Let’s be honest: there’s a lot about being a foster parent that is hard. The paperwork. The waiting. The invasion of privacy. The uncertainty. The gazillion visits. The decisions that make your stomach turn. The miscommunication. The missed work and lost sleep. The sad stories that haunt your dreams. And, yes, the heartbreak when a child leaves your home because you chose to connect and became “too attached.”

And still, I tell people that foster care is the hardest, best thing I have ever done. I’ve been a foster parent for almost exactly five years. During that time, five children have been placed in my home. Two of them became my children by adoption. Two of them moved on to another foster home that became their adoptive home. And one of them was reunified with a member of her family. I know these numbers don’t match the national statistics for foster care. But they match my experience.

And here’s what I know. Every single day of these five years, one thing has kept me going. One thing has helped me power through the hard and jump through the hoops to stay licensed. Those five faces. Those five living, breathing little people who deserve safety and hope and connection and love every bit as much as any other child in the world. Without a doubt, they are my “why.”

When I say that my favorite thing about being a foster parent is the children, this doesn’t mean that parenting them is easy. It’s not. Their stories are hard. Their losses are real. Their emotions are big (and sometimes scary). Their experiences have taught them that adults are unpredictable and not always safe. Their behavior can be challenging. They sometimes push away when all you want is to pull them close.

And still. These five children are the bravest, most resilient people I have ever met. Three of them I haven’t seen in a while. Two of them I tucked into bed tonight. I am better for having known each of them, having loved each of them. Of this there is no question.

There are over four hundred thousand children in foster care in the United States. The number is daunting. The truth remains: every single one of those children and teenagers has a face, a story. Every single one of them deserves a safe home, a sense of belonging, an opportunity to connect with adults who care about them.

Being a foster parent is not easy. Not even a little bit. But, hands down, the best thing about being a foster parent is the kids.