Raising Good Children Without God: My Role as an Atheist Parent

Raising Good Children Without God: My Role as an Atheist Parent

Author’s Note :: this article is highly sensitive, personal, and raw in nature. The opinions and beliefs here are my own, based on my life journey. I am sharing my heart with the hope that everyone will take something from my experience and perspective, and I’d love to hear from you if you can respectfully disagree OR can relate to my words. 


I am about to put in black and white what I’ve only uttered to handful of people in my life:

I do not believe in God.

I’ve only told a few people out of fear that I will be harshly judged for my beliefs. Maybe I shouldn’t care what others think, but I do. Maybe someday I’ll feel comfortable enough to step out of the atheism closet, but for now I sit happily in the confines of a conviction that I’ve only revealed to a select few. I am an atheist, and despite the feeling that word evokes for a lot of people, I’m a good person.

I wasn’t raised in a particular religion, and as a child I never knew what to say when people asked me what religion I was. I sought advice from my parents who suggested that I say that I was a Christian. So then the conversation went something like this:

Stranger:  “What religion are you?”

Me:  “Christian.”

Stranger:  “Yeah, I know – but what kind, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist…?”

Me:  “Just Christian.”

It always left me feeling a bit uneasy … was I a Christian?

As a child, we celebrated Christian holidays, we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas, we learned about the resurrection of Christ on Easter, my parents told me that good people go to Heaven after they die, and I even remember praying to God. Somewhere along the way though, I realized that I don’t share in the faith. I changed my answer from “I’m a Christian” to “I appreciate all faiths, but I don’t identify with one” mainly because it sounds a lot better than “I’m an atheist.” And yes, I realize that one doesn’t have to be religious in order to believe in God, so let me be clear — I don’t believe there is an ultimate creator. I don’t believe that we are given a life that comes with a judgment day when our time on Earth is done. I choose to be a good person not because I believe if I am I’ll find eternal happiness in the after-life; I choose to be a good person because it’s who I am and it’s who I was raised to be.

My husband and I are on the same page as far as our faith, or lack thereof, goes. We know our child will soon be old enough to start asking questions, and I want to be prepared when the time comes. I think for now I will reply to the questions with questions:

“Mommy, where do people go after they die?”

“No one really knows for sure. What do you believe?”

I know the situations will get more complicated and the questions will eventually get harder, but that’s my plan for now.

I would be completely supportive if my son found a religion that spoke to him one day because I think that unquestionably believing what you know to be true is comforting. I spent almost 30 years of my life in the questioning place until I came to terms with what I believe, and it was so freeing to admit it, even if only to myself. I respect that my parents never pushed their beliefs on my siblings and me, and I can only hope to not influence my son into believing the way I do just because I’m his mom. I think all too often we are taught what to believe rather than believing what we feel in our heart, and I want my son to decide what feels right to him. I also know that he will look to me to guide him. Is telling a small child that you don’t believe in God like stealing from them a sense of faith and certainty that so many others take comfort in? At the same time, I don’t think it is better to lie about what I believe in an attempt to protect his innocence. So, I choose to be honest with him, and teach him the best way I know how to grow into a decent and good man. I will teach him about love, tolerance, and the golden rule not by showing him a verse in the bible, but by setting the example and showing him that I accept people no matter their social class, profession, beliefs, or race.

So yes, I’m an atheist, but before you judge me or feel sorry for me or pray for me because you think I just haven’t seen the light yet … stop. I don’t think less of you because you believe something different than me. Being an atheist doesn’t mean I’m anti-god, it just means I don’t believe there is such a thing. Respect me for my beliefs because I certainly respect you for yours.


