Amy Jenkins: Martin Amis's failing is mine too

Unless you're a Mary Poppins, godparenting is a very tricky business

Related Topics

So Anna Ford thinks Martin Amis is a narcissist. She may be right – but the fact that he's a useless godparent is not good evidence. Ford has complained that Amis "paid scant attention" to her daughter Claire and "didn't even cough up the statutory five bob expected".

Surely, you're allowed to resist jumping through sentimental hoops without being a narcissist? Because for every wonderful fairy godmother out there, there's a bad fairy creeping around limp-winged with guilt. Someone like me. Someone who's not good at remembering birthdays, who still hasn't bought the silver christening spoon, who can't afford to lay down the case of fine wine that will mature at the same rate as a dear friend's beloved offspring.

The thing is, being a godparent is an extremely tricky business. For a start, unless you're a natural Mary Poppins, it's hard to make friends with other people's children. (Frankly, it's sometimes a challenge to find them interesting.) Young children don't relate to adults who aren't family unless those adults put a large amount of work in. To figure in a child's universe you need to visit often bearing large and exciting presents. And not any old presents. The right presents. This requires extensive research, otherwise the child will crow: "Got it already!" and sling your gift to one side with some glee.

Of course, they'll eventually grow out of being rude – but then you've got a sulky teenager to contend with. Perhaps you'll take them on an expensive night out to a hit London musical. Perhaps they'll fidget beside you all evening, sending furtive texts on their i-phone. Perhaps when it's over they'll say: "That was-" "Yes?" you say expectantly... gratitude at last? "Long! That was so long."

With a teenager, you're better off thrusting money into their hand, but even that can be hard to pull off. A godchild is not a bell boy. The age of tipping children as a matter of course is long gone. Sadly, that five bob Anna Ford talks about isn't statutory. If it were, things might be different.

Being a godparent is so tricky because the rules are ill-defined. What exactly are you meant to provide and when? What are the parents expecting of you? Some parents appoint you and then get scared that you're going to muscle in. One friend teased me that, as godmother, I was meant to provide moral guidance to his son. As he talked his wife kept interjecting: "No she doesn't!", somewhat alarmed.

Clearly, godparenting can queer the pitch of friendship. Roles are unclear and there's a kind of forced intimacy. Friendship doesn't respond well to forcing. I haven't lost many friends over the years. Some friendships have drifted off, run their course or simply been outgrown. That's natural – but the two friends I've most painfully fallen out with are both men who asked me to godparent a child. In fact, I have two little god-orphans.

All that being said, when godparenting does work out it can be glorious. I have a lovely godmother but – guess what – I chose her myself. It's the only way to do it. She was an old friend of my mother's who I re-met in my early twenties. As our friendship grew – unforced – she began to refer to herself as my godmother and now the idea is so much part of our bond that both of us believe it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher Plymouth

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teach...

Primary Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teachers ...

LSA (afterschool club) vacancy in Newport

£40 per day + Travel Scheme : Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client ...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: low pay, E and non-E online, and the pointlessness of chess

John Rentoul

i Editor's Letter: There's a crackle in the Brum air

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style