By Kim Harkness

A fresh look at philanthropy for the overworked parent

For the Love of Humankind: A Bit of Sanity for the Overworked Parent


Philanthropy – a word from Greek origin that translates to “ for the love of mankind”.

A fresh look at philanthropy for the overworked parent

Philanthropists are generous, donating time and/or money where profit is not a motive. This idea, though still at the core of philanthropy, is evolving. Everyday people use their buying power to effect change when they support organizations that ‘give back’, are local (less environmental impact), support fair-trade, etc. I call it ‘conscious consumerism’ and you see it everywhere these days. Many businesses have it built into their philosophy where employees are paid to donate time for a cause, where corporate sponsorship, business-lead fundraising (think of 5km runs for cancer, walks for muscular dystrophy etc.) are the norm. So how does this relate to parenting?

It comes down to mindset. Who comes to mind when you think of a philanthropist? You may think of Andrew Carnegie for which Carnegie Hall in New York City is named, or Bill Gates and his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. Both Carnegie and Gates were wise businessmen, set on amassing fortunes often before their generous spirit was sparked. The kind of philanthropy they and many who amass millions are associated with comes with brand or name recognition, and there’s nothing wrong with that, often a name helps attract and initiates further generosity, which is great. Carnegie believed his purpose (and that of industrialists) was to first accumulate wealth and to follow that by distributing the wealth to benevolent causes. In 2010, Bill and Melinda Gates, along with Warren Buffet launched the Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest to dedicate most of their wealth to philanthropy. Though I have certain issues with the Gates Foundation (why not make computers that don’t become obsolete is what many argue and I would agree), the Foundation does amazing work in so many fields across the globe. But what about your neighbor, who picks up two other kids from your street afterschool and looks after them, free of charge, until thier working parents come home? Take a look in the mirror. What about you?

Since working on a book on philanthropy with Gena Rotstein of Dexterity Ventures ( how I look at philanthropy and the work I do as a parent has been changing. I would’ve never thought myself a philanthropist before. Sure, I’ve donated dollars to support friends and colleagues in their donation pledges and I’ve run in a number of charity runs, but that wasn’t philanthropy, or so I though. It counts of course, but in my mind that wasn’t real philanthropy. The writing I’ve been doing with Gena Rotstein has been about actualizing what philanthropy can glean from a business – asking questions, having a goal and strong vision, being accountable – these are just a few business applications that are reshaping the landscape of philanthropy and have reshaped how I began to look at parenting as a kind of philanthropy. I’m donating LOTS of time and energy to raising a decent human being – one who is courteous, mindful, respectful, brave, thoughtful, inquisitive, playful, and innovative. This is not for personal gains alone. My son is going to outlive me of course, but before that his outreach is going to extend way beyond my personal world. Am I parenting so I can boast that he has manners and gets good grades? Not at all.

When you think about, it’s not a stretch, to see that when we engage in mindful parenting (and yes, that clause is important because I don’t think it’s applicable always, like when I let the TV run, I’m not being mindful though that’s ok too), aren’t we doing so “for the love of humankind?”

I’m not suggesting anything beyond opening up our minds to what parenting is. That in those tough moments when things don’t seem to being going right, when he’s not listening, when you are pressed for time and struggling to find patience to be kind when your kid is shouting no at you and you strive to look beyond the scene playing out in front of you. Think of me. Think of your neighbours. Think of your children’s future acquaintances. Go beyond that scene, take a breath and then respond. What happens when you think, this is not about me, or him, but how can I act here, now, that will change our future interactions for the better? This is philanthropy at it’s core – generating time, a huge dose of patience to practice asking how your actions can move beyond solving the immediate to solving the immediate AND effecting change in the future. Sounds pretty great doesn’t it? You act in a way that gets you out of a bind but is also generous to everyone else around you by engaging with your child in a way that suggests accountable actions (both yours and his) in the future. It’s a pretty great investment. It’s hard to see it like that sometimes, but it’s helped me in some of those moments and I offer it here, as possibly helping you step beyond a tense scene for a great cause: for you, your child, for me. For the love of humankind.


