Desperate Housewives: The Reinvention of the Main Line Mom

Interior designer? Closet organizer? Publicist? Party planner? The truth about Philly’s new career women

“People think they can just jump into it. They think, ‘I know a lot of people. I’ve been on Philebrity. I’m friends with newscasters. I’d love to be able to call and get a table at Amada whenever I want one. I could do that,’” says one local publicist who’s suffered through this drama. “Then they call me and say, ‘What do I do?’ This happens all the time. It’s so frustrating. Because I’ve worked really, really hard to get where I am.”

At least those poseurs call for advice. “There are two different personality traits at work here,” notes another legit pro. “The bravado that prevents them from calling real experts for help, and the bravado that got them into the jam in the first place,” because they didn’t have any experience/plan/skill in their “new profession” from the start.

The result can be a minor jam, like the Main Line woman who, in the course of three years, transformed herself into a real estate agent, then started a clothing line, then ended up as a personal trainer … with only one client. That was because she refused to train anyone in the morning. She just didn’t want to work out at—gasp—7 a.m.

The jams get a little tackier, though, when you accept actual money from actual clients who actually believe you are what you say you are. Take, for example, the Cherry Hill fashionista who decided she’d be a “stylist.” Her first client was a woman she wooed on the playground. They scheduled a shopping day, with the client paying a set fee. At one store, however, the “stylist” got a fitting room of her own and began to play dress-up for herself. At the end of the day, guess who had the most bags? “I have girlfriends to shop with,” the client later complained to pals. “I don’t have to pay them.”

But there’s no stickier, staler, ranker jam than one that involves not hundreds of actual dollars, but thousands.

One “personal organizer” came so highly recommended by the friends of a Bryn Mawr mom that she had no hesitation about hiring the woman to organize her closet. Previously, the “organizer” had dabbled in decorating after friends saw her house and begged her to help with theirs; she’d now branched out. The estimate for whipping the Bryn Mawr local’s messy closet into shape? A cool $2,500. There was just one teensy problem: “She had no idea what she was doing,” the client says. “She actually got overwhelmed measuring things out at Ikea. She screwed up so badly.”

Except, it seems, when it came to sending invoices. One for an additional $1,000. Then another for $1,500. When the client didn’t pay immediately, the bills were re-sent, this time threateningly stamped IN ARREARS. In the end, the Bryn Mawr mom owed a staggering $7,000—for a closet she hated. Painted in oh-so-neutral Wilmington Tan. (The “client” has since discovered that Bryn Mawr is filled with rooms painted Wilmington Tan, all done over by you-know-who.)

“We were social friends,” the client says. “I had to pay her. I had to.”

“THIS WHOLE THING is flat-out dangerous,” says True Prep’s Birnbach. “You’re spending your friends’ money. It could get ugly. It could lead to The War of the Roses at Agnes Irwin.”

But she gets it. They all do. When relevancy is on the line, it’s impossible not to compete. To be thinner. To marry the better guy. To have smarter kids. To get the new Fendi bag. To have an identity of your own.

“Some of them really don’t want to be doing what they’re doing,” says one local professional in a popular DIY field. “They just want to be famous, on TV, in a style magazine, all as a validation of their good taste and their beauty.”

Validation is one thing. Exploitation is another. “You can put on a new hat and call yourself whatever you want,” says Seidman. “But are you responsible for your mistakes?”

In the end, the responsible party has to be the friend who’s writing the check. But it can be very hard separating the stylist from the style-lost. How do you know if the “organizer” handing out cards at book club even owns a tape measure? Or if the “decorator” at Pure Barre class is just in it to get the discount at the Marketplace?

It’s better, then, when choosing friends, to stay on the safe side of the Reinvention.

The safest?

The “novelist.”

We’ve all met her. She tells people she’s working on a book. She’s been “working on it” for a long time, without writing a single word. She can then decide not to continue writing it because (a) someone else just published “exactly” what she was writing; or (b) she just came up with an even better idea, which she can now start over with and “work on” for a long, long time. As a result, she doesn’t need to put out one friend, or ever actually prove that she’s doing what she saysa she’s been doing. And not one pal needs to open her Gucci checkbook, so no one gets hurt. It’s just the “novelist,” and the nods and indulgent smiles she gets, often accompanied by the knowing “Good for you.”

