Raising Daughters: Heroine V. Princess

Sometimes I think, what a raw deal my daughters have, with a writer for a mother. The writers I know don’t check out and take days off. Writers are likely to be trying to read your to-do list you’re holding while waiting in the grocery check-out line.

But then there’s this: Ann Patchett in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage tells how, when she dragged herself back to her mother’s house after the collapse of her marriage, her mother insisted that, yes, indeed, Ann was yet the heroine in her life’s story. Although I never use the heroine word with my daughters, I’m keenly aware I’m raising them as heroines and not as princesses. The difference is distinct.

While clearly I want to stave off the wolves of hunger and cold at our door, I’ve never intended to garner ermine cloaks or a palace for my girls. I’d prefer for the girls to know themselves neither in need of saving by prince charming, or required to save that somewhat dubious character, either.

As a teenager, I read a great deal of Joseph Campbell, and I’ve returned repeatedly to Campbell’s hero quest. I remind myself at moments of keen doubt – what am I doing as a parent, anyway? who let me lead this drama? – that doubt is a key element of any heroine’s path. Embrace, and move eagerly on to the next phase.

If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.

– Joseph Campbell



By Brett Ann Stanciu

Brett Ann Stanciu lives with her two daughters in Hardwick, Vermont. Her creative nonfiction book, Unstitched: My Journey to Understand Opioid Addiction and How People and Communities Can Heal, will be published by Steerforth Press in September 2021. Her novel about rural life in Vermont, Hidden View, was published in 2015.


  1. yes! When I was 12 an older friend sent me a card with a sticker of The little mermaid and her man, except she had crossed out his face and said “Who needs him?” I was delighted by the new perspective.

  2. What a nice piece, Brett! Where is the image from?

    My daughter, Emma, was raised to be a princess (I kid you not!) I tried ballet, Barbies, and dress-up birthday parties, but she preferred baseball, basketball, and a birthday party theme of “don’t pollute the beach”!

    Your writing is important to you, your path etched in stony soil. It will, therefore, influence your girls and enrich their lives. We hope!

    1. This is David Hinton’s beautiful new book with the opening line, “This is the story of existence, and it begins with a painting.” From what I know, your daughter Emma is a fine young woman. Barbies really are over-rated.

    1. Campbell is terrific. Mythology is often taught as a schematic to memorize – which god did that? – but reading Campbell makes me realize mythology is about who we are, in our everyday lives.

      1. Yes, I have friends with only boys who have said as much. We were recently at the Montshire with some a friend with two boys my daughters’ ages. We had been outside playing and came in. The six-year-old boy came over to me after we had been inside for about five minutes and said, “Can you hold this for me?” I said, “Sure.” I put out my hand and he quickly put into my hand a HUGE ant and ran off. I jumped and dropped the ant. It was NOT what I was expecting or used to. Lol! As nature-loving as my girls are, that has never happened and I don’t think it will. Ha!

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