*For more doses of the philanthropist mindset Kim is starting a Daily Donation on her blog where you can find generous spirit motivators useful to parents and non-parents alike and information on various charities doing work in all realms of outreach that have to do with our future: children.


What parenting an infant can teach us about social justice.

The Nights I Get Things Right


My son is a toddler. Two and a half years old. I refuse to call it the ‘terrible twos’, and instead call it the “trying twos” as a reminder of what we’re all experiencing. It’s a trying time for him – to carve his place in this world, and trying for us parents – to be patient and compassionate and to stay out the way when the urge is to ‘complete the task’ or soothe the tears. It’s okay to cry, and sometimes, it’s ok to let that be, or to soothe.

I call it the ‘trying twos’ because when you flip the script you also alter that old saying and knock it on its side.

What parenting an infant can teach us about social justice.

About a week had passed and my son and I were stuck in a rut. There were nightly tears when I stopped our playtime and said it was time for bed. I read and attempt to practice RIE (Resources for Infant Educators) and mindful parenting. I often turn to the founder of RIE Magda Gerber’s wisdom when I’m stuck in a parenting moment and yet here I’d let almost an entire week pass. I’ve done my best at creating ‘yes’ spaces and I talk with my toddler in a conversation of adult emotional albeit simplified, detail. For some reason though, these ideas are hard to incorporate when I’m overly tired, or stressed, or in a hurry. It’s as though I’m hardwired to dictate as a parent (time to do this, let’s go, hurry up) and it takes real effort to think before I act and speak with the kindness I want us all to share with each other.

The night things really came together, I played with him, spoke to him and let him know that soon, after the ‘train ride’ we were on, we would tidy up and head upstairs to read, have a bath and go to sleep. He listened. He went to sleep that night without having cried, without whining, without telling me to lie down beside him, and I tuned into the news of the day – another mass shooting in America.

Fourteen dead. The same number of women killed by Marc Lépine at the École Polytechnique December 6th, 1989. Lépine claimed he was “fighting feminism.” Fourteen. The number I would explain to my child as an actor in a high school docudrama performed in 1990, when asked, “How many is fourteen?” “One plus one plus one plus one..” and so on, I replied. The impact of Lépine’s actions has never left me. And now, twenty-six years later, I’m wondering how I will explain any number of deaths to my son. Deaths by guns.

The nights I get things right, are the nights I think twice about raising my voice, when inside there is turmoil and rage for wanting things ‘to run smoothly’ to, ‘go as planned’. Parenting, like so many lessons in life, continues to ask me to slow down, to be present. Parenting asks me to let go of the lists and plans in my head, to be open and willing and accept the present state of not knowing and play.

“There are steps we can take to make America safer,” American President Obama said after the shootings in San Bernardino on Wednesday December 2nd, 2015. He didn’t suggest what those steps are though; he is perhaps not able to be so honest as to what it will really take. It will take a lot of courage in educating ourselves and our children to be strong, emotional, supportive and understanding beings for each other.

The nights I get things right, I am a very present parent, focused on listening and guiding with kindness. I still get things done, not through pleading or begging, or saying it’s so, but by listening, supporting, laughing and slowing down. Owning a gun if you live off the land, are a farmer, a rancher, or a law enforcer, makes sense. Otherwise owning a gun is nothing but a sign of fear. We can all be intimidated by the notion of other at some time. It is indeed, a whopping of an emotion. Think about how you felt when you met someone you really liked. There was an element of fear there. Of nervous energy about the unknown. Or that first time you played a sport, rode a bike, got on a plane, ate bugs.. insert whatever you want here, fear is a naturally occurring emotion. Does owning a gun erase your fear? No.

