Parenting Styles

Choosing a Guardian for our Kids

We haven’t appointed legal guardians for our children. I’ve thought and thought and thought about it and I know that it I really important, but we still haven’t done it. Because, at the end of the day, how do you choose who you feel is going to be the best person/people to look after your children in your stead?

I’ve come up with a list of criteria to help me determine who is best placed to raise my children in the not-to-be-thought-of event of Mou and me both dying.

It’s important for me that the people who may potential end up raising my children are:

1) Familiar with my children
We have a number of family members who live in other cities and countries. Mou’s sister, for example, lives in Australia. Unfortunately she has never met either of the kids. Although Rose has chatted on the phone to her Aunt and cousins, and can point to Australia on a map, she doesn’t know these people. They are essentially strangers to her. The idea of her being shipped off to stay with people she doesn’t know in the seriously traumatic event of the death of both her parents is gut-wrenching. So no matter how many of the other criteria these relatives meet, I just can’t consider them.

2) Share my values
I want my children to grow up to resemble the adults they would be if I raised them. My values are important to me; that’s why they are my values. I do not want my daughters to become subservient women who don’t understand feminism. I don’t want my daughters to become super-consumers with no social conscience (these two things of course do not need to go together!). The point being, that I want the people who may end up raising my children to be like me, at least in so far as values are concerned. When I go through my list of potential guardians, I am struck with a small problem – none of them exactly shares our values! To be honest, even Mou and I don’t share our values 100% so how am I going to find a substitute?!

3) Experienced parents
Children who have been orphaned are going to have a hard time. I want the people raising my orphans to understand children and be able to give my kids the best support possible. I want them to be able to take over the parenting role quickly and easily with the least amount of additional drama for my kids. I want them to understand what they are agreeing to when they agree to be guardians in the first place. I want them to be 100% committed.

4) Financially and otherwise able to raise my kids
I want the guardians to be experienced but not too experienced! If you already have two or three kids of your own, are you going to be able to take both of mine in? And it is an absolutely requirement that they stay together, so it’s all or nothing here. We are in the privileged position to be able to afford the insurances etc that will mean our children won’t be destitute in the event of our death. But regardless of the financial resources that come with them, the guardians of my children need to have all the resources necessary to be great parents, including time and energy.

5) Healthy
Is it over-thinking it to want to appoint a guardian who is physically and mentally healthy? Does this preclude the grand-parents from taking on parenting responsibility for the littlies? Does it preclude my very good friend who has an apparently dormant but potentially debilitating illness? What about family members who are recovering substance users? The idealist in me answers all these questions with a great big Yes, as in Yes these conditions/situations preclude you from being considered to look after my children.

When I apply these filters to all our family and friends, I end up crossing everyone off the list. Why? Because when all is said and done, I want to be the one raising my children. Regardless of all my imperfections, I am the best person to parent them. Even thinking about the possibility of not being here to guide them through life renders me utterly irrational. I hadn’t really considered myself massively egotistical before (and I don’t actually want to see little mini-mes running around as some of my comments above may suggest) but this is not a scenario I can separate myself from and look at rationally. It is so intrinsically wrought up in who I am, who I want to be, what I want for my kids, that I am rendered completely unable to make a decision.

Luckily, there are two parents in this family and I don’t need to battle this out alone. Mou, I can’t do this one, can you?

Photograph: (c) Julie Donald, 2010


The mother of two girls (Rose, 6, and Fynn, 11 months), Mombot is a feminist and human rights activist based in Cape Town, South Africa. She has a fairly laid back approach to parenting if you ignore the regular rants about the proliferation of the colour pink, the lack of diversity amongst "girls' " toys, the scarcity of good role models for girls in the media etc etc etc.

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  1. Thanks for writing this. We went through all of this when my son was born 7 years ago. We chose very close friends who meet all of these criteria. However, as the years went on, my son grew extremely close to my parents. Even though they are older (but still very healthy), we changed our wills to make them the guardians. It is just obvious that, if anything happened to both of us in the near future, the easiest transition would be for him to live with my parents. I worry that they can continue taking care of him until he is 18, but there is no perfect choice.

  2. That’s a good point. I’ve noticed with god parents / fairy god parents how the relationships change over the years. At least with family you can have some degree of certainty in the longevity of the relationship.

  3. That’s a good list. I think we pretty much came up with the same list when we did the exercise.

    I found the “shares my values” part to be the really difficult one, and the one where I had to compromise. We picked my sister & brother-in-law. They’re great parents, they’ve raised three great, independent, caring, smart kids. They create a wonderful, open space and are super-good at meeting the world in a non-judgmental way. I’m sure that if it came to it, my kids would find a great home there. And, already there in that description some of my core values are matched. Also, my sister is a die-hard feminist, they’re both lefists and bit on social conscience. But – they’re not really science types, not skeptics. If my kids were to grow up there, there’d be less astrophysics, less “OK, look, let’s try Occam’s razor here” during dinner, but maybe more of an “let’s embrace life” approach to everything. Less geek, more hippie. It would be different, and they would possibly grow up to be different people than when I raise them, but in ways I can live with.

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