I think the biggest factor in making me a better mom is time. The more I do this motherhood thing, the more my confidence increases and I know I’m not totally screwing up my kids. They do fine in school, they’re not jerks, and they have terrific senses of humor. All of that is because of the trial and error approach my husband and I have taken to parenting this past decade. But I also have to credit some pumping habits that have made me a better mom. Who knew that hooking my breasts up to some plastic flanges a few times a day over the course of a couple of years would have such a benefit?
One thing I didn’t see coming when it came to having kids was the feeling of having to go-go-go all the time. I crash at the end of the day. Like, I literally come to a screeching halt and collapse on the couch once both my kids are in bed. But taking the time to check out is hard to do, and runs counter to my Type A personality. Thankfully, pumping forced me to stop everything and find the quiet. And it was in the quiet that I found techniques to inform my parenting; techniques that have helped make me a better mom.
Here are some pumping habits that contributed to making me the fantastic (OK, fine… the competent) mom I am today:
Ever since I was a kid my life was dictated by schedules, since I had a lot of activities I was involved in. So I don’t really know how to live a loosely structured life. Staying on schedule with my pumping sessions was easy, since it was second-nature for me, so carrying that habit over to every aspect about parenting was a no-brainer. My kids knew when they were eating, knew when it was nap time (though they often fought it), and bedtime was never negotiable. Knowing how their days were planned not only helped them to manage expectations, but it helped me to at least feel like there was some sense of order to our chaotic lives.
I always wanted to be able to pump at least three ounces per side, per session. But there were times when my output was much lower than that. Yes, the times when my output was greater probably made it all even out over time, so I had to let go the feeling that I was missing the goal when I came up short. It did me no good to beat myself up over pumping less milk than I was hoping. Too often, as a mom, I’m berating myself for shortcomings, and failing to see the small “wins” when they happen. Pumping some milk is better than pumping no milk, though, and just like my kid napping for 30 minutes is at least better than not napping at all.
Learning how to manage my expectations as a mom was something pumping definitely helped with.
Things were always better when I kept the duration of my pumping sessions consistent. I couldn’t pump forever, especially during the workday, and cutting my sessions short would send confusing messages to my body. If I nursed my baby for about 20 minutes on each side, then I could definitely pump for 10 or 15 minutes each side (since the sucking machine was often more productive at getting milk out of me than a sleepy baby).
Allotting a certain amount of time for pumping helped establish the habit of allotting certain amounts of time for all children-related activities. More than two hours at a museum with a kid in tow is not OK. Half an hour of screen time for my toddler in the morning was enough. And spending more than a few minutes trying to convince a finicky eater to eat something — anything — was pointless. All good, and bad, things must come to an end, and better to have that happen before you reach the meltdown point (for my kid and for me).
It’s so easy for me to get caught up thinking of everything I need to accomplish in a given day. This was how I was even before I had kids, so feeling like I had to give my attention to multiple things at once only intensified after I became a mom.But when I was pumping, I couldn’t do anything else. I was literally stuck, connected to a machine. Yes, I could flip through a magazine, or scroll through some emails, but that was it. Pumping taught me that prioritizing is fundamental to parenthood.
I used to think multitasking was a requirement for motherhood. It is most definitely not. Yes, my brain is full with the dozens of tasks and items I have to track daily, including but not limited to: managing my work life, home life, and all my kids school and social and extra-curricular schedules. But I can’t actually do more than any one thing at a time. Pumping time is for pumping. I wished I had realized sooner what a detriment multitasking is to being a mom. I was always feeling like I was half-assing everything because, when I tried to do more than one thing at once, I was. Better to full-ass each thing before moving on to the next.
I used to feel terrible if I couldn’t immediately run to my crying baby because I was pumping. But I had to just fight that feeling back. Guilt lurks around every decision you make as a mom, so it didn’t take me long to realize that I had to stop falling prey to it. It's inevitable that I’m going to feel bad about some of the choices I make as a parent — such as not being able to be as involved with my kids’ school because I work full-time — but I am making the choice to work full-time, mostly to be able to be the parent I truly want to be for my kid. I want to provide, and I want to feel fulfilled outside my home so I don’t regret my family as the cause for any career setbacks.
Shortcuts are key to surviving motherhood, and labeling everything is the best organizational hack ever when you are dealing with kids.
It shouldn’t have to be said, but since I totally understand the feeling to just dump the parts in the sink and deal with it later, that’s a terrible habit. Later is never a good time, and that includes the cleaning of the breast pump parts. Putting off the cleaning until another time means having to summon up the energy to deal with a mess that's exponentially worse than it would have been if you dealt with it right away. Why not just rip the entire band-aid off at once?
When I pumped at work — whether I was in a dedicated mother’s room, or hiding out in someone’s office who had a door you could close (as opposed to my open cubicle) — I made it clear that I was not to be interrupted. This was harder to accomplish at home, since I pumped in the kitchen, but when I said it was time to pump (to whomever was listening) it was clear that I was not going to be taking on any other business during that time. Protecting my pumping time was vital, because it taught me to value my time as a parent. Not only do I have drastically less “me time” as a mom, but I needed to teach myself that I had to come first sometimes, if I was ever going to teach anyone else to respect my needs.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.