It’s hard to listen when you are afraid. It’s hard to listen when you ultimately disagree. It’s hard to listen when you don’t understand what someone is going through, is trying to say, or is speaking a different language. It’s really hard to listen with a gun in your hand. A gun in your hand closes your ears and your heart.

How can we disagree in our beliefs, in our religions, and still stand beside one another? A gun ends a conversation before it begins. One of things that RIE encourages is creating a safe space, a yes space for infants and children to walk/lie/climb and play without restrictions. No sharp edges, nothing that will spark an adult to say ‘no, put that down’ or ‘don’t touch that’. We do this, I think, to instill a safety that allows for uninhibited play and learning that embodies a sense of well being that hopefully paves a path to inspired, intelligent, emotionally open adults. How can we create this kind of space and build communities with guns hanging out of our pockets? Guns that shut people up. Guns that say, I have more power than you, when really all that gun is saying is, I am so afraid. I am afraid, listen to me. I am afraid.

How can we create communities where we put an ounce of understanding and acceptance in each other’s minds instead of bullets in one another’s hearts?

The nights I get things right, are nights I will continue to strive for. As a mother of a son I will do my best to ‘get it right’ by allowing for any anger or fear, or rage be heard and understood in a way that encourages open palms and the word yes instead of no. Words that take what a gun represents, all that violence and fear and says, ok, I hear you. Let’s flip it, let’s somehow try to make something work and live, let’s live for fuck’s sake, together.

Great ideas for putting the phone down and being present with your kids.

Ring the alarm: The Phone is on


I’m calling it CPADD – cell phone attention deficit disorder and I’m guilty of it. Are you?

I like to think I am pretty good at being present. I’m a good listener. I can shut the world out and focus on a task. I play with my son. I do yoga. I read. Books and articles start to end. I do breathing exercises while sitting in heinous traffic jams.

So why can’t I put down the phone when I’m at home? Why do I need to bring it to the park? It has a camera right? For safety, ah ha. Why do I need to have my phone in my line of vision for 80% of my day?

Great ideas for putting the phone down and being present with your kids.


In my city, using a cell phone while driving is illegal. Distracted driving comes with a fine of $400, a potential court fee, a potential fine of $1000 if you receive a summons or fight your ticket and three demerit points applied to your driver’s record (we have a total of 6 points). Our governing bodies have had to police hand held use in vehicles yet every day you can see people using their phones in their car. What is it about our nature to want to be everywhere all the time? Why do we feel the need to respond to emails/texts/call immediately? What is it about the present that is so daunting that we need to escape it?

Something that resonates with me from my travels in Northern Canada is the idea of sitting silence. To paraphrase a dear friend of mine, Paul Andrew, “learning to sit in silence and be with yourself is a great challenge, but offers great rewards.”

We all have tasks and needs that require our attention, of course. But since I’m not in a profession that demand that I be ‘on call’, why can’t I put away my phone when I’m parenting my son? Why can’t I be present in extended moments of time with the people I’m closest to?

Since I’m the only one who can change my CPADD as I’ve yet to hear of a law for distracted parenting, I’m putting myself on a challenge and calling out to others who want to join me in opening even just a small part of the day to be cell-phone free. There’s a basket that sits in our front hallway that acts as a catch all for keys, mail, lip balm, sunglasses. And it’s now officially been made my free zone. The place where I drop my phone when I get home that allows for two things: one, my phone has a place to be out of my sight and reach and two, I can be present with my family for the precious hours in the day we have together.

It’s a challenge, for sure. But just when the urge to reach out and see what is going on ‘out there’ creeps in, I tune in to a softer inner voice, that of Paul reminding me of the rewards to sitting silence. Of being present, of parenting as best I can, in play and in guiding, in the sound of wind or music or laughter and tears in the playground or at home that need nothing more then my acknowledgment and being. Hands free.

How do I know it is time to wean?

