone else has said what I was going to, but I’ll still post! ;)I have three godparents, but have a real relationship with only one of them. Funny, she lived the farthest away from me, across an ocean. She sent me cards, and once gave me a little jewel that I treasure.
    I now have two godchildren, to whom I am not related by blood. One lives 2 hours away by car, and the other is local to me, and I see about once a month at church.
    I give gifts at birthdays and Christmas, and try to do something for Easter (the big religious holiday). Since my role as godmother is religious for the local child, I have given her a prayerbook and religious-themed gifts sometimes. Other times toys (she also has a big brother whose birthday we were invited to also, so I got them both gifts).
    I love being a godparent, and any chance I get to fuss and send something, or a photo to them, I treasure. It is such an awesome relationship, and so I think any small actions of connection are great. Postcards, emails, phone calls, letters (in this day and age!). And great for Ryan for asking how to be the best godparent possible. Good luck to him! <3

  28. My goddaughter is older than Ryan’s (going on 5), but I live overseas and have worked very, very hard since I moved to maintain contact with her. My job involves a lot of travel, so I send her a postcard, a small souvenir (something authentic, though, not something kitschy– just a small box or doll or, once, a pink painting of the Eiffel Tower), and some pocket change from everywhere I go. I gave her a globe for her birthday last year, and I also email her parents kid-appropriate information about most of the countries I go to, and I know that they talk to her about it and find the places I go on her globe. Because of the time difference and everyone’s schedules, we don’t talk as often as I’d like, but I try to let her know I’m thinking of her everywhere I go. As a side benefit, I really hope that the things I’m sending her will trigger an interest in the world around her.

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  30. I had this entire post I wanted to write months ago about telling ourselves no, just like we tell our kids no. If I wouldn’t let Kyle have three helpings of dessert, why let myself? I know what’s best for him but I apparently don’t know what’s best for me? Crazy talk! I do know! Sometimes he does get chocolate milk for breakfast and sometimes so should I, but not for every breakfast, no sir, because that’s kind of crazy irresponsible. (And expensive, I’d think.)

  31. My job involves a lot of travel, so I send her a postcard, a small souvenir (something authentic, though, not something kitschy– just a small box or doll or, once, a pink painting of the Eiffel Tower), and some pocket change from everywhere I go.just her interest in who they are and what’s important to them has made them love her as if she were family. They think of her boys as honorary cousins.

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