LIVE BY DESIGN | Redefining guardianship: Conversations we need to have about our kids before we die

We need to explore the evolving concept of guardianship more deeply in modern families. I would like to use this column as a conversation starter to explore various aspects that need to be considered.

Two years ago, a close friend approached me and asked if I would be willing to act as a guardian for her son in the event of her passing. This request came after the sudden loss of the boy’s father due to an illness. Knowing that my friend’s siblings might assume this responsibility would naturally fall on their shoulders, I felt honoured that she entrusted me with such an important role.

I greatly admire my friend’s parenting values and the way she is raising her son. Ever since she asked me to be a guardian, I have made a conscious effort to spend quality time with him, including him in my holiday plans and even organising annual gatherings with his friends.

Recently, I enquired about whether my friend had discussed this decision with her sisters. To my surprise, she has not had the conversation. She has not completed the formal documentation that will be required by law. If a guardian is not nominated in writing, the court decides. My friend’s response left me feeling perplexed and uncertain about the situation.

In today’s rapidly changing world, the traditional notion of family has undergone a significant transformation. As we transition from the family dynamics defined by an extended family culture to a more nuclear family structure, important conversations around guardianship have emerged.

Social media regularly carries stories of parents tragically dying together on their way to work. Their young kids are left with a caretaker or relatives assuming the role of guardians who may have little or no knowledge of the parents’ values and aspirations for their children.

Traditionally, extended family members played a significant role in supporting and raising children. However, as dynamics change, young parents may find themselves considering alternatives to family members as potential guardians. Open conversations with immediate family can generate valuable insights and perspectives.

Consider these questions:
  • If you are parents, have you made decisions about who you want to look after your kid or kids in the event of an untimely death?
  • What factors are important to you in your choice? Values, parenting style, finance?
  • If you have chosen to nominate a guardian who is not your next of kin or even a blood relative, what conversations have you had with the immediate family for them to accept your choice?
  • If you have been nominated as a guardian, have you considered the implications, especially if the child or children are not blood relatives?
  • What are your concerns, if any, about taking on the responsibility of being a guardian?
  • What if you decided not to have children but have siblings who have children and they expect you to become their guardian? How do you navigate the decision of becoming a guardian while having made the choice not to have children of your own?

All the above questions are about children born biologically to their parents. I know other concerns arise when we consider families that adopted their children.

  • What unique challenges do families who adopted children face when it comes to discussing and planning for guardianship?
  • Do you feel there is a difference in the expectations placed on biological family members compared to adoptive family members when it comes to guardianship?

And, lastly, what about the children’s point of view?

  • Should you ensure that the children feel included and valued in the discussions about guardianship within the family?

I do not have a child, but I am in the process of adopting one. My family assumes there are biologically related children for whom I’m expected to take on caregiving and financial responsibilities, and there is little support for my wish to adopt. Furthermore, the conversations I initiated about the future of my would-be adopted child should something happen to me have been, frankly speaking, challenging, if not downright bruising. This leaves me deeply conflicted in my decision around guardianship for my future child.

I invite you to share your stories as we delve into the unique dynamics and considerations faced by parents when it comes to guardianship, as well as the challenges faced by guardians when they take on the parenting role.

By initiating these conversations around guardianship within various family structures, we can better understand the evolving nature of family dynamics and the complexities associated with choosing suitable guardians for our children.

This column serves as a conversation starter, encouraging readers to reflect on their own experiences and engage in further dialogue. Stay tuned for follow-up articles that will explore different perspectives and insights shared by our readers.

Remember, guardianship is a deeply personal and multifaceted topic. Let’s embrace the opportunity to exchange ideas and broaden our understanding of what it means to be a guardian in today’s world.

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