I became a mother at 29. Within six years, I had 16 children.

Today, only one calls me “mommy” every day.

But the other 15 hold special places in my heart and prayers.

I’m a foster parent. But, most importantly, I am a mom.

This month, we dedicated a special day to celebrate all mothers. But May brings more than Mother’s Day. It’s also Foster Care Appreciation Month. And this commemoration means just as much as the second Sunday in May.

It means the nation has a glimpse into the tragedies and the hope happening every day. We’ll see stories about amazing children in foster care, about families who welcome kids into their homes to love them, encourage them, nurture them.

But I hope this month also brings empathy and encouragement for the families who made a mistake and deeply want to bring their children safely back home.

Because, as a foster mom, my heart has room for my children’s parents as well. I love these kids – and I know their parents do, too.

For the majority of kids – more than 70 percent – neglect, not abuse brought them into foster care. Their parents were overwhelmed with too many personal battles to provide the care their kids needed … but, with the right support, many can overcome those challenges.

That’s why I invite you to look at the other side of fostering … one rarely seen:

I vividly remember sitting in my baby’s room, carefully opening several bags his mother delicately packed. Baby wash, diaper cream, little blue and red cars. Carefully folded clothes. A thoughtful tote filled with mac and cheese, cinnamon buns, Life cereal … what I later learned were his favorite foods.

I cried.

I cried for this mother, this woman who clearly loved her child, who wanted to make sure he had the familiarity of home.

I prayed for this mother. I prayed she would find strength, courage and determination to conquer her battles and bring her baby back home.

I cried for this baby. This baby who had already known turmoil and instability yet burst with joy. This baby who had so much love – from two families – yet would live in uncertainty for a little while.

Fostering is hard.

Loving another mother’s child – it’s easy. Saying goodbye … every time brings tears.

But there’s hope mixed with the sadness. Hope that, because you chose to care, because you chose to love the entire family, that child will have peace. That family will have strength. And that child will know nothing other than love and acceptance.

If you know someone who fosters, offer support. Offer a hug. Offer dinner.

If you want to be part of something amazing, something bigger than yourself, something life-changing, become a foster parent.

If you think your heart will break, then you’re the one those kids need. A dear friend of mine once reminded me, “The day you stop crying when they leave is the day you need to quit fostering.”

Safe to say, I’ll be doing this for a while. Not for me. But for Central Florida’s children – and their families.

With more than 20,000 Florida kids in foster care, there will always be a need. You can be part of the solution. Contact Children’s Home Society of Florida to learn how you can make a difference.