How do you make, keep and break agreements with care?

A recent article from Hand in Hand Parenting is an example of a parent connecting to her child when her little one decides she doesn’t want to clean her room after playing.

This article reminds me of times when I’ve been patient with myself and my child. I listened, considered and aligned myself with all our needs including my desire to clean the room, and creatively agreed on ways to meet all our needs.

It also reminds me of the times when I didn’t have the capacity to stay patient. Instead, out of urgency and fear, I raised my voice instead and used force to get that room cleaned.

Of course, I like it best when I’m patient and remember to breathe so I have the capacity for empathy. Not only does that generally mean that I’ve taken better care of myself so I’m more open and imaginative, but I also like what agreements we come up with as a result. I’m a more effective leader. I can draw out my kids’ creativity too. I trust that tasks will get done because each person, young and old, decides what they are willing to contribute.

Note: I emphasize “willing” which does not necessarily mean being overly excited to do something because it’s fun. Who’s going to feel excited about taking out the garbage or cleaning up cat puke? However, cleaning up means we can find the things we’re looking for and we feel less slimy.

When the alternative is yelling or trying to make my kids do something, the chances of them doing it is about 1 in 100. Even if they do, they’ll resent it and resent me rather than taking responsibility. Their hearts and minds are just not into it. Hey. I totally get that. When I can connect to the “why” I’m doing something, I’m more likely to do it. Those are the kinds of agreements I like to make. You follow me?


It seems empathy and listening are key ingredients to aligning ourselves with our intentions and motivations and making agreements with care.

The problem is, no one is going to encourage us to do that. Not with our fast-paced lifestyles.

No one is going to stand by you, hold your hand, and help you to breathe while your kid tells you he ain’t gonna clean his room and you can’t make him.



Wondering what empathy is?


I experience empathy when I’m a companion with another person; that is, walking alongside another, sharing stories and their meaning with curiosity and acceptance. In those moments it feels dreamy and spacious for me. I can usually tell we’re following each other through our eyes, using no words at all. I’m open and find it hard to tell who is sharing and who is receiving. It’s a rich place of understanding where we can both share what’s important to each of us. It’s a great place to move forward from because we’ve taken the time to gather information about what we’re motivated by and what we care about. Sometimes it’s delightful just to be present like that. I feel so loving and I like as much loving as I can get.

Other times, I might like to guess at another person’s feelings and needs to check I get where they’re coming from and to be sure I heard them the way they wanted me to hear them. Sometimes, I enjoy hearing another’s reflections and impressions of what I said so that I can hear my thoughts again. That helps me to organize my thoughts so I can figure out what to do next.


Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication once said, “Empathy, I would say is presence. Pure presence to what is alive in a person at this moment, bringing nothing in from the past. The more you know a person, the harder empathy is. The more you have studied psychology, the harder empathy really is. Because you can bring no thinking in from the past. If you surf, you’d be better at empathy because you will have built into your body what it is about. Being present and getting in with the energy that is coming through you in the present. It is not a mental understanding.”

He was asked, “Is it speaking from the heart?”

Rosenberg replied, “What? Empathy? In empathy, you don’t speak at all. You speak with the eyes. You speak with the body. If you say any words at all, it’s because you are not sure you are with the person. So you may say some words. But the words are not empathy. Empathy is when the other person feels the connection to with what’s alive in you.”


Getting back to our topic about keeping agreements, I bet you’re wondering about those times when our children completely forget they made an agreement or didn’t mean to say they’d do something. Boy! Those times sure do stretch my patience. You too?


My blood starts to boil when I hear my child say that she didn’t really make the agreement because she wasn’t paying attention. She was playing and didn’t even hear what I asked her to do. Although I appreciate her honesty, I take a breathe before I say something I regret. Can you relate?

I say “yes” automatically without even knowing what I’m saying “yes” to.

I couldn’t blame her. In this case, staying in dialogue is really challenging for me but it stretches me to grow and understand and gives us both a chance to describe why cleaning or not cleaning the room is important to each of us. Mostly our personal expressions of order, cleanliness, beauty and safety are important to us. The last time we stayed in dialogue, we reached a compromise we both felt good about. This incident also reminds me to get someone’s attention and eye contact before I make requests or share information. Otherwise, I’m not in dialogue. I’m just monologuing.


As for breaking agreements with care?

Hey, it happens to us all. We think we can do something and make a commitment. Then, something comes up that we didn’t expect.

Most people want acknowledgment of the impact a change in plans makes on them. Maybe it’s no big deal and the new plans are just as good as the first ones. Sometimes, there is a feeling of loss and hurt as a result of the change.

Empathy works well here too. Acknowledging the impact is always a good thing. It’s akin to saying “sorry” but meaning it.

Even when we can’t meet our needs, we can acknowledge the grief of not getting what we hoped for. Then, we can decide what to do next. That’s one way to show that we care about each other.


Simple. Not easy. I admit.

Certainly, I don’t do this all the time but it sure nurtures me and my relationships when I do. Judging by my kids’ requests of me and how they so freely express what’s important to them, I’m guessing my partner and I do it more often than not. I feel proud of that. That’s why I thought I’d share my thoughts on making, keeping, and breaking agreements with care today.


What do you think?

How do you make, keep, and break agreements with care?

Why do you think this is important, if you do?




About Wendy McDonnell

2 Responses to “How do you make, keep and break agreements with care?”

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  1. Ceska Brennan says:

    Wendy, hello. What a wonderful way to start the month. I can see value in this approach, not only with children, but with other adults as well. I think your family is very fortunate to have such a thoughtful mother. We all try of course, but I suspect you are more successful that most of us. Summer well, Ceska

  2. Thank you for your kind words Ceska. I’m so glad you enjoyed this article. Wishing you all the best.
    ((( hugs )))

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