My mother’s name is Kimberly Ann Jacob.  Growing up, she taught me how to work hard, aspire, nurture, lead, love and even cook a few recipes (the easy ones). She is a constant presence when I need support or honest advice. We went through the typical stages of a mother/daughter relationship—from childhood adoration, to teenage contempt, to college-aged annoyance. Now that I’ve grown up and gotten over myself, we talk almost every day and I can truly say she is my best friend.

Laura and mom

Laura Knobel and her mom, Kim Jacob, showing off their silly side.

I have another mother. Read it carefully: this one’s name is Kimberly Anne Jacobs. She didn’t get the joys of experiencing me as a petulant teenager, and we don’t talk on the phone every day. But throughout my four years of college and beyond, she has been a mentor, an advisor, a confidante and a safe haven. When I was eight hours away from my biological mother at school, she was just a short walk away, and I can never thank her enough for that.

Laura Knobel with her mentor/second mom, Kim Jacobs, being congratulated on her masters degree while her biological mother looks on.

Laura Knobel with her mentor/second mom, Kim Jacobs, being congratulated on her masters degree while her biological mother looks on.

Good things come in threes, though. Catherine Marie Niedermeyer isn’t old enough to be my mother (she’s turning 26 today, in fact, and has a baby of her own). But she has been there to wipe my tears in my lowest moments, and she was the woman counseling me through my wedding day anxiety right before my walk down the aisle. Regardless of when and where, I know I can count on her to drop everything to help me when I need it.

I turn to these mothers and others at different times—when I’m lonely, stressed, sad, exuberant, confused, heartbroken, celebratory and more. They have mothered me, and I’d venture to say I’ve even mothered them, more times than I can count. So as Mother’s Day approached, I found myself reflecting on the many ways mothers show up in our lives, whether it’s through a biological relationship or otherwise.

“Mother” may technically be defined as “a female parent” (thanks for clarifying, Webster’s), but if you read a little closer, it’s also defined as “maternal tenderness or affection.” Mothers look a lot of different ways, and show up in the most surprising of places. It’s hard to see sometimes—we’re all in the rat race, and we feel so much pressure to look after our own affairs and everyone else’s at the same time that we rarely stop to let someone take care of us for a moment.

Laura Knobel with two of her mothers, Catie Niedermeyer and her biological mother zipping her into her wedding dress.

But mothers are always there. For me, being mothered is that feeling you get when you can relax a little deeper, let your guard down, and feel like yourself. It’s safety and security in a bond you have with someone. It’s the trust and compassion that comes with true unconditional love and care.

Consider these mothers: the mentor on the other end of the phone when it’s time to ponder a career move. The sister who is just a short text away for relationship advice. The friend who never misses a Friday evening happy hour at the end of a long week. The office manager who always has ibuprofen when a headache hits in the middle of a busy workday. The new mother who has barely slept because she’s just trying to figure out this late night feeding schedule.

The single mom working sixty hours a week and trying to fill the role of two parents. The grandmother who took in her grandchildren when their home was no longer a safe space. The family with two dads actively seeking out female role models for their young daughter. The not-yet-mother who is waiting on a call from the adoption agency to say they’ve matched her with her child. The dog mom lovingly caring for her ailing pet to ensure its comfort in the final years of its life.

My spouse, who without fail, brings me red Gatorade, chicken noodle soup, and a gossip magazine when I’m home sick—just like my biological mother always did growing up.

I’ve witnessed and experienced all of these examples, and I’m sure you can think of even more. Today, on the official Mother’s Day, of course you should reach out to your mom, if you have one, but reach out to someone else who has mothered you, or who is working hard as mother to others. They might not even be aware of the impact they’ve had. Tell them you see them, you appreciate them, and you love them. Then pay it forward.