  1. I love this post but hate that it is anonymous. People are far more supportive and like-minded, more than you can possibly imagine. I wrote a similar post and I was shocked at the amount of people coming out of the woodwork to agree with me, not to mention the personal messages I got on Facebook or via email, thanking me for my words and this person is going to miss those chances to connect with others who might open up in secret. But to focus on the post, I consider myself a secular parent with a love of religions. I think all religions are intertwined and have something of value to teach but I cannot identify as one, for all of the same reasons the author writes. But secular parenting is on the rise, more than ever. There was even a recent study saying that those without religion tend to be more altruistic than those with religion. It is interesting to see these changes in our lifetime and know our kids (hopefully) and most likely won’t be judged during their lifetimes if they say they aren’t a Christian. That gives me hope, and so does this article that I am not alone!

    • I think being anonymous is safer…… because those “christians” IMMEDIATELY judge anyone who does not believe in a god. I live in the south, and am condemned often by those “loving” christian neighbors who tell me, and my 10 year old, that we are going to hell “until we recognize jeeezus christ as our one and only savior”….. and get sent emails that tell me of eternal damnation “because she cares.” I find it laughable, but BE SURE that these people are judging you, will treat you differently, will alienate you AND YOUR CHILD in the social scene…. and I don’t want that for my child. So it’s best to keep it under wraps for so deeply simple minded and brainwashed.

  2. Wonderful article and you are certainly not alone! We are right there with you and I know many others who are as well. I’ve certainly heard my fair share of judgment and complete ignorance when it comes to what we believe (or rather, don’t believe), but I’m certainly not going to allow that to affect our family negatively.
    To add to the challenge of raising secular children, is the fact that we’ve chosen to homeschool as well. So it can be difficult, however, my children will be learning about the history of many religions (not just one), and hopefully will grow up to make the best educated decisions for themselves and believe what they want.
    Unfortunately today, it’s still a taboo topic and I also wish the writer was not anonymous, but I completely understand why. It’s certainly not easy to say you’re an atheist today to many people. Which is very sad.

    • That is so cool to hear! I am considering homeschooling our kids but since we’re secular I have been worried about some aspects of it. Anyways, I would love to ask you some questions if you don’t mind!

      • Sure Jess! I’m just beginning as my twins are 4 1/2 so we are such newbies to it and very early on. It’s tough finding support so I would love to chat. You can also friend me at Mary Jerry Barth on fb.

  3. It’s kind of crazy to me that the word atheist truly does come with a stigma when there are so many like minded people. It’s just not talked about much. I was raised Mormon and my family (with the exception of my husband and I) are still very much Mormon. I haven’t even told them where exactly I stand with my beliefs, other than no longer considering myself Mormon. The word atheist is still a hard word for me to say. I’m not exactly sure what I even believe, but I’ve come to peace with the fact that maybe there isn’t a God. Regardless, I am not a fan of organized religion. I do think people can take good things from it, but I believe those things can be found outside of religion, as well.

  4. I appreciate so much how you put into words exactly the way my husband and I feel as well. It is a hard line to walk, especially in conservative Texas. So thank you!

  5. I hear you. One thing I do take issue with, however, is that you seem to imply believers want to be good in order to please God so we’ll be allowed into heaven. You wrote: “I choose to be a good person not because I believe if I am I’ll find eternal happiness in the after-life; I choose to be a good person because it’s who I am and it’s who I was raised to be.”

    Well, I think this is a very simplistic way of viewing religion and religious people. I realize you have very limited experience with religion, and also with scriptures, I presume (and I don’t mean that in a negative way at all.) Therefore, I believe you may be projecting your own limited view and understanding of religion onto a whole group of people.

    For instance, for me believing in God is a very personal experience. I have believed since I was 6 years old when I first learned about Jesus. I also experienced a lot of hardship in my youth which compelled me to turn to God for help, and miraculously he’d help. I could go on with a litany of examples, but I don’t think that would convince you in any way, nor should it.

    Those experiences solidified my faith at such a young age that when I became older and needed healing from various illnesses, both minor and serious, for my family members or myself, I’d pray to God (with the faith that He’d answer) and yes, He did. I’m talking inexplicable, immediate healing when doctors could not help. It’s kind of an understood thing in my whole family that the Lord does heal. And I know countless others have these experiences as well.

