It won’t come as much of a surprise that we’re becoming increasingly secular. Last year, a report by NatCen revealed that those answering "none" when asked their religious affiliation far outweighed the number of Christians – the most popular organised religion – in England and Wales.
Despite this, a few weeks ago I listened to a friend lament the dwindling likelihood of her being chosen as a godparent to a friend’s baby. She feared that in comparison to happily married couples who owned property, her not-quite-in-a-relationship status, shared flat and penchant for boozy nights out didn’t quite add up to guardian material.
In modern Christianity, godparents are individuals chosen by parents to sponsor the baptism of their baby. The idea is that these people would help guide the child through their life, paying special importance to their faith. As an added pressure, being chosen as a godparent also means that if misfortune were to strike, they would take over legal guardianship of the child.
Fast-forward to 2017 and it isn’t just our belief in God that’s dwindled. Millennials are living at home for longer, earning less than their parents and getting married later. But for the rare few that are settling down into familial bliss, having godparents is a tradition that seems to be outlasting religious belief.
I spoke to Emma, who is 28 and currently pregnant with her first baby, and asked whether she and her boyfriend were considering godparents. “Neither of us believe in God or follow any religion, but we'd like to have something similar, like fairy godparents,” she said. The idea of non-religious godparents is becoming increasingly popular, allowing parents to choose friends or family members they trust to influence their child’s upbringing. There are a number of titles for these chosen individuals, including the whimsical "fairy godparents", "naming guardians", "guide-parents" and "mentors".
It seems that, despite the difference in lifestyle, the idea of having official guardians to help support and raise their child resonates just as much with young parents today as it did with the generation before. “We would love the fairy godmothers and fathers to see the baby at least every month and be aunty/ uncle-type figures," said Emma. “To have fun with them, help teach them to be a lovely, caring, motivated little person who has lots of fun in life.”
When I asked Emma if it mattered whether her fairy godparents had well-paid jobs or owned property, she reassured me that the only criteria were that they were “kind with their time, fun, had a bit of common sense, wanted to be involved in his or her life and very, very loving.” Good news for my friend, then.
But surely the so-called Peter Pan generation are too busy spending their pension on flat whites to care about being a role model to their mate’s kid? Ailis is a 24-year-old medical student who was asked to be godmother to her nephew at just 21. As my ex-hockey president from university, she is also someone I associate more with downing pints than with childcare and I was interested in what she thought were the requirements of being a godparent: “I wouldn't say there is any set role for me now, especially because of my lack of religion. I think I would care for him as much even without the role.” Ailis has years of studying ahead of her and is currently living above a pizza shop, so why does she think her sister chose her? “I think she picked me more because she could see how much I cared for him.”
Despite the lack of official responsibilities, Ailis acknowledged that accepting the request to be a godparent meant she was promising to take care of her godchild if anything happened to his parents. This was something that everyone I spoke to mentioned and seems to be one, very serious, aspect of the traditional godparent role that has been carried on.
Louise, who recently had her first baby, didn’t want godparents as she isn’t religious and her husband is Jewish, but they are considering who would be legal guardians if anything happened to them. This seems like a huge responsibility and, although everyone I spoke to was resolute that they didn’t base godparent choices on money and property, if you want someone to raise your child in your absence, a penniless rentee probably wouldn’t be your first choice. This wasn’t lost on Ailis, who said: “If something was to happen, I can't imagine my parents wouldn't offer and be a wiser choice, too."
There are a ton of think-pieces about how millennials can’t maintain friendships or handle responsibility but the endurance of the godparent role disproves that completely. Irrespective of income or property ownership, young people trust and want their friends to have a starring role in raising their child.