Swaddle yourself 👶
The most basic form of self-care
“I just feel all wrong,” my friend said. She has 90% custody of her three children, and her kids had just gone to their dad’s house. She’s still adapting to the whiplash feeling you get when you transition from single parenting to being completely alone.
“I don’t know what to do with myself… the house is a mess, and I have so much to do, and I feel completely overwhelmed. Maybe I should get myself take-out and go sit by a lake? Or listen to a podcast? I just don’t know!!”
As someone who’s prone to overthinking, overdoing, over-engineering, and generally over-everything, I started to recognize her story.
“Wait,” I said. “I think you need to swaddle yourself. When I get into moods where things feel ALL WRONG, sometimes my brain wants to go into major problem-solving mode… but really, I just need to slow down and treat myself like an infant.”
“Like taking care of your inner child?” my friend asked. She’s done therapy! She’s self-reflective! She knows how these things work.
“Yeah,” I said. “But like a super young inner child. Not even an inner toddler… more like a straight-up inner infant.”
“You know how it goes with newborns,” I continued. “They get into moods, and you’re like, ‘oh my god, the baby’s freaking out what do I do!’ You try all this complicated stuff, but what really works is simply feeding them and then holding them while they fall asleep?”
“Totally,” my friend said. She survived raising twin infants! She super knows.
“Most of the time, they don’t want some squeaky baby toy in their face. They want food and rest. Your brain is like, “Maybe I should switch diaper wipe brands! Maybe I should change their socks! Maybe they need a different blanket!’ But in actuality, it’s just like… feed them and let them rest.”
“That’s you right now,” I said. “Don’t worry about cleaning or getting take out. Don’t overcomplicate things. Keep it simple: eat whatever you have in the house, and lay down. Maybe take a shower if it sounds nice. That’s it.”
“I think I can handle that,” my friend said, sounding less overwhelmed.
That’s the self-swaddle.
When your adult brain tries to over-care for your baby body
When I’m exhausted, I tend to go in the opposite direction I need to go. When I’m tired and overwhelmed, I often will try to soothe myself with distractions.
Maybe a few more TikTok videos? A little more scrolling? Maybe I’ll text a friend or recheck my email.
But you know what doesn’t soothe a tired baby? Sticking loud toys in their faces!
Do you know what soothes a tired baby?
Why is this so hard for so many of us to remember? When my inner infant is exhausted, why does my adult brain throw a bunch of stimulation at the situation?
My adult brain likes to have a problem to solve… rattle this toy in her face! Get a blanket — no the other one! The fleece one! Swaddle her like this; no wait tighter! No wait, it’s too tight!
But exhausted baby bodies don’t want all that stimulation. They want nourishment, tending, closeness, quiet.
I figured this out relatively quickly with Tavi. His father was often teaching in the evenings, and so I’d ride out “the witching hour” with Tavi most days. I’d try everything to soothe him, and ultimately what usually did it was feeding him and resting with him. Sometimes I’d step out on the balcony with him, and the cool wet Seattle evening air would make him almost instantly chill out and fall asleep.
It was always the simplest care. It was never the toys. It was never the blanket. It was never the bells and whistles and special swaddle folding techniques.
Those of us who are deeply invested in our self-help toolboxes tend to overcomplicate our adult “witching hour” moments.
I am more guilty of this than anyone. When things feel off for me, I go through an encyclopedic flowchart of possibilities for self-care — is my attachment system triggered? Maybe my microbiome is feeling off? Perhaps the astrology of the moment is a bit wonky? No wait, perhaps this is a multigenerational wound rearing its head? Am I feeling isolated? Is this me disassociating? Maybe I need some chlorophyll drops?
I’ve invested so much time into education about how to tend my unsettled inner baby! I want to pull out all the stops, show off how much I’ve learned, get my A+ in self-care!
Not now. The baby is exhausted. She needs feeding, bathing, and rest. Put down the phone. Step away from the stack of books. Let the analytical mind know you love it and that it can take a break now too. (It’s probably exhausted.)
Step off the hamster wheel.
Feed the baby.
Bathe the baby.
Let the baby rest.
The day after my conversation with my friend, she texted me a follow-up.
“I had dinner and a bath,” she said. “With essential oils! It’s just refreshing to get that reminder that doing isn’t always required.”
“Totally that,” I said.
“Sometimes (…often!), what I need is basic care and rest,” she said. “I don’t have to feel bad about it!”
“Agreed,” I said. “It’s a weirdly hard-earned lesson for me.”
Truthfully, I’m still working on it.
This is the ultimate confession of a self-help writer: I write not what I know, but what I’m trying to learn.
This story was originally published in 2020 as part of The Afterglow, the private members-only publication I launched in conjunction with my third book.