Nothing says “I love you” like naming someone the guardian of your child under your Will, right? Not necessarily. The choice of guardian is such a difficult decision for many of my clients. As I approach motherhood, I now understand the complexities involved with choosing the right person.
Fears of offending loved ones. Fears of burdening loved ones. Fears that this could actually happen. Fears that I will make the wrong choice. Fears that the person I nominate won’t be willing at the time to serve. Fears of uprooting my child to a new town.
There are so many thoughts and concerns that go into choosing a guardian. A common dilemma many of my clients experience is when they want to name friends over family in this role. This path is a tough one and often leads to much conversation around their logic and thoughts. Some of my clients will not even share their decision with anyone but me, because they fear telling the family member that they decided to choose their neighbor over him/her. Others have the conversation but it is upsetting and can cause hurt feelings to both parties.
Another common situation I encounter is when each parent doesn’t want the other’s sibling to serve and they end in a total standstill. One parent wants one thing, and the other wants another. If you are not on the same page as a couple, this can cause serious friction in the relationship.
I, myself, go in a circle when thinking about the right guardian choice. I am lucky in that I have multiple candidates, each of whom brings something unique and wonderful to the table. But I can’t choose multiple people, unrelated, and living in entirely different states. I will need to make a final choice, and it is not going to be easy. Someone is going to be hurt. I like to approach situations with honesty and discussion so this will not be a secret. But that approach is just not an option for some of my clients. My husband and I will have our final decision before I give birth to ensure our estate planning documents are in order before she even arrives. It is never too early to plan! And I have the comfort in knowing that as time goes on, I can always change my mind.
There are many considerations to give when choosing a guardian. First, think LOVE. Love of course is always a consideration! The top in my book. Do you love this person? Do your kids love this person? Does this person love your kids? Are they going to love you for naming them, or secretly resent you? On a most basic level you must have confidence that this person loves your children, and will love them just as much as you. They are going to replace you in a sense and that is hard to accept. But that is a good thing, and you want the person you name to become the parental figure to your child. The love your child and the guardian need to share is crucial to both of their survival.
Four other factors of L.O.V.E. to consider: Location, Opportunity, Values, Employment.
Location, location, location. An often-forgotten consideration is where does this guardian live? Are they down the street? Across the country? On the other side of the globe? If something happened to you suddenly, your children are going to be dealing with so much loss and heartache. If they also must leave their home, leave their school, their friends, how much harder will it be for them? Sometimes staying local is not an option, but it certainly should be a consideration. If the guardian lives far away, would they be willing to relocate for your child? Move into the family home? Causing your child the least amount of disruption to their normal life and routine can help immensely in the grieving process.
Opportunity. It is not a bad thing to consider the opportunities available to your child by naming one person over the other. If the guardian is a world-traveler and speaks 5 different languages, think about the exposure your children will gain! Be an opportunist when it comes to your kids. If your guardian has connections to the best schools, this could play a key role in their success in college. Or maybe he is versed in a musical instrument and can bring a new interest to your child. Or maybe the guardian lives a completely different life than you, surrounded by diversity or salt of the earth folks that can give your child a different perspective on the world. Opportunity as a concept is very broad. Think about your own shortcomings. You might find the perfect person to balance out what you have brought to your child, with what he is missing.
Values. What are the core values of your guardian? What is her parenting style? What is her religious preference? What are her political views? What is most sacred to her? What values will she try to instill in your child? Do you agree with them? Are you concerned by them? You want to ensure that the legacy you build and leave aligns with the guardian’s. Are you fundamentally against guns? Then maybe naming your best friend who happens to be married to a card-carrying NRA member isn’t the best fit. Think of the values that surround your guardian as well – the values of each person your child will be exposed to under that person’s care.
Employment. Your guardian’s job is something to also consider. Is the guardian a traveling surgeon that requires her to be away from home the majority of time? Then who is actually going to be taking care of your kids – a nanny? Is that what you want? Maybe you do, but maybe you don’t. Or does your guardian change jobs as often as the seasons? Is this going to add stress to the home life or set a bad example for your child? Or is the guardian someone in a very stressful position that brings his work home with him – both literally and figuratively? You do not want to gloss over someone’s job status or their potential path in life. If you have given up your career to be a stay-at-home-parent, then it may be important that the guardian is in the same position. Or maybe you have a very successful career and want your child to be exposed to the same. In any scenario, give thought to exactly what your guardian does, and the time involved. You want to be sure that he has the capacity to handle a child on top of a career.
At the end of the day, we are attracted to like-minded people and your guardian will be no exception. You want to choose someone that is going to continue the parenting style you have already set in place, and give your child the life you want them to have. And in the end, it all comes down to love…
“Love is all you need.” ~The Beatles