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What you need to know about mom guilt

what you need to know about mom guilt. A mom giving her child a big hug
what you need to know about mom guilt. Podcast

Welcome to The Wholehearted Mom Podcast! It’s our launch season and I am so honoured to have you here. You’ll be glad you joined. 

In this episode: 

  • We will learn the difference between guilt and shame
  • We will have a mini Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) lesson so we can better understand out thoughts and how shame impacts us
  • I will walk you through a reflection exercise so you can unsubscribe from the #momguilt mindset and find healthier ways to cope  

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I appreciate you so much for showing up and joining this amazing working mom community we are starting. Thanks for listening and for your support. 


Sarah Reckman

Episode # 5 - What you need to know about mom guilt

When I interviewed moms for my new coaching program one of the most common things that mom’s worry about is ‘am I doing enough”, am I doing this right, am I involved enough, AM I ENOUGH?

Defining Guilt

Before we start talking about how to overcome mom guilt and shame we need to get clear on what those 2 terms mean and how they are different from each other. 

According to the dictionary, guilt is responsibility for having done something wrong. This definition makes guilt sound like something bad, however did you know that guilt is actually adaptive and helpful? I really love the definition that Brene Brown created from her research. She defines guilt as holding something you’ve done or failed to do up against your values and feeling psychological discomfort.Guilt is like a little value meter and when something isn’t aligned with our values it sends a physiological response to tell us to make a correction. Guilt is meant to help us recognize and acknowledge our mistakes and to learn from them.

what you need to know about mom guilt podcast episode. Image of a planner and glasses

As a mom a guilty thought might be, “Oh shoot I totally forgot to put my child’s water bottle in their lunch bag this morning. I will find a way to better remember next time”.

Defining Shame

On the other hand, shame looks not at what we did but who we are. The dictionary definition of shame is terrible so we are going to again look to Brene Brown for a solid, deep definition. 

She describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. Man that’s powerful! In contrast to guilt, shame is not helpful or productive. In fact, shame can be quite damaging and destructive. 

A mom who is experiencing shame may say to herself, “I am a bad mom” or “I am a crappy mom, I can’t ever get it right”. Shame takes the focus off of our behaviour and places it on ourselves – our worth.   

Now that we clearly understand the difference between guilt and shame I invite you to walk through a series of reflection questions with me.

Mini Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Lesson To Understand Shame

Before we begin to tackle those guilt and shame thoughts we need to figure out those things that you value and that you believe about motherhood so we can recognize when you are not in alignment with those values.

I feel is it really important for you to also have a clearer understanding of how our thoughts and beliefs work, so I am going to give you a quick cognitive behaviour therapy lesson (CBT). 

There are 3 main levels of thinking or beliefs that govern how we experience the world and make sense of the situations around us. The first level of thinking is your automatic thoughts.

Automatic Thoughts

According to CBT Los Angelos, Automatic thoughts are the thoughts that automatically arise in our minds throughout the day. Often, we are completely unaware we are even having thoughts, but with a little instruction and practice, you can learn to easily identify them, and as a result, get a better handle on your mood and behavior. When we talk about positive self-talk and affirmations we are talking about targeting these automatic thoughts.

Rules For Living

The next level is called rules for living. Rules for living are behavioural adjustments that we make in order to cope with messages (often negative) that we have internalized about ourselves and the world as a result of experiences in life and interactions with friends, family, authority figures etc. 

An example of a rule a mom might have is…. 

  • If I put others’ needs before my own they won’t reject me. 
  • If I am perfect then I’ll be considered good enough. 
  • If I stay in control then I’ll be able to cope
  • If I keep my emotions to myself then I’ll be seen as strong
  • If I buy my children things or give in to them then I won’t feel guilty for the thing I missed out on. 


As I am reading these examples, are any rules for living coming up for you?

Core Beliefs

As harmful as some rules for living may be, we have to remember that they have a purpose. These rules are meant to protect us from being hurt. They are part of our survival instincts. Rules for living support and protect our core beliefs which is our deepest level of beliefs.  

Core beliefs are central beliefs that people hold about the self, others and the world. Core beliefs are often formed at an early age, and can refer to a cognitive content or construct such as “I am unlovable” or “people can’t be trusted” (Counseling Dictionary UK). For example a mom might have the negative core belief “I am inadequate.” Shame is connected to these negative core beliefs.  

To help you understand these concepts I am going to give you a mom example of how each level is connected.

Meet Sue

Let’s say our mom, Sue, has the negative core belief “I am not enough” which can also translate as I am a bad mom or I am not good enough as a mom. 

Sue may create rules for living such as “if I do everything perfect than no one will realize I’m a bad mom” or “If I put myself last than I will be seen as a good mom” or “If I sign up for all the mom things such as bake sales, school trips, and parent volunteer then people will think I am a good mom” 

Sue’s automatic thoughts may sound something like this, “I’m so tired of trying to be perfect”, “If people knew the real me they’d know i’m a fraud”, “I knew I was a bad mom”, “I can’t ever seem to make my kids happy”, “Jan always has to do it better than me” 

You might be thinking… ok Sarah why the long indepth CBT lesson. How does this tie in with guilt and shame? 

CBT Wrap-Up

As we talked about earlier, guilt is a normal thought (often automatic thought) that creates a physiological response to let us know that something we did or didn’t do isn’t aligned with our values.

Shame on the other hand is deeply connected to these rules for living and negative core beliefs. These are the beliefs that will be the difference between living a life of joy and abundance or living a life of negativity, insecurity, and sadness or disappointment/regret.  

Ok wow that was a lot on a very tough subject. Let’s all take a deep breath together.  

Guilt & Shame Reflection

We are going to move onto a reflection exercise so I encourage you to grab a piece of paper and write your reflections down. 

I believe exercise

#1 I want you to make a list of things that you believe about motherhood both good and bad.

Complete the following statement: 

I believe _________________________ 

For example: I believe that a good mom always puts her kids first. Or I believe being a good mom means I need to also be the perfect homemaker.


The best moms in the world….

Ex. the best moms in the world always have well groomed kids in pretty outfits. 

#2 What expectations am I putting on myself about motherhood and parenting?

Which of these expectations motivate me to be a better mom and which expectations cause comparison and/or are unrealistic? Aka which of these expectations make me feel guilty if I don’t meet them and which ones cause shame.

#3 What thoughts do you have when you feel shame?

#4 I realize my most common shame triggers are….

#5 What is one thing you can do today to begin to change that shame belief and truly know that you are enough, you are loved, and you are an amazing mom?

Podcast Summary

Brene Brown shares that if we want meaningful, lasting change we need to get clear on the difference between shame and guilt and call for an end to shame as a tool for change. That also means moving away from labeling, from believing our self-worth is tied to our productivity, and to turn towards self-compassion.

Let's Connect

If you really connected with this lesson today and would love to dive deeper and learn more about how to change those limiting negative beliefs? If you are a career-focused mom who is longing to create balance, make big mindset shifts, and learn how to manage stress so you can live your best mom life?

I want to invite you to work with me. I coach moms just like this. I help them go from surviving to thriving. To be an intentional mom with a meaningful career. 

I created a 10-week group coaching program for moms to help them do just that. Want to learn more? Head to