Those who wish to nominate a single mom as part of the Lock Your Mom Project can do so at (and moms can self-nominate, too!)
Marla Aaron jewelry line for single moms
Marla Aaron's "Lock Your Mom" locks
| Credit: Courtesy Marla Aaron

As a former single mother herself, Marla Aaron wanted to do something special — and unique — for those who could relate.

That's why the N.Y.C.-based jewelry designer, 54, launched the Lock Your Mom Project six years ago, gifting 50 sterling-silver locks, engraved with an exclamation point to drive home the imperative nature of motherhood, to single moms. And every year since, she has strived to double that number.

Speaking to PEOPLE ahead of Mother's Day, Marla — who has a 20-year-old son named Max and a 21-year-old stepson named Oliver, having married Oliver's father David Aaron when the boys were 8 — recalls her own "bittersweet" experience with the holiday when Max was very young, and how it inspired her to start the Lock Your Mom Project.

"I was a single mom and I remember when my son was small ... he didn't know it was Mother's Day. And if we went out for brunch, you'd see lots of people giving flowers or something, and he didn't know [why]. He was just a little boy," she says. "I always vowed that I wanted to do something for single moms someday."

"I didn't know what shape that would take," Marla adds. "It's not just on that day, but in general, the struggle is very real being a single parent."

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Marla Aaron jewelry line for single moms
Marla Aaron's "Lock Your Mom" lock
| Credit: Courtesy Marla Aaron
Marla Aaron jewelry line for single moms
Marla Aaron
| Credit: Courtesy Marla Aaron

Aiming to give out 1,000 locks this year, Marla — who also released a hilarious video about holding a "parade" in honor of the initiative — says part of her inspiration is her belief that "the loneliness of single motherhood" is a feeling that "crosses every sort of demographic experience."

"I've spoken to fabulously rich women and I've spoken to women in the child-support offices in New York City. And it's the same kind of loneliness of being a single parent that it's unforgettable," she explains. "It doesn't matter if you're rich [and] it doesn't matter if you're poor — if you're still raising children by yourself, [it's] hard."

That ideology is especially poignant now, Marla says, after a year that has seen many single parents go into overdrive in an effort to give their children some sort of a normal routine amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

"I cannot imagine what it was like for single parents during the pandemic, because the children are home, [the parents] have full-time jobs they're expected to be doing and they were expected to help children adjust to a Zoom world," she says. "I think that was practically an impossible task."

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"That's why we felt even more strongly than we'd ever felt as a team that we had to execute Lock Your Mom last year, even though it seemed like it was going to be like pushing a rock up a mountain," Marla adds.

Despite the difficulties, she says being a single mom gave her a "sense of invincibility that I could do anything, and it made me feel very accomplished, even before I had a business."

"The accomplishment of raising [a child], of managing that, all of it," Marla tells PEOPLE. "Even though I would secretly feel like, 'Oh my God, am I really doing okay?', I realized there was a part of me that said, 'Oh, I can do this.' "

And her biggest piece of advice for other single moms? "You're not gonna get it all done and it doesn't really matter," Marla says. "So leave the dishes in the sink and just grab a hug. That's really all that matters."

Those who wish to nominate a single mom to receive a lock necklace as part of the Lock Your Mom Project can do so at (and moms can self-nominate, too!).