On Breastfeeding, Bonding and Weaning


I’m eating cold chicken fried rice from a takeout container in the light of the fridge; door left open with me staring into the shelves like some culinary masterpiece will present itself. It’s almost midnight and I’ve just been lying on the grass outside with a dear old friend who is visiting from Israel. I get to see her once a year, her arrival marked in the calendar as soon as she books her flight. Tonight was just about us – I left my two-year-old at home with papa for the routine of bath, books and bed. I was free from that and free from the more-usual-than-not back and forth my son and I have over breastfeeding.

How do I know it is time to wean?

Like teenagers, my friend and I lay in the grass watching the clouds pass overhead, stars twinkling above us, not a care in the world. Since we both have children this is far from our reality. We care, about so many, too many little things. Tonight thought, was soul nourishing – conversation that had nothing to do with diapers and education and the potentially controversial topic of my breasts still being used to nourish and soothe my son.

I feel aligned with photographer Jade Bell, in her strength in allowing the relationship with her son prevail over anything else. I tell myself that my son and I will be done with the “booboo” routine by the age of three and the pictures of Jade nursing her 3 year old son don’t confirm or change this thought, I’m simply thinking (as perhaps Jade did too) that for sure by then the dance will end.

Days can pass without nursing my son. We get through bedtime without him asking, he cries and he’s comforted simply with a hug. But just when I think we are done with it for good, he asks for it. I rationalize. I debate. I suggest alternatives to him but so far, I’ve continued to concede to the desire of my 25-month old. Some days I love it. Some nights, it drives me mad with rage that he’s asking. Shouldn’t this be done by now? I want my breasts back! Am I preventing independence by indulging him?

Weaning comes with variances and styles. Phase the breast out, offer milk. Have someone else do the nighttime routines. Just stop. The first day will be hell, really hell, but by day three you’ll be laughing. Go away for a few nights – he won’t want it when you return.

I’ve spent a great deal of time wondering what the ‘right’ method is and I’ve come to this: I will only know when I know. When I’m either too tired or mad by the idea of breastfeeding or when I do take that 48-hour self-care reprieve I so desire, it will end. Some may argue that it’s laziness or co-dependent to let our breastfeeding routine continue and the truth is it’s personal and quite frankly, nobody’s business. It’s not ‘right’ to wean at 3 months or 6 or 12 or 18 months. It’s not ‘wrong’ to be breastfeeding a child at three. The more I’ve had to sit with this, this who-knows from one day to the next if he’ll ask, the more I’ve actually let go of any rules I read about parenting and really tuned into the personal needs of my son. He will succeed at potty training when he does. He moved into a bed from a crib easily at 18 months. Some days he likes broccoli, most days he does not. I’m not being entirely indulgent with him. We talk about it ending; I think he understands that it’s winding down. Like Jade Bell I don’t breastfeed in public anymore, it’s just not something I want to do.

I also understand that he’s my little guy, and he doesn’t take a soother or suck his thumb and maybe this is just our little thing, our gift of lingering in the tender skin on skin moments that trace back to his first breathe in this world. I feel lucky (and a bit surprised) that I’ve been able to continue to breastfeed.

After I finished eating cold take out I stayed up and wrote until 1am. The alarm went off at 5am in my bedroom, my son coming to cuddle shortly after that. The visit with my distant girlfriend is so cherished, lying on the grass that evening even more so. I won’t forget it for a long time – it was so freeing to lie there, late as it was. Admitting to being famished afterward and standing in front of the fridge simple means I’m human. I feel similarly about breastfeeding – me eating cold take one night and me ‘extended breastfeeding’ my son is so very private, and makes me neither a terrible or grand person. My son will one day know when he’s done, I trust that with our continued discussions and his emotional growth, it will one day be like watching the clouds pass over the stars and the feeling of grass on my back on a warm July day – an image that brings happiness. Ruminations of bonding with my son. Tender and loving. I won’t remember the exact day he stops nursing, unless I mark it down, and I doubt I will. That’s too methodical. I’d rather mark the milestones of growth with sweet nights that pass into memory with fondness.

