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What You Should Think About Before Agreeing To Become A Godparent

To whom much is given, much is required.

Love & Relationships

While this might seem like a bit of a left field kind of article, please believe there is a method to the madness 'cause, y'all…Y'ALL. If there's one thing that is pretty big in Black culture (because interestingly enough, several white people I know actually needed me to break down what a godparent even is…hmph), especially in Black church culture, it's the concept of children having a set of godparents. Typically, they are formally introduced to the world (relatively speaking) when a little one is getting blessed or dedicated (or christened) to the Lord.

Over the course of my life, I have witnessed a lot of people become godparents. Shoot, I've even had two sets of my own…who were disappointing as all get out. Matter of fact, the wife of the second pair, after not reaching out in years, flew into Nashville, asked to meet for lunch and then proceeded to tell me that she was an inactive godmother because my mom basically made her feel intimidated into accepting the position. What in the world? And I'm saying that to her and my mother (and not necessarily in that order).

And here's the thing — unfortunately, my story isn't a rare one. I know countless people who have godparents "on paper" and yet those people haven't been a part of their lives (especially in any real or consistent way) since…shoot, they can't remember when. And if there's something that all of them have in common, it's the fact that their godparents being MIA on their commitment has ultimately affected their trust of older adults while making them mad leery about ever agreeing to become a godparent themselves. Yep. It can be just that deep.

So, while an article like this may only target a very niche group, for the sake of current and future children who absolutely deserve to have more than godparents in name (along with a picture day at church) only, let's touch on some things that you definitely should think — meditate and pray — long and hard about before ever agreeing to such a privileged and lifelong position like godparenting.

Be Clear on What the Position Entails

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Y'all, I actually know a couple who has 15 godchildren (I know, right?). Even they admit that they have dropped the ball on more than half of them. I mean, really — if you know what comes with being a godparent, there is no way that you can handle that many kids.

And just what does it mean to be a godparent? The two main responsibilities include 1) being present when the child is dedicated to the Lord as a way of saying that you are willing to play a pivotal and significant role in their spiritual growth and development and 2) assuming the role of taking care of the children should their parents pass on or be unable to maintain their own roles for some reason. And y'all, both of these things are HUGE.

In fact, I know some people who have been asked to be a godparent and they've turned the offer down, not because of the first expectation but the second — they simply don't want to accept the huge responsibility of raising children if something dire were to happen to those kids' parents. However, as a godmother myself, while some folks think that is an automatic responsibility, before I accepted the position, I discussed that part with my godchildren's mom, for a while. She and her husband's will states that her brother would get custody of my goddaughters should something happen to them. It also states that I am the godmother and so provisions should be made for me to remain in their life — long-term.

Now I will say that as more and more people are opting out of traditional religious practices, there is a role of a modern-day godparent that basically consists of committing to being a good role model for children while also serving as an additional loved one in their life (especially if their parents don't have a lot of blood family or they aren't close to them). All of this to say, if you've always been familiar with the term "godparent" yet you were never really sure what it consisted of, while it tends to take on various forms for some folks, that's basically the gist.

Discuss with the Parents What Their Expectations of a Godparent Are

Can you imagine how many relationships would remain intact if folks simply, openly and honestly discussed their expectations before moving forward rather than assuming that 1) the other person should already know them and/or 2) the other person is automatically going to be on the same page as they are?

When it comes to becoming a godparent, this point definitely applies which is why, before accepting, you should ask the parents what they would like you to do in their child's life and, if need be, how often/consistently they would like you to do those things.

As for me and my goddaughters, their parents just wanted me to be constantly present to the point where both girls would know who I am and feel comfortable coming to talk to me about various topics throughout various stages of their life. My goddaughters' parents also trust my opinion when it comes to them making certain decisions that directly affect their girls. Honestly, when it came to Grace (who is 10), I had so much PTSD from my own poor godparent experience that it took me a bit longer to be physically present in the sense of proactively going to see her (although we talked on the phone all of the time and her family would come to Nashville fairly often for business).

However, with her sister, Nova (who is currently 2), I've been putting forth more effort into spending quality time with both girls in their own space, energy and environment. Their parents don't expect more from me than that; however, they do expect that much. I am clear on that and have been intentional about staying active in these capacities.

