At 17, I really wanted to be a godmother! You see, I had grown up in a culture watching my mom be a godmother to many (she’s godmother of over 50 people) and that meant she was always giving/doing/advising to or on her godchildren’s behalfs. Also, at the time, I had grown very disappointed in many of my 12 assigned godparents because they didn’t do for me what I saw my mom doing for her godchildren. Listen, as a result of watching our mom “godparent” as much as she did, my brother and I were conditioned to think we had to. So, even as young as age 6, Winston was determined to be assigned godparent of his own godmother’s newborn and even was upset when he learned that the baby had been christened and he wasn’t invited to the event but I digress, as that’s a different story for another day.
Anyway, so, I was on high alert for the first person within my peer group/sphere of influence who would have a pregnancy and then I lobbied hard to become a godparent to their baby. That was Clint Thomas, our neighbor, and close family friend who at around age 23 was expecting his first child, and I all but threatened him that if I wasn’t made a godmother, I wouldn’t talk to him again. So they made me a godmother. Huzzah!
An 18-year-old godmother, I was determined to change this kid’s life. So, I opened a bank account at the post office in his name and calculated that if I started by saving $1 and then $5 a day for him, he would have a little nest egg by 21. Listen, I definitely took the role seriously but because I took it so seriously, I also quickly found that I didn’t like aspects of it in the way godparents are expected to function in our culture: default babysitters, default financial support, and default fixer of all things including providing any gifts or amenities such as school books/supplies or vacations that the parent couldn’t provide at the moment. So, in so much as I loved this little baby who would go on to call me “née” as one of his first words (his contraction for our word for godmother, Nennie), I also retired myself from the Nennie game. In fact, I told my mum that she was special for saying yes to being so many people’s godmother but I was also sure that I had reached my peak in the Nennie game and would go out on the high note. To this day, that one kid, Ocean, is my only godchild!
Now, that said, I helped raise my brother and I’ve been designated the legal guardian in two contexts:
1. One of my cousins asked if I would agree to raise her daughter into adulthood, if she as a single mom were to pass away and after much thought, I agreed to it but with defined conditions, after verifying that no other reasonable candidate was available. She went to a lawyer, had the documents drawn up and I signed to that. Each year, as my little cousin grows older with her loving mom here to care for her, I smile. She’s long known that I’m her person to reach out to, if anything were to happen to her mum but she also knows that I’m not her Nennie.
2. During the fellowship, my fellow and her husband asked if I would be their legally designated temporary guardian to watch over their baby son until the grandparents who lived in other states which included across the country, could arrive in Connecticut to get him. I also said yes. In fact, I cried a little when I thought of the fact that yes, while both young and healthy, they did need to have even that temporary plan in place and I wondered how many others consider that (another topic for another day).
Why do I share this now? Well, this all came flooding together when I recently spoke to someone who felt like they were becoming burdened by what started out as a favor but is fast becoming a job. So, I briefly shared my godson story to highlight how, if you notice something is getting out of hand or has the potential to get out of hand for you, you need to speak up and set boundaries.
I’ve been setting big boundaries since I was 17/18. Not everyone has ever been happy about some of my boundaries but that’s the thing about boundaries, they’re yours to set. Also, they evolve. So, even if you didn’t have boundaries about something before, there is no reason why you can’t set them later if you realize they’re needed.
My close friends and family now respect and sometimes share that they model my boundary setting. In fact, my cousin above and my friend/co-fellow above both shared that they asked me to be the responsible person for their kid in both scenarios above because they felt that I would provide safety in the time of their children’s greatest need.
Therefore, I leave you with that: setting boundaries is a way of defining safety for yourself and those around you. Don’t be afraid to set yours and never forget to respect other people’s right to have their own boundaries.