The Five Rules of Engagement Apply to Everything!

by Mary Ann on June 29, 2010

Don and I a “few” years ago

A few days before our daughter’s wedding my husband came to talk with me about what it would be like to be “empty nesters” after thirty nine years of parenting. To tell the truth I had thought a bit about that myself. I had worried about it because there is a phenomenon that occurs to those married for a long time called “parallel lives”. It basically means that the two people, although they still love one another, develop two separate lives and they run alongside each other but rarely connect.

I was reminded about this phenomenon recently. There is an older couple in our church and she and I were visiting. My husband and I would like to go on a mission for our church and she and her husband have done that. So she was telling about their experience. She said that the most difficult thing that they had to adjust to was being together all day, every day, for two years. When I questioned her about that she mentioned their parallel lives. She did her thing and he did his and although they lived together they were living two different lives. YIKES!Consequently, as my youngest daughters wedding drew near, I began to think more and more about that. What I didn’t know was that my husband was also thinking about it and with good reason. Over the last few years we have each developed a business which takes us away from home and also puts us in front of the computer for significant periods of time. We had stopped fishing and camping together. We were really busy doing our own thing.

The big question was how to change the direction that we seemed to be heading. My husband had some good ideas. He wanted us to walk together each day in the evening and then read a book together at nine pm. That sounded really nice to me. So we determined to give it a go. A few days after our daughters wedding we started in.

We walked for a few evenings and read for a couple. Then there was a large gap in our consistency. We still let work interfere in our new plan. Now Don and I realize that this plan is more important than either of our businesses. We have been married for thirty nine years and we like each other a lot. We want to stay close and really have a life together. However, things haven’t gone as planned!!

I have been giving that a good deal of thought. Why is it that when we have something that we know matters a great deal we still let

Don and I in Trinidad, CA. Just the two of us!

things that don’t matter as much steal our time, resources and energy. I see it happen all the time with parents who I work with. They leave my class excited and anxious to go home and create magical learning experiences and spaces for their children. They have whole heartedly embraced the idea of inspire not require. Yet two weeks later many find themselves still in the thought stage, never having created anything. As I have said before as the time passes good intentions turn into apathy, apathy reverts to old habits, and old habits become guilt.

I could see that Don and I were heading right into that trap. I reviewed what I know about transitioning from a class or new knowledge into action towards change and I also realized that we hadn’t put theFive Rules of Engagement into effect. I know from experience that if we don’t we will not see the success that we want to see. So what are the Five Rules?

1.  Structure time and be consistent. Sometimes we want to believe that if it is important we don’t need to schedule it, we will do it because it is important. My experience has demonstrated that that just isn’t true. If we don’t set a time for it then other less important things can and will get in the way. Now Don and I had sort of decided that we would walk in the evening and then read at 9 but we hadn’t committed to that. We had not decided that that was sacred time and that we were going to honor it because we love each other and we want a different outcome than we might otherwise get.

We also weren’t being consistent. Even though we had set a time of sorts, we would let “just this once” happen, which of course would then become two days or more and so on.  When you are serious about using The Spark Station or having a family reading time, devotional, family night or activity night, weekly planning meeting, monthly fishing trip or yearly reunion, or whatever else you might come up with to create solidarity and a good feeling in your home, then you have to set a time, consider it almost sacred and then be consistent. Success really does hinge on this.

2.  Some times either Don or I wouldn’t really be present. I would be thinking about all that I needed to do or he would be wondering how his business was going. We weren’t focusing on each other and what we were doing together. The truth is it isn’t about whether we read or walk or any other activity. It is about being with each other fully, our whole mind and focus. I would rather have thirty minutes with Don when I know we are really communicating and enjoying one another’s company than two hours when either of us is mentally somewhere else.

I know that is true for children. Parents who really take this counsel to heart are always surprised by their children’s reactions. They are surprised to find that what is in The Spark Station can’t hold a candle to what is in a parents mind and heart. Our families want our time and our focus. They don’t want to be just another job to tick off our list or another encumbrance in an already busy day. So pick a time, be consistent and then stay present.

3.  Because Don and I walk only a few times a week and read for only a short time each day it is really special. If there is an open moment earlier we don’t plug these activities into that time. Anything that doesn’t happen whenever, but happens only at certain times, becomes special. You can think of many examples, holidays, a weekly date or a weekly trip to the library. It is great to have some activities and events that don’t happen all the time but only at certain times. That keeps them special.

Here is something else that I know from personal experience. Traditions, those events and activities which are like glue in a family, become traditions over time. We can’t implement something and expect it to become indispensible in a couple of months. As we persevere with a new activity or event it takes on that “we really want it in our family” quality, it becomes a tradition. So when Don and I have been walking and reading together for one, three or five years we won’t be able to imagine not doing it. It will become part of who we are, part of the fabric of our relationship.

When we are talking about The Spark Station or learning time in our families, evening reading, the monthly field trip, family prayer, or the evening meal, the principle is the same.  When you schedule time, are consistent and stay present these family activities become traditions, part of the fabric of your family. They can help bond and hold your family together.

4.  When Don and I decided to do these two new activities we had to also decide to take some activities out. Don usually works from 5-10 pm on his home based business. That took some rethinking on his part to determine how he could restructure his schedule. I usually work until whenever I decide to go to bed. I am a work-aholic of sorts. I had to make some mental adjustments to decide to “rest and relax” which are what reading and walking mean to me.

When ever you add an activity to your schedule you need to look at taking something else out. Keep it simple. Most of us are too busy as it is. If we just squeeze things together so we can force one more “good thing” into our schedule we most likely will find it difficult, if not impossible, to stay consistent, to not let it drop by the way side.

When I teach about The Spark Station I remind parents that no one can or will engage well in a mess or chaos. If our Spark Station is too full to find anything or to put things back children will avoid it. That is also true of our family schedules. If we are so busy running from one “good thing” to another then everyone feels stressed, tired, and eventually we quit doing the things that matter most. So if you put something in, take something else out.

5.  The last of the Five Rules will really help Don and I, weekly planning. There are always things that come up in life. Don and I need to coordinate our schedules each week. We need to know what might conflict with what we really want to do, read and walk. Then we can decide if that conflict is really something that must interfere or something that can be dropped or rescheduled. If we don’t plan we will always defer to what seems the most immediate in importance.


This is true with all family activities and traditions. You have to plan ahead and know what is coming. In terms of The Spark Station you have to know ahead of time what it is that you want to inspire your children with and how you can best do that. If you wait until your set family learning time to plan it is just not going to happen and then your Spark Station becomes stagnant and unexciting.

Planning doesn’t have to take huge amounts of time. Planning is best with a spouse if you can. I joke with my clients that their weekly planning can be the first thirty minutes after they go to bed on Thursday night. Just know that to have success in any long term endeavor you are going to have to plan.

Now that I have reminded myself of what will help Don and I be more successful in crafting the next few years of our lives alone I am excited. I can visualize quiet evenings, warm conversations, stimulating new thoughts and hands held. I look forward to this new time, this “empty nest” time and being with the person I love best. I know that as we keep the Five Rules, have real intent to succeed and are consistent in our efforts we will succeed. You can too in whatever you want to implement in your family. You can do this!!

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