Figure Out If Godchildren Will Complement Your Lifestyle/Schedule

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When my godchildren's mom first asked me to be her firstborn's godparent, believe it or not, it took me an entire year to agree to do it. While that might seem really ungracious on the surface, again, because I had been burned by so-called godparents as a child and because my godchildren's mom is actually named after her own godmother (which means she takes the role really seriously), I needed to make sure that I wouldn't disappoint anyone like I had been disappointed by others. That included really processing if my lifestyle and schedule were conducive to such a position because, to me, godparenting isn't just about sending a birthday card and calling a couple of times a year.

My godchildren actually hear from me 2-3 times a week, the older one and I try and have an online movie date once a month (when we can't, it's due to her busy schedule) and I'm actually flying out to see them before this month is out. I know that there will be graduations that I need to be present for. That I need to take interest in my goddaughters' gifts, talents and interests. And that someday, there will be weddings and baby blessings of their own that I need to do everything my power to attend.

While being a godparent isn't even a fraction of as mentally, emotionally or financially taxing as being a parent is, it does come with some sacrifices of time and resources (again, if you're taking the role seriously enough). That's why I don't knock it at all if people are asked and humbly decline because they just aren't sure if they can be that present for someone else's kids. Sometimes, being a godparent is too much and being a "love aunt" or uncle (that's my way of calling someone who isn't a blood relative a family member) is easier. Understood.

Know That Being a Godparent Is a Lifelong Commitment

I actually have another goddaughter. She's a teenager now and that is mind-blowing to even fathom. We don't have a relationship because her mother and I parted ways years ago. However, a couple of years ago, when I ran into her mom and we made our own peace, I told her that I intended on putting her daughter on a life insurance policy — that I wanted to do it for all three of my goddaughters at some point (life insurance companies have advised that I wait until around my mid-late 50s to entertain doing that since they are technically not my children; according to them, I shouldn't "burden myself" with that financial obligation right now. Noted). That mom and my other goddaughters' parents thought that was going above and beyond. Maybe. To me, though, since I don't have my own children, I want to make sure that my goddaughters have some extra support in living out their best life.

Besides. GOD-parent. I don't think most folks get the magnitude of that word. I mean, even parents don't have "GOD" in front of their title. I don't know about y'all, but I know the way that God loves me — continually and in spite of whatever I do or don't do. When you sign up to be someone's godparent, you should look at your commitment to them in a similar fashion. It's not to be an emotional (which can be fickle) or unspiritual (which can be selfish) move. Godly love should always be seen as healthy, somewhat sacrificial and everlasting. As long as my goddaughters are here and I am here to see them evolve, I will be available to them. That is what I signed up for.

Don’t Agree Just Because It Strokes Your Ego

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I remember once talking to a friend before the birth of his son. He was telling me that although (at the time), he had only daughters, he did have a godson who he wasn't proactive with when it came to interacting with him. Last I checked, that child is now a grown man and incarcerated (due to a myriad of broken issues). Is that my friend's fault? Absolutely not. At the same time, when he stood up and said that he would be that guy's godparent, there's no telling how much his active influence could've played a direct role in that man's life possibly taking a different path.

Do I know some great godparents? Indeed, I do. I've gotta admit, though, when it comes to the tales of those who admit that they have not stepped up to the plate past maybe a year or so of agreeing to be someone's godparent, those names are endless. And that's got me honestly wondering how many people agree to do it only for the ego stroke of being asked without really taking into account how serious the position actually is.

You know, one of my favorite lines in the movieThe Fault in Our Stars is when one of the characters said, "Sometimes, people don't understand the promises that they make when they make them." Preach. That said, there's a Scripture in the Bible that I fear a lot of us don't take very seriously but we definitely should:

"Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes through much activity, and a fool's voice is known by his many words. When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed—better not to vow than to vow and not pay." (Ecclesiastes 5:2-5-NKJV)

When you vow to be a godparent — to passionately care about a child's spiritual needs and well-being while also supporting their parents as they develop — because it is such a solid spiritual position, I believe that God takes it very seriously and literally. That's why, if you agree to be one, while it is indeed an honor, it also requires a ton of grace, humility and consistency.

I know. This is a lot to think about yet if you're currently on the fence about either becoming a godparent or asking someone else to be one for your own kids, it's my prayer that all of this shed some additional light. A godparent isn't just a pat on the back. It's a huge responsibility. For the sake of the children who you may influence at this magnitude…please choose wisely.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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