I spotted the hash tag for Universal Childrens Day on Twitter this morning and had to smile at the relevance to recent events and discussions at The Costello dinner table during the last few days.

Daughter aged 17.

I’m tired about all the comments at school about what it means to follow certain BAC* programmes. According to students and teachers, the only programme worth anything is the BAC-S (mostly science). They think ‘S’ students are the achievers and above the rest.


She doesn’t follow the ‘S’ programme but is a high achiever. I’m not saying that as a doting parent, I base it on facts evidenced by her grades. For several years she has said that her goal is to be a surgeon. Sadly though, teachers don’t support her goal, they are consumed with the idea that you have to reside in a particular box to become a doctor and Kalyani is one box below. We have heard (and ignored) their comments at parents evenings because we know that our daughter will follow her path and, with 100% support from us. Some doctors too don’t support the teacher point of view and good news from the president.

A review of the system is underway. Exactly where that will go we aren’t yet sure but will it force a change of attitude on the coal face where teachers’ seem to push young people away from their life-path?

I told the class tutor that I am going to university in Toulouse to study to become a lawyer. She said I wouldn’t be able to achieve that.

That came from a dinner discussion with our son, Sasha. He is currently in the final year of a BAC course that last years class tutor said he wouldn’t be able to manage. He is scoring grades above the class average.

At the end of the semester (Christmas), the class council will meet and decide whether or not to support Sasha’s choice. The tutor will vote against, other members of the council are expected to follow her lead.

What does this do to a young persons confidence?

Facing judgment and disapproval for our choices can be painful. But over time it becomes clear that others’ judgment often has more to do with their own fears and insecurities than with our shortcomings. They might feel betrayed, confused, or even envious. Seeing things from this angle can help take negative comments less personally and increase our understandings of others.

We encourage our six children to follow their dreams and impress upon them that not all dreams are created equal. The life we want to means making choices that may go against the expectations of communities or culture. Stigma, isolation, and uncertainty might occur as a result but the less travelled road has its advantages.

While nothing in life is risk-free, some paths have clearer roadmaps than others. Carving a difficult path involves trial and error, which can also mean greater potential for failure. Experiencing failure can help us change our relationship to it, and see it as a learning opportunity rather than a verdict on our ability.

There’s no shortage of opinions about what it takes to make life meaningful or the path we ought to follow. Some argue that life doesn’t have meaning until one gets married or has kids, others place a higher value on professional success. Personally, I follow what can be described as a mystical path. Meaning is a deeply personal, subjective experience guided by my intuition. Research suggests that the types of experiences that give us a sense of meaning—like kindness or overcoming adversity are not constrained by culturally-defined milestones or opinions.

On this Universal Childrens Day, we should be promoting the needs and goals of our children and helping them achieve rather than pushing them toward paths we see rather than those they hope for. At any given moment, it is they who ought to decide how their story will progress.