More than twenty years later, I’m still learning about how the death of my father at an early age has shaped me. For one, it has made me intent on raising strong, independent daughters.

We watched our tiny, not quite graceful ballerinas twirl around the dance floor while dramatically mouthing the words to a Moana song. Their faces were strong and determined, as if they were heroic wayfarers dancing across the sea. In my head, I also sang along and was pretty sure all of the other moms watching through the glass were too. “This song is going to be stuck in my head for days,” I grumbled, not nearly as broken up about it as I sounded.

We laughed, launching into a conversation about all of the kids’ movie soundtracks we know by heart. The subject of Frozen, one of my favorites for so many reasons came up and another mom was lukewarm. “I don’t know,” she said. “I have a hard time with Frozen. I’m all for girl power but, to me, it’s not a real fairy tale because there’s no prince. Maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I want my daughter to believe in true love.”

I had an immediate visceral reaction, but stayed quiet, nodding as she explained her point of view. I respected her opinion and the place it was coming from, but I completely disagreed. Finding no words to explain why, I remained silent. All I knew was that I felt very strongly about the fact that I did not want handsome princes shoved down my daughters’ throats.

I’ve always considered myself a swoony romantic. I grew up on a steady diet of romantic comedies, weddings always make me cry, and love stories make me feel warm and fuzzy and electric inside.

So why did the idea that every princess needs a prince make me want to scream?

It wasn’t until later that night, as I brushed my daughter’s long, Rapunzel-like hair and braided it before bed, that it hit me.

I lived that fairy tale. Growing up, my dad was a handsome prince and my parents’ love story was one that seemed perfect. High school sweethearts, they had married and lived happily ever after. Their love was the kind that makes kids pretend to vomit. They were affectionate and loving and starry-eyed and my brothers and sister and I thought they were gross. Still, I secretly wanted to grow up and have a love story just like theirs.

Except, in their story, the handsome prince was torn from the pages of the book and the princess was widowed and left to fend for herself and their four heartbroken babies.

I never realize how profoundly this loss has shaped my worldview until moments like this one, when it punches me right in the face.

I don’t want my daughters to grow up relying on handsome princes because I know that handsome princes are not immune to tragedies like brain cancer that make them deteriorate right in front of the princess’s eyes. I know that, left unprepared, a princess who relies solely on her handsome prince will have no way to fend for herself. I know that if she’s not capable of saving herself, her entire kingdom could collapse.

One of the most important lessons I learned in my childhood is that nothing is forever. The only thing you can truly and fully rely on is yourself. For that reason, I want to raise warrior princesses. Princesses who are open and excited by love, but who don’t rely on mystical heroes for their survival.

My princesses will be strong and powerful and capable of saving themselves. They will slay their own dragons, build their own castles, and rule their own kingdoms. And if true love shows itself in the form of a handsome prince (or a pretty, pretty princess), they will jump in wholeheartedly—not because their lives depend upon it, but because they want to.

For now, I’ll just make sure that they see as many examples of headstrong ice queens and wayfaring heroines as I can. And I look forward to watching them become these women as they dance into adulthood.

the reason I'm raising stong, independent daughters

For more on raising strong, independent daughters (and sons too!) plus a dash of feminism:

This post is part of my 52 Essays project. In 2015, I set a goal for myself to write one finished essay every week. I failed miserably and only published 16. I’m hoping to get back at it and start writing essays again because storytelling is kind of my favorite. Some of these essays will be good. Some will be less good. Hopefully you’ll love them. Maybe you’ll hate them. We’ll just have to wait and see. 😉 20/52

Written by Jennifer Garry
Jen is a freelance writer and girl mom from New York. When she's not knee-deep in glittery crafts and girl talk, you can probably find her sprawled across her couch in the middle of a Netflix marathon with dark chocolate smeared on her face. The struggle is real.