When I first embarked upon the journey to become a foster parent, I spent a lot of time thinking about the impact it would have on my life. I knew I would need support, especially as a single mama, and though I believed my family and friends would provide that support, the reality has been even beyond my expectations.

But, I’ve also been on the receiving end of some hurtful comments. I’m not talking about the really ignorant comments, though I’ve heard my share of those as well. Instead, I’m talking about the things that otherwise helpful people say, that are unintentionally painful. With that in mind, here are a few things to say to your friend or family member who has decided to be a foster parent, along with a few things not to say.

Don’t Say:

“You’re crazy.”

In all fairness, I know that this is sometimes said in jest, and sometimes, I’m more than happy to own up to the label. This way of life, this calling, isn’t for everyone and I understand that. But couldn’t that also be said of so many different callings, so many different ways that people serve? I can’t fathom a job as a preschool teacher, but I am so glad that there are other people who do enjoy that, who pursue that line of work or volunteer in that capacity. We all give back in different ways.

“You’re a saint.”

Trust me, I’m not. I won’t deny this work is hard, but there are a lot of other people in the world doing hard (or even harder) things. And frankly? Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m doing it very well. If you put me on a pedestal, it’s all the harder for me to be honest with you when I screw things up.

Do Say:

“Can I hold the baby? Or, can your family come over for dinner?”

As a foster mom, I want my friends and family to become as invested in my foster kids as they are in my more-permanent kids. Don’t hold back because they might only be with me for a short while. Invite us over for dinner, no matter what kind of behaviors and challenges come with that. Be a safe place where I don’t have to worry about over-managing my kids. Accept us with all our mess.

“Call me if you need to vent. No judgement.”

Sometimes, when I’m adjusting to a new placement or dealing with challenging behaviors from one of my kids, I just need to talk things through. I’m not always looking for a solution. I just need someone to listen and, most importantly, not pass judgment. Parenting a kid from a hard place is exhausting, but sometimes I feel guilty talking about how hard it is, when I know the trauma my kids have experienced is so much worse. Let me be vulnerable with you and admit when things are tough.

“You support them, I’ll support you.”

I teared up when a friend of mine told me her loved one had said this to her, after witnessing both a great and a really tough day. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is especially important for people fostering as a single parent, without a partner. Telling me you’ve got my back goes a long way.

“You Can Do This.”

In the end, what most foster parents need is straightforward encouragement. Tell me that not every moment will seem as impossible as this one moment when I’m breaking down. Point out the resources I have and the progress we’ve made. This job is overwhelming, even on the best days, and sometimes I just need a reminder that I can do it.

Experienced foster parents, what would you add? What things have friends and family said to you that have been especially helpful and supportive?