Before baby was born, you read all the parenting books, attended all the birthing classes and gathered advice from trusted friends. Nothing, however, prepares you for the enormous sense of responsibility that comes with raising your own child. Add that to the isolation that comes with staying home full-time and you may find yourself wondering what you got yourself into after only a few months.

Before you start searching for daycare and posting your resume, realize that there are ways to make stay at home motherhood meaningful and enriching, even when you feel all alone. Thriving as a stay at home mom is all about creating a system of structure, having realistic expectations and cultivating a strong support network.

Create a system of structure

Before kids, many of us had highly structured daily routines through work or school. When you stay at home, all that structure flies out the window and with it your sense of purpose and direction. To thrive as a stay at home mom, you have to create an organized life that allows you to feel accomplishment at the end of each day.

This organized life will look vastly different from family to family, however. Some moms enjoy a looser, take it as it comes approach to parenthood, while other mothers excel with prioritized to-do lists. Whatever your style, have a general list of things to accomplish each day, whether it be two loads of laundry, attending a playdate or reading books for 20 minutes with your kids. If you see worth in everyday, mundane tasks, you're more likely to feel like a valuable asset to your family. Validation prevents burnout.

Also, plan a general schedule to follow each day. You don't have to assign a time to every activity, but knowing that playtime follows breakfast and bath time is always after dinner will give your days structure. Both mommies and kids need this predictable order to feel secure.

Have realistic expectations

Too many mothers approach parenthood with the idea that every day will be loves, hugs, rainbows and sunshine. In reality, stay at home motherhood is a hard job - one that comes with no vacation or sick leave. While there are payoffs in parenthood, toddlers rarely show gratitude for their mom and kids are a little loud and a lot messy. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

You are not obligated to produce a pristine home with immaculate children every second of every day. Allow yourself some grace. Bad days, complete with bad attitudes, will happen. When you feel overwhelmed by life, take a few deep breaths before facing the storm. Also, take time each week and do something you love that is just for you. Go shopping alone, attend a fitness class, or take a long drive listening to music you like. Whatever gives you that peaceful feeling, make it a priority.

Cultivate a strong support network

Jobs and school provide a built-in social network for women. Stay at home parenting, not so much. Staying at home feels isolating, especially if you're parenting an infant who doesn't talk yet. You can only have so many one-sided conversations before you go a little crazy. Now, more than ever, you need friends. Find a play group, get to know other moms at church, enroll in a mommy and me class or simply go to the park and strike up a conversation. Get out of your comfort zone and meet people.

Connecting with other mothers gives you a sounding board to voice concerns and a sympathetic audience when you have a bad day. Even if making close friends proves elusive, keep getting out of the house a couple of times a week. Take an extra lap around the grocery store or walk through your neighborhood so you see other people. It's easy to get sucked into feeling like everything is about the baby.

Finding joy in stay at home motherhood comes in spurts. Some days you'll feel on top of the world and other days will have you running for the door. All of that, and much more, is perfectly normal. You can thrive as a stay at home mother so long as you focus on the right thing: your relationship with your kids.

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