If you told me, “You signed up for this …” you wouldn’t be wrong. Heck, I’ve even said it to myself. But it truly is a crap response to someone’s pain.
Last week, a lawyer involved in our foster child’s case decided to hold court. We were neither invited nor welcome. And the judge’s ruling had major repercussions on the day-to-day life of our family.
I’m not going to lie. I’ve been angry this week as we flesh out what this means. In eight years of fostering, we’ve never encountered this encroachment on what I previously understood to be my untouchable right.
I cannot help but think, “I did not sign up for this.”
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.
As thousands of troops deploy, and families are saying an unexpected good-bye to their loved ones hoping that one day they’ll get to say hello again, I imagine they too are saying, “We didn’t sign up for this.”
Technically speaking, in both instances, yes — we did.
We signed up to serve. And to lay our lives down. We signed up to be inconvenienced. And to give other people significantly more control over our lives than we want.
And I can see how tempting it is for you to see our discomfort and want to say, “You signed up for this.” Because as long as we signed up for it, our pain doesn’t quite feel as scary to you. It’s easier to think we somehow brought the unfortunate circumstances on ourselves.
Let’s be clear, “You signed up for this” is a crap response. But I can’t blame you for saying it.
Because I probably say it to myself more than any of you have voiced these words to me. And you have probably thought it about your own experience more than you’ve expressed it to others.
I shouldn’t be so upset … we think. I shouldn’t hurt this badly … I shouldn’t grieve what this cost me and my family … because I signed up for it.
These words offer the powerful illusion that as long as we consent, we should be able to handle anything that experience throws our way.
And when we believe that, we invalidate very real feelings from very real circumstances to protect our hearts from accepting that sometimes, life just hurts.
But the illusion doesn’t hold. Assigning blame or responsibility doesn’t alleviate my pain or yours.
It does, however, beg the question:
Do any of us truly know what we signed up for in life?
We readily accept a new job, not having any idea that the stress of that position will exhaust us emotionally, leaving little left to give our kids. Should we never vent about our frustration?
We apply for school and are excited when we get in. But that doesn’t mean that the late nights spent studying drain us physically and mentally. Should we just carry on stoically in spite of our very real exhaustion?
We love our significant other, and maybe even married that partner. But that doesn’t mean just because we chose this life, we are suddenly immune from the everyday annoyances like who does the dishes and takes out the trash. Or the larger issues of infidelity, lying, health crises, or financial strain. Should we always just be thankful, and nothing else, because we have a partner to do life with?
We had kids through birth, adoption or fostering. Maybe we’re prolifically fertile or we fought tooth and nail to have our family. Does that mean blowouts are less frustrating, picky eating less annoying, public tantrums less humiliating, or teenage defiance less terrifying? Does it make parenting easy?
Yes, we signed on the dotted line. We all took one step in front of the other to get us where we are today.
But that doesn’t mean we understood all that we were signing up for. It doesn’t mean that someone laid out all the consequences of that decision before us, where we were able to consent to every little clause.
So the next time you think, “But you signed up for this,” ask yourself instead …
What discomfort am I trying to avoid? Whose feelings am I invalidating? And why am I afraid to face the pain?
And then choose to respond in a way validates that life is sometimes hard … no matter what we signed up for. (If you still can’t think of anything to say, a simple “This sucks” will suffice.)