While being a guardian may be an official role, we all have serious responsibilities towards young children.
When I was a university student, I had nothing more important on my mind than doing well in my course, enjoying an active social life and having fun with my friends. That all changed on the day my aunt and uncle invited me over and asked whether I’d be a guardian for their two teenage children.
“What would that involve exactly?” I asked awkwardly, feeling like I was at a job interview I hadn’t prepared for.
My aunt and uncle exchanged glances.
“It means that the kids would be your responsibility if anything was to happen to us,” my aunty finally replied.
My cousins cheered at this news. They didn’t seem to understand the full ramifications of what me being their guardian would mean. They just thought we would be having an everlasting sleepover (I guess that was one way of putting it!)
I, on the other hand, felt a rush of panic flooding my heart. Although I loved my younger cousins dearly, I couldn’t imagine being held responsible for them. After all, I was an only child. I hadn’t done much babysitting. And I was a long way away from even thinking about having children someday. How could I be a good guardian?
“What about so-and-so?” I suggested feebly as I racked my brain thinking of suitable alternatives. Surely there were other people who were far better equipped to be guardians than myself.
I voiced my concerns to my uncle and aunt but they shrugged them off.
“It’s not necessarily about being better equipped,” explained my aunty. “We want someone with the same faith values—or at least someone who would be supportive of the way that we’ve raised the kids up.”
Guardianship was something that had never even crossed my mind before. It was quite the opposite situation for my uncle and aunt.
My aunty was already in her forties by the time she had adopted the younger of my two cousins. She knew there was a very real possibility that something might happen to her or my uncle while the girls were still young. Having previously worked as a social worker, she was also aware that difficult situations could arise with untrustworthy guardians of vulnerable children.
“There are a lot of issues you need to think about,” my aunty said frankly.
Have you ever thought about who would be your children’s guardian if something happened to you? It’s not an easy topic to ponder. Not only do you have to think about your demise, but you have to contemplate your children reaching adulthood without you to watch them grow up. But unless you want your children to be raised by your gold-digging alcoholic brother, you should seriously consider naming a guardian in your will.
“If parents do not make a will or do not make provision in their will to nominate a guardian, then it is the next of kin who will become the guardian,” says Rodney Woods, a trust services expert.
“If there is a dispute about who will be the guardian, the court will make the appointment. It is therefore highly recommended that a person has a legal will, and if they have minor children, they have nominated a guardian they believe will act in the best interest of their children.”
. . . every person has the chance—and responsibility—to be a guardian for someone else . . .
My cousins are all grown up now and I’m thankful my aunt and uncle lived to see them do so. But although I never had to step in as their official guardian, I always felt a sense of accountability and responsibility to them. They were also in a blessed position where they had other people who cared about their welfare and wellbeing.
“There was a woman who was a church friend and a neighbour named June, whom we always called Nanna, and she was just like a grandma to us,” my cousin Arabella shares. In fact, she and her sister Abi had always believed that June was their grandmother and when they found out she wasn’t, they burst out crying.
June would take them on teddy bears’ picnics, shopping expeditions and trips to the park.
“When Abi was little, they had a grandparents’ day at school and Abi thought she needed to find out who her grandparents were. She came home from school saying, ‘I know Nanna’s my nanna but who else is my nanna?’
“June’s husband had left her when she was in her sixties; this was a terrible blow to her. She enjoyed having someone else to think about and be involved with,” explains my aunty.
“Even now, she still prays for the girls and our family every day. I once told her that I think the reason we’re still alive is that she prays for us so much. If it wasn’t for her, I really do wonder where we’d be.”
My cousins’ fond recollections of their “Nanna” remind me that guardianship isn’t just about being nominated to take care of someone’s children after they die. Every person has the chance—and responsibility—to be a guardian for someone else, it just may not be in an official capacity or written in a legal document.
The often-quoted African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Somewhere along the line, I think we’ve lost that perception and feel as though we need to do things on our own. But it’s time we returned to that proverb. Like June, we all have the potential to be an influencer in other people’s lives, whether that’s taking the opportunity to help a struggling mama, offering a prayer for a family who needs support or showing love to a child. And we don’t need to be officially appointed for it.
How to Choose a Guardian
You wouldn’t let just anyone drive your brand new car. Well, your children are the most precious assets you’ll ever have. You would want them to be cared for by someone you believe had their best interests at heart.
Relationship with the children
“While relatives might seem like an obvious choice, this isn’t always the most appropriate option if your child doesn’t have a close relationship with them,” senior legal advisor David Thomson said in Huffington Post. “A close family friend who is familiar with the child and possibly has children of a similar age and disposition might be a better choice. The compatibility with the children is the most important.”
“Consider moral values, such as kindness and generosity, as well as religious and spiritual values,” suggests a 2017 article in Forbes. Will the person you’ve chosen raise your child in the way that you would want? Also, what do you want for your child’s future? Are you more interested in ensuring they have a good education? Or would you prefer they be able to express themselves creatively and pursue their chosen passions?
Physical, emotional and financial health
You may be planning to select your own parents as guardians, but logically speaking, they are less likely to outlive you than people your age or younger. Do your potential guardians have any burdens or concerns that may prevent them from giving your children a good childhood? Are they in a financially stable position to take care of your children?
This recommendation comes from my aunty. It’s not a prerequisite I would have thought of and may not be suitable for everybody, but it makes sense. For a child of any age, losing their parents would be a big trauma. Having to relocate and leave everything that is familiar would be an additional difficulty.