Right now both my daughters, 20 and 18, claim that they don’t want any children. They can’t imagine going through the pain of labor and the toil of raising children. I remember making the exact same claim when I was their ages. Motherhood is the most rewarding and yet challenging job. Children can bring out the best and worst in us.

Love blossoms when a child is born. This happens in women, and still more dramatically, in the mothers of animals, which, shortly before delivering their young, can be transformed from predators to nurturers. Female rats, for example, normally reacts to the smell of newborns by eating them – until they themselves give birth. The expectant rat begins to behave more gently even as she builds the nest, and as soon as her young are born she hardly does anything other than nurse the little ones, licking and protecting them.

On the other hand, when scientists block the oxytocin, the mother rat devours its young immediately after giving birth. But oxytocin isn’t enough to stimulate nurturing behavior. In order to get a virgin female to look after baby rats, she first has to be injected with the sex hormone estrogen, which is normally released during pregnancy. Apparently the brain needs a message from the body that children really are on the way.

Children add liveliness into the house and warm the hearts of their parents. Many parents say that it was in their children that they found happiness. So the findings of four independent studies from Europe and the United States that having children diminishes the pleasure that parents find in one another were all the more surprising. Similarly for mothers and fathers, happiness in the marriage drops during pregnancy and reaches its first low point when the oldest child is crawling. After that it goes up again somewhat, until the oldest child shows the first signs of puberty, after which it falls quickly to an absolute low point. Apparently teenagers take an even bigger toll on their parents’ love for one another than do small children. Small children my exhaust their parents physically, but it takes an adolescent to push them to their limits.

The women in the study conducted by Daniel Kahneman and colleagues self-reported that being with their children was less rewarding than watching television or shopping (some mothers stated that while, in general, they really enjoy being with their kids, on that particular day the kids were being horrible).

All this may not sound very encouraging for couples that are considering starting a family. But the simple truth is children make us happy and unhappy at the same time. Happiness and unhappiness are not mutually exclusive. Although having children puts a whole new set of demands on parents, their expectations of life are, on average higher than among childless adults. Children give our lives meaning and color. If you are a positive and happy person to begin with, becoming a mother can only strengthen those traits. If you are frequently depressed and easily stressed, it’s unlikely to change unless you make a conscious effort to do so. It’s nothing but an illusion for couples to think that all their problems will fade away with the addition of an adorable baby.

Motherhood is hard work but one of life’s greatest experience imaginable. Motherhood is tears of agony and laughter of joy. Motherhood is patience and endurance especially during those turbulent teen years when you are tested beyond your limit. Motherhood is learn to accept your children as who they are instead of manipulating them into who you want them to be.

Tomorrow morning both my girls will load some of the stuff into their car and take off for college. I get teary-eyed every time I think of the moment when I am standing on the driveway and waving goodbye to my babies. All the pain and struggles I’ve been through as their mother don’t seem to matter at all at that particular moment. I feel good about the imperfect parenting job Joe and I have done and I am extremely proud of how our daughters have turned out to be.

But life will no longer be the same from this point on. If everything works out the way it’s supposed to, this home will only be their temporary residence from time to time. Jane’s survived the first two years of college. Her future focus will be on internship that will lead to a promising career. Michelle will have to find her way in a different world but she’ll have her sister by her side. We’ll have a family reunion this Saturday when Joe, Jake and I drive to IU to deliver the rest of their belongings.

Whatever stage of motherhood you are at right now, embrace it and enjoy every minute of it. For me 18 years fly by in a blink of an eye. And before you know it, you will be standing on your driveway and waving goodbye to your babies.

Partial content credit: The Science of Happiness by Stefan Klein