When a couple finds out they are going to have a new baby, or sometimes even well before that, the question of whom to get as ninongs and ninangs always comes up. As we all know, the original intent of the godparent role is rooted in religious reasons since the relationship is formalized during the sacrament of baptism. However, we Filipinos tend to invest the relationship with obligations that go way beyond the religious, and so the determination of exactly who is fit to play this role has to be weighed vis-à-vis a lot of considerations.
Before you automatically decide on the bridesmaid who attended to you so patiently when you threw up after your bridal shower, or before your husband excitedly asks his big boss, anticipating that your child will get shares of stock every year, let's run through some of the basics first.
1. Look for a godparent with good moral character. Most of our children learn the 10 commandments and other religious mores in school and at church, so the basics of religious education are already covered. The religious role of the godparent comes in when the issue is more complex and your child needs wise, experienced advice on how to proceed. Find people whose judgment you would trust, not necessarily those who would just echo what you yourself would tell your child. I think it is okay if you choose godparents who have struggled with vices, or have made some key mistakes in their lives, as long as you are certain they recognize these as mistakes and would advise your child to do differently. You do not want to pick a ninong who is the type who would take a 13-year-old boy to a "massage parlor" to make him a "man".
2. Choose one who will be present for many years to come. Your child needs to form a strong bond with this person through the years. For this reason, I think it is impractical to pick a godparent who lives in another country or even another province. It is unlikely that they can form a real relationship just through sending messages online and presents when there's an occasion. Not to be morbid, but I would suggest you also pick godparents who can live long enough to be there for your child. In all honesty, children will need the advice of a godparent (i.e., an adult who is not their parent) beginning the pre-teen years and well into the time they themselves get married. Target someone who is your age or perhaps not more that 15 years older.
3. Prioritize generosity, but not just in presents. Too much is made about picking rich ninongs and ninangs in anticipation that they will shower your child with fancy presents. There is also the expectation that godparents in high places will recommend your child for a job when it is needed. While these certainly don't hurt at all, I suggest you also consider whether they are the type to be generous with their time and throughts as well. Look at the relationship your prospective godparents have with their own children, or their nephews and nieces. When you mention to them that you are pregnant, do they seem genuinely excited for you? Do they have a lot of parenting advice to share? The bottomline is you need to find godparents who like children and know how to interact with them. Don't consider people who are self-absorbed, scatterbrained, or masungit.
4. Pick someone you can talk to frequently and freely. For the first decade and a half or until your child is old enough to be Facebook friends with his godparent (assuming he would want to and Facebook still exists then), the main way for the godparent and your child to know anything about each other is through you. You have to put in the effort to update your kumare on how your child is doing, what he is into, and, if applicable, any recurring parenting problems you have with your child. This is the best way for the godparents to engage in the parenting process with you. This is also the best way for them to determine the most appropriate presents for their godchild. Encourage your child to write a note or to text to acknowledge a thoughtful present or gesture from the godparent. Tell your child stories about what his godparent was like before, or share funny stories that would help him connect more meaningfully with this adult.
My friend Joy is godmother to my daughter, and I am godmother to hers. We sometimes go out on double dates with our daughters so we spend some quality ninang time. Joy and I don't even practice the same religion, but when it comes down to moral character, priorities, and genuine concern for my child, I have no doubt Joy fits the bill, and she also tells me she feels the same. If a time should come that my daughter would be uneasy discussing a problem with me, I hope she would run to Joy for advice because I'm comfortable with Joy's judgment. Life is certainly confusing, and by picking my children's godparents wisely, I hope I am surrounding them with many people who can help.
Chary Mercado is an education consultant for teens who spends in inordinate amount of time driving for, negotiating with, and fussing over her two children, aged 16 and 12.