“Embrace the hardships as well as all the joy in this season of mothering; you’ve been given an incredible gift.”

As a brand-new mother, I took to heart this advice from a well-seasoned mom friend. It may have been unsolicited advice; however, I’ve learned that “unsolicited” certainly is not synonymous with “unhelpful.” In fact, I’ve received such an abundance of truly supportive advice from more experienced mothers that I now frequently solicit it myself.

In my short three years of being a mother, I’ve learned that motherhood can be lonely, hard, and exhausting, but also that the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. My daughter and son make me strive to be the best version of myself and are the biggest gifts in my life.

In contemplating exactly how motherhood has been a gift to me, I asked other moms—ranging in age from their twenties to their eighties—to share how their children have been blessings in their own lives. They shared with me how raising children is a sacrifice, an achievement, and, ultimately, a beautiful gift. In a society that often doesn’t recognize the beauty in motherhood or the gift of children’s lives, their answers filled me with inspiration, encouragement, and hope.

Motherhood can multiply one’s love and joy.

“When I married my husband, I was overwhelmed with how lucky and blessed I felt that this wonderful man LOVED ME,” shares Sara, a 33-year-old mother of three. “There was someone in the world who loved and wanted me above anyone else. I recently realized that, seven years later, there are now three MORE people in this world who love and want me above anyone else. Motherhood has multiplied how loved I am.”

“One of my greatest pleasures of motherhood was to see my own joy reflected in the eyes of my child,” shares Mary, a 77-year-old mother of five (and grandmother of 35!). “Whenever I helped a child to learn something new—to perfect a new skill, or perform a difficult task—I felt joy in his success. And when he looked into my face and saw my happiness and approval, his joy was magnified and reflected back to me. Whether he was playing a game like hide and seek, enjoying a book, or learning how to pull weeds, if I was doing it with him, his joy was doubled because I was sharing it with him. And his joy gave me joy.”

Mary went on to reflect on how this reciprocated joy blossoms into love. “The joy of your presence makes him know that he is loved. It’s the way I learned to give and receive love from my children, and they recognized that love. In this way, motherhood has helped me to understand how God loves each one of us personally. With each new child that has come into my life, a new life of love for that individual started growing. God loves each one of us because love is multiplied, never divided.”

Motherhood is both humbling and gratifying.

I know I’m not the first stay-at-home mom who’s been asked, “So what do you do all day?” Before having children, I too used to question just how difficult being a mom really was.

However, I now share the sentiments of one 34-year-old mother who admitted that “motherhood has given me a better understanding of my own mother. It saved me from a lifetime in the land of the smug. I judged my mom’s various failings very harshly, but now that I can see what she was dealing with, I think she did the best she could.”

Motherhood is certainly humbling, and it is often in this humility of recognizing that we are not completely in control that gratitude emerges. As another mother in her thirties shares: “I am just so amazed by pregnancy: a teeny, tiny human can grow inside of me and then be born into the world. Where there was nothing in my belly before (except maybe one too many brownies!), a little person comes to live and grow for nine months. It just amazes me, especially as someone who experienced infertility. I certainly will not take it for granted. I am so humbled by motherhood. It truly is a gift, and in pondering it, it leaves me in awe that I would be chosen to be the mother to my children.”

One 49-year-old mother of five shares, “The older my children get, and the more I see them becoming adults, realizing their God-given potential, I feel a great sense of gratitude. Learning God’s purpose for them is so beautiful to me. I love watching their lives evolve. They are each so unique! The time we have at home with our children is like an incubation period. . . . We love them, we equip them, with God’s help we help them know what matters most, and then we release them into the world. In my unworthiness I was given the gift of motherhood. Thank you God.”

Motherhood teaches us how to let go of circumstances outside our control.

If there is anything that I know about motherhood, it is that there is a lot that I don’t know—that is, how much is actually outside of my control. As a bit of a “recovering perfectionist,” I’ve had to learn that things might not always go according to plan when raising children—and that’s okay. In hearing the insights of other mothers, I found this same theme echoing repeatedly. I guess I’m not alone.

“My OCD, perfectionist personality is softened by the blessing of our children,” shares Shelley, a 53-year-old mother of four. “I’ve learned to ‘go with the flow,’ as well as a total dependence on God. I was always depending on MY ability to ‘make’ life happen in a predictable manner. The phrases ‘we will see’ and ‘it will work out’ are now a constant in my vocabulary!”

This increasing awareness of letting go of things outside of our control and trusting in God becomes even more apparent with mothers who have gone through particular hardships, as a 49-year-old mother named Kelly shares. “Even through the hard times, the gift of motherhood has, literally, saved my life. Becoming a widowed mother of three at the age of 36 showed me the abundant graces that God always has in store if we just trust.”

Kelly clarifies that trust doesn’t always take away the pain—or come easily. “By trust I don’t necessarily mean that I didn’t spend quite a few moments crying out in despair, but I still always had trust in God. Sometimes it was just trusting that I would get through all of us having the flu at the same time with no spouse for backup. After the storm was over, I knew God created me for motherhood. Now that I’m inching closer to having three grown children, it takes my breath away how very much I love the gift of motherhood.”

Motherhood teaches us about our priorities, our abilities, and ourselves.

“Before I married, I feared that marriage and motherhood meant ‘settling’ for a very normal and average life,” shares Marguerite, a 52-year-old mother of eight. “I had no idea that my children would be my biggest blessings and my greatest accomplishments. Raising children has been far harder, and therefore far more gratifying, than I ever imagined.”

Mothers have shared with me that, far from holding them back in life, their children end up shaping them more than they ever imagined—especially in hindsight. Mary, a 52-year-old mother of seven, shares: “When days were filled with the seemingly endless needs of small children, I probably didn’t have time to reflect on how their needs were shaping me. I think I was so worried about how I was shaping them! For example, teaching a child obedience over and over again can be so frustrating, but it sure did make me think about my actions. I learned quickly that you can’t teach a child not to yell if you’re yelling at them.”

And those hard-learned lessons pay off! “The rewards outweigh the trials,” says Mary. “The greatest part of being a mom is the love you get in return. A full circle gift that came back to me recently was when that once strong-willed child took care of me when I was in need. That was special!”

Having children helps mothers grow personally and leads them to do things they never imagined they were capable of. “When my children were young, they centered my life. Through loving them, I gained maturity, wisdom, and even spirituality,” shares Dorothy, an 80-year-old mother of four (and grandmother of 17). “I accomplished things and spoke up for them in ways I would never have imagined possible. I was exceedingly shy, but learned to fight for things like the proper classes and proper schools out of love. Keeping them active did the same for me and my husband, and kept us close as well. In old age, my blessings continue to multiply as I watch my children love and care for each other and even me.”

Anna, a 28-year-old mother of three, shares that same sentiment. “Motherhood has taken me out of my comfort zone in ways I didn’t know were possible and is constantly teaching me to love in exponential ways. My kids have taught me a lot about myself, including my vices. But I’ve also seen that they can make you strong in virtue, which is so beautiful.”

Motherhood is demanding and challenging and doesn’t always make perfect sense. But as every mother I spoke to made clear to me, motherhood is, truly, a gift.