On Mother’s Day, we talk about moms. A lot. For obvious reasons. But there’s a tendency to only talk about and express gratitude for this one singular role they play—as if the role of “mom” were completely isolated from all the other roles women play or their existence as whole people.

The truth is that all moms, regardless of whether or not they work outside the home, are many things in addition to being moms.

Moms are actual people. And no person can be summed up in a single story.

In fact, I believe the reason we’re great moms is because we bring our whole selves to the job. I’d be willing to bet that the things you love most about the moms in your life stem directly from who they are, or who they became, outside of their role as a mother. 

My own mom’s passion for education deeply—and positively—influenced the way she mothered my brothers and me. My artist friends bring their creative passion into parenting in a way that also shapes their children. The same thing is true for moms who are into tech, sports, politics, music, justice efforts, and so on.

In Iraq, all the women in our refugee empowerment program possess knowledge and skills they acquired outside their experiences as a mother. Those pieces of themselves enable them to be the incredible moms they are today.

They are great moms because they are resourceful and tenacious enough to figure out how to use their skills to unmake violence and remake their world.

It is because they are brave enough to pick up a new trade, like soapmaking or candlemaking, and learn it from scratch so they can meet the needs of their families.

Most moms I know are great moms precisely because they bring their expertise, passion, experience, education, interests, humor, and so much more to their family life. Moms invest the best of who we’ve become, and who we’re becoming, into our families.

And while most women developed strengths outside their role as a mom, if they are anything like me, they may find those strengths were solidified and refined in the fire of motherhood.

Yet despite the great richness that moms pour into their families, they are routinely pigeonholed—as if their entire personhood was summed up in that single role—solely defined by their relation to someone else instead of being seen as a whole individual. Yes, children are a huge part of who we are and what we do.

But we must acknowledge that motherhood adds to who women are and what we do—it doesn’t erase the rest of the list.

The truth is that moms everywhere are intensely complex people who deal with immensely complex situations, massive physical challenges, complicated relationships, and overwhelming expectations.

This is precisely why we take the time to get to know every single one of our empowerment participants as an individual before we enroll them in our program. The women we work with are refugees and survivors of war. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. They are also artists, entrepreneurs, chefs, fashionistas, academics, and so much more.

None of these things on their own can fully define who she is. And if you take away even one piece, you’re left with something less than who she is.

The same is true for all women—and all people—everywhere.

On Mother’s Day, we should celebrate and thank our moms for everything they do for us. But we should also celebrate our moms as people—as in, who she is and not just what she’s done to serve you.

Because really, that is what made you who you are. Not the fact that she’s done millions of loads of laundry, or made hundreds of school lunches, or always showed up for you when you needed her. She did those things because of who she is.

You are who you are precisely because she is who she is. In all her layers of personal complexity.

Deep down, I think that is what most people mean to celebrate on Mother’s Day, but honestly, it sometimes gets lost in the cliche and kitschiness of the holiday.

So this year, take the time to celebrate the moms in your life in ways that acknowledge their wholeness.

To all the amazing moms out there, we see you. We celebrate you—for all you do and all you are.

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