The "Godparent"/Guardian Issue - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 7 Old 09-22-2005, 10:08 PM - Thread Starter
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(Warning, this is a long one!)

Seems like the issue of guardianship is a big focus in our lives right now for two reasons. The first is not even about our child, but it's the one I'm finding most difficult to know what to do about.

The back-story is that I have a friend, we'll call her T, who I've known since 10th grade and who is now essentially a sister to me (we're both 32). We were for many years extremely close, best friends, but we've kind of grown apart over the years but we still care a lot about each other. She has two kids, 5 and 3, and has a VERY different parenting philosophy than me and DH, which of course creates tension between us. We have lived in different states since around 1993, so we see each other maybe once a year. As a result, I don't know her kids *at all* and the limited amount of time I have spent with them has been really uncomfortable, as both of her kids are extremely badly behaved to the point that I have no desire to try to have a relationship with them. Not to mention that she tells me about all of their very obvious emotional issues that she never attempts to address, other than to say that it's a "phase."

Anyway, she has two sisters younger than us, both of whom are pretty jacked up themselves, and parents who are both emotionally and physically VERY unhealthy. She had previously decided to appoint her youngest sister as godparent/guardian for her two kids, but that sister recently got a DUI so T had to face the fact that her sister is still VERY immature and unreliable. Her other sister is married to an abusive substance abuser, so she's definitely out of the question.

T asked me about 2 weeks ago if DH and I would agree to be the appointed guardians for her kids should something happen to her and her DH. She said she doesn't feel that she can count on her sisters or parents, and that doesn't leave her with anyone else. She said she knows that if DH and I are guardians, her children will have the opportunities and support for the things she thinks are important, like a good education.

At the time I said that I understand that she doesn't feel comfortable with anyone in her family taking custody of her kids, and that I would talk to DH about it. She assured me that she had ample life insurance to take care of all of their needs, including college. When I asked her for specifics on that, she got a little pissy, but basically told me that she would have $300k total for the kids in trust, and then around $2000 per month from social security.

OK, now I don't know a lot about finances, admittedly, but to me $300k does not seem like enough!! We may be over-doing it, but DH and I already have $600k in life insurance and we're planning to get more before Miss Baby is born just because should something happen to us, money is the last thing we'd want people to have to worry about.

Added to this is the huge and looming fact that neither DH nor I feel entirely comfortable with the responsibility of guardianship of her children. We don't know them, we live all the way across the country (we're in Ohio, they are in California) and what I DO know of them makes me feel like it would be a really tremendous emotional burden for our family. It just doesn't feel right.

On the other hand, I feel like if we decline her request, she really will be in a position where she doesn't have anyone reliable to name as godparents. I keep going back and forth - is it my duty as her friend, am I being selfish by thinking it would be too much of a hardhsip for us and for the life we want to provide to OUR OWN child? DH also pointed out that if something did happen to T and her husband, we may be the only people who could truly help her children get through the emotional trauma of that in as healthy a way as possible. But is it our responsibility, just because we're the only ones?

To complicate matters even further, I'm sure that if I told T how I felt honestly, she would take it really personally and be angry with me for not just agreeing without reservation. I'm sure it's something that would be between us forever, and she would somehow feel that she couldn't trust me or that we weren't as close as she had thought (or things along those lines).

But coming from HER point of view, I can understand how hard it is because DH and I are currently trying to decide on the godparents for Brynn; we are having a hard time choosing between my best friend and her husband, and DH's best friend and his wife as the primary guardians. I will say though that we have talked to both couples and they are both comfortable with this responsibility, but I would *definitely* want their complete honesty if they felt they weren't up for it for any reason!! I would never feel angry or hold some kind of grudge if they weren't able to do it.

So I guess I'm just trying to figure out how to handle the situation with T, more than anything. Should I tell her that we're not quite comfortable with it and just expect a negative response and live with it, or should I first try telling her that I don't think $300k is enough and see what happens (which would probably be "Fine. Forget it!")?

I realize that a friendship that doesn't allow room for total honesty, *especially* about a topic this important, has its problems (believe me!) but I also do have a lot of love, and sense of loyalty, for T. And even though the chances of something happening to her and her DH are slim to none, I take this responsibility VERY seriously and I don't want to commit to something I'm not 100% comfortable with, or that I think wouldn't be best for all involved.

Sooooo.....what to do?

Ever-evolving mama to my beautiful Brynn, and my little dimple-face Noah .
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#2 of 7 Old 09-22-2005, 10:18 PM
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I don't have any good advice... but didn't want to feel like a voyeur

I suppose I should be thinking about this... i.e. I don't have anyone designated as guardian for either my son or the new baby!!

This sounds like a hard situation, you would hope that the children would find a nice, stable home if something terrible were to happen to their parents, but on the other hand, if you take on a responsibility that you aren't comfortable with, you run the risk of resenting them (perhaps subconciously) and that could affect how things are.

I completely understand the desire to take care of your own-- that is your first priority!!

Sorry- not more helpful!
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#3 of 7 Old 09-23-2005, 03:03 PM
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We're having some similar issues with the guardian thing, but they're from the opposite end - but some of the things we've though about might be useful to you...

My advice would be to think it over from your friend's perspective, but knowing what you know about the differences in your parenting styles. Your friend might not be fully aware of how different they are, and let her know about your concerns that should the unthinkable happen, not only would her children be thrust into a completely different family situation with new rules, new expectations, new siblings, etc. but also that they would essentially be your children then, and that your expectations for your children are different and require, well, more money. I don't think you can agree to do it without at least discussing that aspect of it, as distasteful as it is.

