Mother’s Day often feels like it’s all about trying to find the perfect gift for your mom. But now that I’m a mom myself, I’ve been thinking about all the presents my mother has given me over the years—and what I might be passing down to my own daughter, Sasha. Rather than material objects, they are lessons that have shaped me as a person and led me to where I am today, as a parent and entrepreneur.
Here are the five biggest gifts my mother gave me:
1. Forge your own path and let your passions guide you.
After my mother got her Ph.D. in American Literature, she went into PR before pursuing her first passion, publishing. She kept working after my older sister was born, but took a break to be a stay-at-home mom for five years after I was born, during which she also had my younger brother.
When she decided to rejoin the workforce, she wanted to follow a new passion: art. She went back to school to earn a Master’s in art curation, then worked hard to become an art curator.
I recognize the unconventional nature of my own career in my mom’s winding journey. I started off as an equestrian, then had my first “corporate job” at a streetwear company. After that, I worked at a flash sale site before realizing I could turn two of my passions—health and animals—into a dog food business called Ollie. Knowing that my mother had bravely ventured forth into multiple industries to shape the career she wanted gave me the courage to do the same.
2. Give yourself fully over to whatever you do.
It’s not easy to start in a brand new industry when you’re over 40-years-old and the parent of three kids. But not only did my mother do just that, she excelled, securing a spot at a highly competitive curatorial program at the Whitney in New York City, then working from the bottom of the ladder up to a senior-level curator position at the Guggenheim, also in New York.
She was equally all-in with parenting. As a stay-at-home mom, she took us to school, chaperoned trips and introduced us to museums. When she went back to work full time, she may have had less time but was no less devoted. She’d give me and my friends tours of the museum after hours, and was always there for me. To this day, she’s the first one I call when I’m having a problem. She set an amazing example for me on how to succeed as a working mother.
3. Expect to make sacrifices.
My mom traveled a lot for work and would sometimes be away for three weeks. Being that this was pre-FaceTime days, my brother and I only got to speak with her on the phone once a day for a few minutes. She later wanted to have more control over which artists she could introduce to the public, so she left the more institutional confines of the Guggenheim and helped open the Chelsea Art Museum in New York.
All of that took time away from home. Now that I’m a mother myself, I know how hard it must have been. But especially as a woman, she knew she had to work extra hard to make a seat for herself at any table. If that meant she spent quality time with us after work instead of collapsing immediately into bed, that was a sacrifice she made time and again. Knowing how to keep up a balancing act and finding the energy to be present for my daughter is something I learned from my mom.
4. Give back to others.
After leaving the Chelsea Art Museum, my mom founded a nonprofit called No Longer Empty, which brings site-specific art installations into nontraditional (there’s that word again!) and underserved communities around NYC. Her focus on giving back to the community probably affected my decision to adopt my dog Pancho when I was vacationing in Colombia, and it definitely drove my desire to donate 1 percent of my company’s revenue to animal rescues and shelters.
5. Remember your daughter is always watching and learning from your example.
Growing up, I didn’t realize that I was internalizing what a strong, smart, loving mother looked like. But that’s exactly what was happening every time I went to one of my mother’s art shows, or cried on her shoulder, or looked to her for advice. In fact, I’m still learning from my mother. It’s a great reminder that everything we do, for better or worse, can affect our kids in deep-seated ways.
This Mother’s Day, I’m celebrating these gifts my mother gave me. And my gift to her? A promise that I’ll do my best to pass them on to her granddaughter.
Gabby Slome is the co-founder and chief experience officer of Ollie, a healthy pet food brand that delivers freshly cooked, human-grade food tailored to each dog’s nutritional needs. With a lifelong passion for animals, Slome founded Ollie out of a need to make and deliver healthier dog food and has revolutionized the $30 billion pet food industry by transforming the way we feed our pets. Slome lives in New York City with her husband, daughter and rescue dog, Pancho.