Put simply, spiritual parents are gods/goddesses/orishas/loa/higher beings that watch over a person and are intimately involved in that person’s life. You and your parents share common traits. That doesn’t mean that you are exactly the same but many times children will often have similar struggles as their parents. This is somewhat akin to Jung’s archetypes. Some higher beings can choose their children at birth but most will wait until adulthood.
Now, there are many flavors of this type of relationship, depending on which magickal system you are involved in. Many systems believe in only 1 guardian parent. In Haitian Voudou, you actually marry your guardian spirit (which is referred to as your spouse, not parent). I believe that in general each of us has two parents and usually it is one female and one male deity (but there can be exceptions to everything). Those parents will help and guide us along our spiritual path (like a guardian angel).
The spiritual parent(s)/child relationship can be informal or formal. In an informal relationship, the child may not even know the parents exist or may not have formalized the relationship. There is no commitment from either side.
Since children will have similar traits, many times you can spot the dominant parent (usually the same sex parent). For example, at times I have referred to a flamboyant flirty female as a “child of Oshun” (the flirtatious Orisha of love). That female could very well be a child of Oshun but it wouldn’t be a formal relationship unless she had begun a spiritual path of some sort. A formal relationship happens when the child accepts the higher beings as their parents. This is an optional arrangement but once it is entered into, it is for life.
What is required of the child will depend on the deities involved. In general, the child is expected to respect their parent and honor them with offerings on special days. Also, the deity will probably have special rules and guidelines to follow. For example, my father, Obatalá, is the chief and father figure of the Orishas. He is the embodiment of truth and justice. I will give him special offerings on father’s day and his special day (September 24th) and I try my best to be honest and forthright and I NEVER cheat on my taxes. What the child gets in return are loving beings who only want the best for him or her. The parents will also try to help the child on their spiritual path and in life. Imagine having your own personal coach and cheering section everywhere you go.
Now, here’s the bad news. Just like any other family, your parents will not be afraid to stick their nose way deep into your business. When you are doing something they believe is wrong, they will not be afraid to tell you so and unlike your biological parents, the deities are always there and saw what you did last night and they KNOW why you did it. Also, sometimes a child will completely disregard the rules and get involved in some really bad stuff (again, just like real life). The parents do have the option of tough love and can abandon your happy ass if you just completely lose your mind. Unfortunately, I have seen this happen a couple of times but both of those situations were extreme cases.
As I said before, this arrangement is optional. However, if you plan on following a spiritual path eventually somewhere, somehow you will have to make a commitment to something or the universe will stop teaching you stuff (no pain, no gain).