    So the seed of faith was and is implanted in my heart very firmly, and the Bible teaches that faith is a necessary component to having an authentic relationship with God.

    But what has really been etched into my soul and my life are the scriptures, especially the Gospels of Jesus. The principles Jesus spoke about, though at times hard to understand, have rung true in my life.

    So I have come to develop (after many windy roads) a strong faith in God and Jesus and their word because it’s born out to be true in my life. And I’ve tested it over and over again. There have been times I’ve doubted and thought ‘this can’t be,’ or ‘there has to be a logical explanation.’ But when I have found myself on a deserted road, so to speak, and something in me has risen up to cry out to God, BAM there’s my miracle, my answer, my healing. Crazy, I know. But I know I’m not the only one.

    I don’t want to be a good person simply because I want to get into heaven or because I’m afraid of going to hell. I believe in God because of my own personal experiences and therefore I accept the standard God has set for humanity, which was fulfilled in the person and life of Jesus (who was, as the scripture says, Emmanuel, or ‘God with us’). Becoming more like Jesus is the end goal. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Of course, eternal life in heaven is a gigantic plus. I heard one pastor say, “heaven is God’s answer to hurt on earth.” And I have never met a single person who hasn’t experience hurt in their life.

    I respect others don’t share these beliefs, and I understand there are many other religions and that some don’t believe in the existence of God. (This is also touched on in Jesus’ parable of the sower.) But again, I did take issue with your simplification of the reasons for others’ belief in God.

    • Amen. I do not want to be a good person simply to go to heaven… I want to be a good person because it is who I am created to be! Beautifully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God

  6. Oh it seems I’ve reached the sanity page. Thank goodness….. because it is so difficult raising an atheist child in the south. People shun you….. your neighbors are telling your 8 year old he’s going to hell, while their world involves their children being abused by family and friends, on the hush, hush though. I let go of religion in my second year of a catholic high school…. when questions of logic and reason got me in trouble….. that’s when I realized religion is a sham. A sham to NOT pay taxes, and a sham to control people, and a sham to make money while doing nothing for it, and a sham to take advantage of the vulnerable. I was never one of those kids….. it drove the nuns crazy. I am embarrassed to say that I tell my son not to talk about religion with his friends, because it will upset them. But I also reassure him…. that when he grows up…. he can pick and choose who he talks to about it…. and it should be his goal to surround himself with like minded friends.

  7. I am not only a good person, but a BETTER person without God. I believe religion to be harmful (or portentially harmful) so I don’t feel like I’m taking away any innocence by withholding it. At the end of the day we’re all doing our best (religious and atheists) so I hope you never second guess your choice to raise your son without God!

  8. Great job putting into words what so many others think as well. It is strange that we have to accept these religions and often have it shoved down our throats but to say you don’t believe in a God makes many think you are a bad person.

  9. But you are not a good person. Without God or any higher power to define the laws at which morals are created, all things are permissible and then there is no good or bad. Therefore, by your standard, you cannot, then, use our Christian standard to judge yourself. Either you have God or you don’t. Pick.

    • Morality is not limited by religion or to religion. It is a completely separate choice. Yes, the two can coexist but are not dependant. Yes, religions carry morality with them but are generally focused towards serving a God or gods by moral acts, not by morality itself.

    • It’s unfortunate that some of the comments are terribly judgmental, and completely missing the point of this article. You don’t have to agree with the authors beliefs. She’s not trying to convince anyone to not believe in God. So I’m not sure why anyone feels it’s their job to do that. The point is, she and her family are great without God like many of us. If you can’t comprehend that, I’m sorry for you. As there is a giant world of varied beliefs, and lack of beliefs and having the mindset that yours is the only and right way, is so close minded and self centered. We are all different- and unless someone is pushing their beliefs on you (as some have in their posts) , then believe what you want and let others do the same. As I said before, beautifully written and thank you for stepping up and representing so many of us. As some of these responses demonstrate, no wonder so many don’t speak out. But I will tell you, we exist, we are happy, and we are amazing without god.


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