The biggest of these: not everyone thinks like me! Shocking, I know. What's wrong with people?
My experience with culture, for instance, both inside and outside the LDS Church, has been different than some, or at least my interpretation of culture has been. If you're not familiar with the church's teachings, let me explain: Women and men are generally considered to have different roles, especially when it comes to family. Women are primarily responsible for nurturing children while men are supposed to provide. But there is also a big emphasis on the importance of education.
While I was growing up, I interpreted this to mean that women were supposed to stay home with their children, unless there was some kind of emergency (and there were some speeches to that effect in the seventies and eighties). But I was also pretty sure I was going to university to get a degree.
Lately, the counsel has softened. The world has changed, and for many reasons, it's easier to combine career and motherhood than it used to be, and for many families, it's harder to get by on one income than it used to be.
Getting back to the teenaged starry-eyed me (who, incidentally, knew very little about the real world), I thought getting married and staying home was what I had to do. And that I would love it. And that women who worked outside the home (unless, of course, they HAD to) had their priorities out of line because children were more important than money.
After I grew up a little, I understood that the real world is more nuanced than that. People's circumstances and choices about how to combine work and family really are personal, and none of my business.
I'm still (mostly) at home, but the rebel part of me got mad. Being an SAHM wasn't as rosy as I'd imagined. I was supposed to love every minute of child care, and I felt robbed that I didn't. I was bitter that I hadn't prepared myself better for the real world.
So I got defensive. Let's be honest: I still am. When I hear someone talk about the importance of spending time with family, my knee-jerk reaction is to get mad. The speaker might just have meant that you need to have your priorities in place, but I might hear that women who work for pay are actually the spawn of Satan and that their children will soon join their mother in a very hot place.
This isn't to say that I imagined people telling me that it was wrong to be a working mother or that it was all my fault that I internalized those messages. But I do think that other people, hearing a wide variety of ideas about what women should do with their lives, may have done a better job than I did at deciding what worked for them, using less judgment and guilt as a decision-making method.
I know plenty of women who work. I know lots of women with children who are in school or who are working a lot of hours. I don't know whether they went through the same guilty process I did when they decided/determined that working was the way to go but I doubt it (I'm really good at guilt). It doesn't seem to matter whether they're liberal, conservative, or somewhere in between. They just did what they thought was best for themselves and their families and spared themselves the agony of worrying about what everyone else thought or what their church teachers said twenty years ago. Some of them even think that they're teaching their children important lessons (the value of education, taking responsibility, setting and reaching goals).
So if I could go back in time and tell my new mother-self anything, it would be this: Don't worry so much about what people say now or what they've said in the past. Don't pour over the classifieds crying in order to fill the gaps in your life. Figure out what works best for you and your family and go from there.
And trust yourself, more than anyone else.