The other thing your friend would have to sort out before you agreed to this would be to talk it over with HER family - the one that wouldn't be getting custody, and explain the situation to them. DEFINITELY if she refuses to do this, do NOT accept responsibility for the kids - the last thing they or you need on top of it all is a nasty custody battle.

So - if your friend is willing to up their insurance premiums, acknowledge the differences in parenting style and be ok with her kids being raised as yours, and tell her family that she thinks they'd be unfit guardians for her kids, I would seriously consider doing it. It would still be a hell of a challenge and a responsibility, but if your family is sane and well-balanced they will eventually handle it and even come out of the experience stronger. My bet is, though, that your friend will start to have second thoughts when she thinks about it more seriously and realizes the ramifications.

This is a really tough decision and I feel for you. I don't think there's any way around the fact that you DO have to have a very frank discussion with your friend though, which will be difficult for both of you.

Hope it turns out ok!

Postpartum doula & certified breastfeeding educator, mama to an amazing girl (11/05) and a wee little boy (3/13).

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#4 of 7 Old 09-23-2005, 04:28 PM
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Yes, it is a tough situation! No matter what, it seems like you will have to talk out some difficult issues with her- hopefully she will be receptive, given that she is asking you to do something pretty important!

I agree about requesting that she discuss it and make sure everything is ok with her family first. And is the social security thing *definite* or just something she assumes they would get if they lost a parent? I would want to be pretty clear on the financial obligations also.

And when it truly comes down to it- you really have to decide if you would want and could handle these kids if and when the time came! Esp. given that they have had a very different upbringing than your kid(s) will. I know it's hard to determine right now when you haven't raised a child yet- but what a huge adjustment it would be for the kids, your kid(s), your marriage, your finances. I don't want to sound un-generous or that I wouldn't want to help my good friend's children if they were in need, but something like this is not something to feel guilted into- I'd really want to know that I was up for the job and would do the best job possible raising these kids!

Best wishes with the decision and your discussion with her. We just recently decided who to name but haven't even written it down or made it official yet. We chose a cousin of dh's, who we don't really see often (ever, really), but she is one of the few family members who has children and from everything we've heard they have the same values and child-raising views that we do, and they have 3 kids, one of whom is our son's age. Our parents just wouldn't work out long term although it would be fine temporarily- they are in poor health and nearing 60 and mine anyway have no $ at all even to support themselves.
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#5 of 7 Old 09-23-2005, 04:51 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for your thoughts Spughy and Itsybitsy.

Well I bit the bullet today and emailed her with my concerns and told her that until we could all be on the same page about everything (finances, relocation of the kids, lifestyle differences), I didn't feel comfortable making the commitment even though I want to support her as much as I possibly can.

She wrote back and said (predictably) that she would "figure something else out" and that she wanted to find guardians who would be able to provide her kids with "unconditional love" and would "see it as a blessing, not a burden."

I just can't get over the fact that she would act so immaturely about something I consider very fricking serious. But whatever.

Ever-evolving mama to my beautiful Brynn, and my little dimple-face Noah .
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#6 of 7 Old 09-23-2005, 07:57 PM
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Well, Amy, the fact that she replied in such a poor manor indicates, to me, that you probably are doing the right thing to be backing off from this. Imagine how you would feel if she replied differently, like, "of course I want us to get on the same page and I am in the process of gathering more info". It seems like you are taking this a lot more seriously than she is -- and they are HER kids.
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#7 of 7 Old 09-24-2005, 03:36 AM
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Well, I think that it must be considered too that it is really upsetting to think of your possible death and leaving your kids abandoned, and it's hard to face this possibility realistically because you're planning for something you hope will never in a million years happen. Also, she's in a really difficult position--it's probable that she knows that there are a lot of differences in parenting style and that you don't even really know her kids or have relationships with them at all and live all the way across the country, and given all that, you're STILL her best option. Which is really messed up, because as you yourself are pointing out, it's not the most ideal situation given your relationships (or lack thereof) with the kids, geography, parenting style, etc. You said that she initially wanted her sister to take the kids if something happenned, and she is only changing her mind about that because she has to, based on the fact that her sister is making it evident that she's a total screw-up who's not even vaguely able to take basic care of her kids let alone emulate her parenting style. It sounds like you're really considering the finer points of the whole situation, and she's just really desperate and wanting to know that they will be basically cared for and not completely screwed up by her family members. So I think turning the attention to the "fine print" when she's in a vulnerable position by asking you at all would be upsetting to her or anybody. It would be hard to also be essentially be offering to give someone the most important thing in the world to you--your kids--and then have that person not seem to want it. I would be hurt too. I don't consider that immaturity. Even if you are trying to just consider the pragmatic aspects of it and whether it is a committment that you could make, it would be hard to hear. I think we'd all like to think that if something happenned to us, someone would want to step up and love our kids and give them a home and family and fight for them--without reservations about the practical aspects of money, lifestyle details, etc. Especially when the options are drug-addicted relatives or maybe foster care! That may be a little bit of a romantic perspective, but really it would be hard to swallow thinking of potential guardians otherwise.

Also, although you're looking at the guardian issue for your baby-to-be, you're not in the same situation at all for two reasons. One, although we love our babies in-utero, we don't really know them "on the outside" yet and thinking of the theoretical future is different when we're still dreaming of our babies-to-be and are not actually parenting them in the outer world. Second, in your decision of who to name as a guardian, you're not trying to reconcile yourself to the best of bad options (a guardian who doesn't even know your kids and who is not related to you and doesn't have the same parenting beliefs!) but it sounds like you're trying to choose the BEST of two GOOD options as a guardian, and that's a completely different position to be in.

I'm not saying that you should take the kids out of guilt, or that you are wrong about anything you say. I'm just saying that I wouldn't blame her too much for not having a great initial reaction to you expressing some serious reservations.
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