Teaching our kids to be kind takes constant work

Cultivating Kindness with Dirt


It was a sunny day, warm but not hot – the perfect day for gardening. My two-year old son had a variety of things to keep him occupied – diggers and tractors, a rubber ball on stand-by for when the trucks lost their appeal. I dug the trowel into the earth and began loosening the soil, cultivating the ground in order to transplant my overabundant irises.

Teaching our kids to be kind takes constant work

A rock landed in the iris next to me. “We don’t throw rocks,” I said. “We throw balls.” This had become my default secondary sentence after something other than a ball was thrown. The rocks kept landing next to me. I repeated myself a few more times before I embraced the futility of my words. I put down my trowel, took off my gardening gloves and walked over to the rock bed. How could I teach him not to throw rocks when the rocks were so tempting? Shiny bits of quartz peaked through the rose tinged stones, there was such variety of shades and sizes, some smooth, others mottled and rough. There were rocks from the beach that we’ve collected and brought home and there was the odd piece of beach glass dumped into the pile from the jar of once-treasured pieces stowed away in a jar full of water. Squinting while staring at a piece of smooth opaque pale green glass it became clear that tractors and balls were no match for these minerals. I looked around. What could be more appealing then rocks? Dirt of course.

Armed with a shovel and pail I asked my son to help me garden. He abandoned the rock bed and ran. Before I let him dig we walked the garden’s perimeter touching and smelling leaves and flowers. We’d done this before and he always smiled when I rubbed my hands in the lavender and brought them to his face. I repeated gentle when he reached out to touch the leaves and petals.

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 9.24.07 PMAs he scratched at the soil I uprooted one of the irises. He immediately came to play in the empty hole. Certain words are often on the tip of my tongue – the don’ts, the be careful’s – words that make me roll my eyes at myself as I’m saying them. I swallowed. I said nothing and watched him sift and sort, dirt spilling onto the path. I encouraged him as I worked, telling him we were making new homes for the plants to live. I planted. He played. I left the hole where that first iris had stood and told him it was his. He didn’t throw another rock. That day.

It must be confusing, learning when we can and cannot throw since we skip stones on water, and stones themselves are ball-like. He likes to throw rocks, sometimes. Don’t all kids? I can redirect, distract, divert, and satisfying the senses by playing with dirt, with water, or muck. We have years of this playful activity ahead of us – him throwing rocks and me repeating the word gently as we touch and sniff at the plants and flowers the pepper our land. “Gently” he said, pulling at the tall thin leaves of daffodils like he would a cat’s tail at first. His grip loosened, I could see the ease in his hands and a fanning out of the leaves.

Kindness is not learned overnight. Just like a garden that needs to be tended, teaching my son healthy relationships with humans and plants and animals and even abstract things like emotions, requires the same work as cultivating fertile soil. You can neglect it, and weeds will creep in. There’s no guarantee that my son will always be thoughtful, just as from one year to the next a garden will yield more flowers or less depending on a number of factors, not just attention to the soil. But I can remind and guide and be gentle.

My partner’s mother used to say to him, ‘gently and with kindness’ when he was frustrated or about to argue. He’s listened, because he is often the first to say those exact words when we find ourselves stretched, overtired, at the tipping point of fiery words with each other or our son. Playing in the earth is gratifying on so many levels – being in touch with our physical environment, being outside, being focused and present, paying attention to the bugs and butterflies that share this world. Planting food brings gardening to another heightened level – one that keeps us tied to the health of our planet, which of course ties into the health of humankind. It slows us down and brings our awareness to just how minute we are in the universe. If it can allow for a pause, for my son to break from his instinct and desire to throw, then bring on the mud. Stains are easier to overcome than bruises.