The Houston Church of Freethought has been developing a Sunday School for the members to bring their children to. Like the HCoF, the Sunday School will be nontheistic in nature, and there is discussion going on as to how to form the Sunday School and also how to attract more nonreligious families. Here is one member's thoughts on parenting as atheists, which I thought might be interesting for my readers, regardless of their own views...
1. There seems to be a general belief among parents that assuring your children attend church services and sunday school is part of being a good parent, and something that many parents do just for that reason. I honestly don't believe that it has much to do with any religious conviction but rather an idea that if you want to teach your kids to be good moral citizens they have to have religious instruction. So I think even couples who were not church attendees before they had children start attending as part of raising their children. Perhaps we could counteract this by having some moral message in sunday school?
Personally, I think it is my job to teach my children right from wrong and I want them to do the right thing, not because they think some god is watching them and will punish them if they don't, but rather just because it is the right thing to do regardless of whether anyone is watching! This is what I would tell anyone who asked how my children can have good moral characters without religion. I teach them self respect and compassion and empathy for others, and that (hopefully) is why they do the right thing, not fear of divine retribution. Using religion for moral instruction is like telling your children Santa will only come if you are good, and he will somehow know if you are not. That might make them behave better, for a while at least, but it won't teach them right from wrong. So far this seems to be working out as my children are not little monsters, don't get in trouble, are Honor Role students, have plenty of friends, and have both received awards for citizenship.
2. Overcoming cruelty from other children and parents also probably keeps families away. By raising our children atheist we have caused them to experience some unpleasant treatment from other children who have the unfortunate stereotypical view of athiests as moral degenerates. This hasn't happened very many times, as it's not something kids discuss much, but maybe as they get older it will happen more frequently. So far there have only been a few times when they have been excluded from playing with all the other kids in the street, and told "since you don't believe in god, you're bad, so you can't play with us." I have explained that it is not acceptable for the other kids to treat them that way, just as they know they must respect other people's beliefs. Still they find it upsetting of course. I can't say that anyone has every told me to my face that I am a bad parent because I am raising my kids atheist, but I am sure there are those who feel that way. The fundamentalists across the street who tell my daughter she is going to hell because she reads Harry Potter, are not really among those whose opinion I value too much anyway.
3. Maybe the shock and disapproval of family and friends is much more severe when children are concerned. I am sure that no one is happy if they are strongly religious and their son or daughter is athiest, but when that son or daughter starts raising their child atheist the objections increase. It was easy for [my husband] and I as we were not raised by religious parents and have both been non believers all our lives. If you come from a family that is religious I can imagine that deciding to raise your kids as actively athiest would be very difficult. I don't see what HCoF [can] do about that, like anything else with parenting you have to do what you think is right no matter what other people say, but I can see that it would keep people away. We could offer support of like minded parents. Perhaps that is a good selling point, because athiest parenting can be a lonely task.