Me? A godmother? That’s what Andrea thought when Raina, a longtime friend, asked her to take this role in the life of young Bella. But there was no question that Andrea would say yes. She valued her friendship with Raina and was honored that despite their differences (from stage in life to location), she would be a big part of Raina’s daughter’s life. But as a singleton without children, being a godparent was unfamiliar territory.
Perhaps you’ve also found yourself in a place of influence in a child’s life—as an aunt or uncle, a neighbor to a family with young children, or as a climbing wall for your friends’ kids. Or maybe you’ve felt the nudge to work with children at your church or to volunteer with a Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. Whatever the scenario, it can be a bit daunting, especially if your latest interaction with a kid was somewhere around the time that you were one yourself. But even if you lack experience, you can have a lasting impact on the life of a child.
David Staal, author of Words Kids Need to Hear, says, “Jesus made it pretty clear that as His followers we are to love one another. We’re also expected to serve others who need us. The world’s a pretty tough place for
children today. This means that you and I can make a profound difference in the life of a child by taking deliberate steps to make a relationship happen.”
As a godparent, mentor, aunt, uncle, or grown-up friend, you have a unique opportunity to connect with a child in many meaningful ways.
All in Good Time
So how do you start? It’s pretty easy. Simply show up and take an interest in a child’s life. Kids need to know that they have an important place in their parents’ lives—and also in the lives of the adults they admire (that would be you). “When you commit time in your schedule to show up regularly for a child, he or she will learn to count on you,” Staal says.
Nicole, 39, from Santa Barbara, Calif., gives friends date nights so she can hang out with their kids in their environment. Being a consistent presence in the kids’ home has helped create a sense of extended family that she hopes will build trust and create an opportunity to walk through life with them. “The kids get excited to show me things around their house—their artwork, playing tag in the backyard, and even going through the daily routine stuff like making dinner and brushing teeth,” Nicole shares.
What do most children want? The same thing we do—someone to be their friend, spend time with them, and love them. Jason, 35, from Pasadena, Calif., says, “Consistently spending time with kids, being present, and letting them explore and play is a gift whether it is with my niece and nephew or my friends’ children.”
The best times with kids are often those spontaneous, unplanned moments. You don’t have to “wow” a child to have great influence. What he or she wants most is time spent with you.
“It’s hard to mess up with a kid,” says Dr. Andrea Gurney, a child and family therapist. “It may feel unknown at first, but get on their level, enter in, and play. They’ll love you and respect you regardless.”
Ask for a tour of your young friend’s room (kids love showing off their “stuff”). Join kids in their child’s play (in the park, in sprinklers, in a tree house, on a bike). Attend events like soccer games, dance recitals, and school plays (it shows you care and want to be a part of their life). Celebrate accomplishments or special events (like the first day of kindergarten or fifth-grade graduation).
And then share your life with the little ones who have become a part of it. When your grown-up friends bring their children to your house, give the kiddos a special tour of your favorite rooms (and consider keeping a stash of toys on hand for their visits). When you travel to a new city or country, send a postcard. Or when you’ve got a free afternoon, take a kid-friend to your favorite coffee shop for hot chocolate and a game of tic-tac-toe.
As a non-parent you’re in a special position to teach a child something he or she might not learn at home. Do you love to cook? Appoint a child as your sous chef. Are you handy? Create something together. Inviting a child into your world will help him or her learn about grown-up life.
As a special adult in a kid’s life, you’re also uniquely equipped to show what it means to live as a Christian. Volunteer together as a way to model loving our neighbors as ourselves. Invite your young friends to serve alongside you in a ministry that’s close to your heart. Or you might ask a kid to join you in a specific project. One triathlete volunteers with her nephews to help younger children with disabilities train for triathlons.
Starting a tradition with the little ones in your life can also be a great point of connection to help develop meaningful, lasting relationships. Not only does it give you something to talk about, but it also gives kids something to look forward to for years to come.
Nicole created a birthday tradition for her young friends. She gives them a coupon that’s good for time spent together in the form of an ice cream outing followed by picking out a book at a local bookstore. “Starting this tradition with my friends’ kids has been so important,” she says. “Now, when the kids see me, they ask when they can go on our ‘date.’”
You might also make a tradition of kicking out the parents for a night (which they’ll thank you for) and having a dinner and game night with the kids. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Make pizza or order one, and pull out the kids’ favorite board games or introduce them to a new one. Or if you have enough space at your place, start a seasonal tradition of a no-parents-allowed slumber party. Blow up air mattresses, create a make-your-own-sundae bar, rent the latest kid flick, and you’re set.
So you may be thinking, Those are great ideas, but my niece/nephew/godchild lives 2,000 miles away. That’s OK. No matter how many planes, trains, or miles of highway separate you, you can still be a part of a child’s life.
Let technology be your friend. With webcams and Skype you can talk to and see each other when you’re miles apart. Texting a quick note to the teens in your life is also an easy way to stay connected. Or use Flickr to share photos of what’s going on in your day-to-day.
No matter how young or old, we all love getting mail. Send a silly online e-card, or mail a handwritten letter with a small treat stashed inside, like stickers. If you’re committed to trips to the post office, try sending a journal back and forth. You can write each other notes, jot down updates on your lives, and include drawings. Or if you’re looking for something out of the box, mail a ball (write the message and address with a Sharpie and add postage), a coconut, or pretty much anything you can stick a stamp on—sans the packaging.
Whether you live in the same town or a city on the other side of the world, the time you spend with a child will have a lasting impact on his or her life. And it will do the same