Ask most foster parents if what they do is hard, and they’ll probably tell you that it’s one of the hardest things they’ve ever done. It’s true – this job can be demanding physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Here are three times it was especially difficult for me and what I learned from them.

When I said no to a placement

I had only been fostering for a few months when my social worker called me and asked me about taking another placement. She knew it was a long shot since the child was outside of the age range I was initially willing to accept. Unlike most placements, it wasn’t an urgent situation, so I could take some time to think about it and discuss it with my family. In the end, I said no, because I believed that the child wasn’t the right fit for our family. Even though I was sure this was the right answer, I still struggled with guilt. What if there were no other options? How could I say no to a child who needs me?

Now, several years and many placements later, I’ve learned that no one is served when I say yes to something I can’t handle. If someone asks me to consider something, I do, but I know myself and my family better than anyone, and I have a responsibility to do what is best for all of us. Plus, foster kids deserve the very best we can give them, and sometimes that isn’t me.

When I said yes to a placement

I feel a special calling to foster care, so there is always some excitement when I get a call about a new placement. That is always tempered with grief at the trauma that the child is experiencing. Throw in anger and frustration, and the emotional whiplash alone is tiring. And then there are the physical demands on my time and the struggle to settle in and figure out new routines while maintaining some semblance of normalcy for those who already live here. It’s exhausting, and sometimes it means hunkering down in survival mode for a little while. I’ve learned, though, that this is temporary, and soon enough everything will feel a little more possible. I’ve also learned to embrace the times in between (sometimes to get things done, and sometimes just to rest).

When my foster child was reunified with his parent

I worried for a while that having to hand over the child I had loved, whom I had secretly dreamed of adopting, would break me. There was an enormous tension between what my head knew was best, and what my heart wanted to be best. I worried for his safety, I struggled to process my own emotions, and I felt guilty for the grief I had brought to my family. That was my first placement, and it certainly wasn’t the last goodbye I’ve had to say. Each one is difficult in its own way, but I’ve learned that it’s possible to do hard things and get up and do them again.

I don’t know anyone who signs up to be a foster parent believing it will be easy. It is a difficult journey, but it’s definitely worth it.