I’m that person,” says former high-powered PR gal Beth Dunn, now a mother of two in sleepy Mays Landing. “I never even took a writing class, but I decided I’d write a book.” But Dunn actually did write the book, Social Climbers, based on her experiences growing up on the Main Line, and self-published it. Last fall, she was getting nips of interest from Hollywood about turning it into a film. So she started a business called Social Climbers LLC, “for tax purposes.” And, of course, she got the requisite business card. And Facebook page.

But Dunn’s a lot more self-aware about her fauxness than most of her peers. “I ‘own’ a business,” she says. “But I spend most of my time at the spa.”

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  • jason

    The fact that people pretend to be in PR is very, very annoying. PR is much more than throwing events — it includes media relations, content marketing, strategic partnerships and even analyzing the competition.

    Nothing wrong with being an event planner, but just don’t masquerade as a strategic marketing professional when you’re clearly not!

  • Maria

    The true question (unanswered) in this article is…are the housewives reinventing their careers because they are desperate for something meaningful or because they desperately want to reinvent themselves?
    Being satisfied in the mind, body and soul is an excellent path to pursue in life. Whether achieving this through yoga, tennis or any career is not anyones place to judge. Anything in life that is pursued with passion and a pure heart is admirable, business card or no business card.
    It seems as if raising your kids as moral, responsible people who contribute to society in a meaningful way is devalued in this article. Let’s pray for our future then.
    I do have the time to practice yoga, play tennis and go to whole foods more then once a week and I AM NEVER BORED.
    Just because people blog and facebook information it does not make them an expert on anything. No more then I am an expert on parenting because I have kids.
    Excellent taste is a matter of opinion and just because you live on the Main Line..doesn’t mean you have it!

  • mainline

    Is this girl serious, she needs a life or to create a life because she clearly is missing something. What happened to the PR then the mom and can’t hang in the a hot yoga room or a tennis court. How is your backhand???

  • Meliss

    “WHEN JAPS ATTACK!”

  • Alla

    Here’s what we have learned from Philly Mag over the years. Women who choose a career over family are selfish. They pawn off their children to nannies-or G-d forbid they let them run amok. Women who quit their jobs and stay home only care about nice clothes, the best new handbags and staying skinny. And now its time to bash and disseminate a new group of women. Those who give up professional careers to raise children and want to go back into the work force. Perhaps we cannot go back to our 100 hour/week jobs so we reinvent ourselves and try to find a new profession. Some may do it for the money, some for a hobby or perhaps to create some balance in our lives. Instead of portraying these women in a positive light our author chooses to throw out 3 pages if digs, insults and back handed comments. Aren’t you tired of being so cynical and judgmental? We are damned if we work hard, damned if we don’t work at all and still damned if we do both. Whose side are you on?

  • amy

    I have grown up in this area — there is a culture and there are players, none of which have changed much over the years. I think that this article touches a nerve because of its ring of truth . . . believe me when I tell you that this is exactly what is going on around here. If you are not from this area, it will seem mean-spirited, but frankly the Main Line has done nothing over the years but reinforce all of the mean girl high school behavior. So many women around here think that they are Holier Than Thou and gain their significance from having rich husbands, rich fathers and club memberships, while doing nothing meaningful for society (not even raising their kids beyond hiring the live-in nanny). It’s time that someone called them out on it.

  • Bob

    This is article is offensive. Waahhhh, Michelle, Waahhhh! God, how awful it would be for you to have to play tennis and do yogo and go to whole foods everyday!? Get over yourself. People are defaulting on their mortgages and losing their houses and you’re upset you have to play tennis everyday? You disgust me.

  • Anonymous

    So let’s get this straight Michele you need something to do with your time. Do you really think it makes sense taking shots at all of your friends around you and a community of people. Is it so bad as a woman who is married to a husband in the professinal community to be a stay at home mom, and help better our children future??? Most of us are quite educated with college degree, do you have one??? As a Mom who stays home and does drop her children off in the morning I do have time until I need to pick them up I play tennis, workout, run, go to the gym, practice yoga and yes run to Whole Foods to provide a healty life for my Family. It is truely a blessing when one of our takes shots and judges, but wait aren’t you really from South Philly pretending to live on the Mainline!!!!

  • Mainline

    Michelle for years you have been quoted in Philly Mag either using your name or on an anonymous basis, but we all knew it was you. Isn’t it about time you stop talking about all of the women around you and start thinking about what is truly important. Things like family, friends, community, and the ones that are less forunate. In light of the PSU sex scandal do you think it is more important to go find a trunk in Chestnut Hill or be there to care for and protect our children? So that being said girls keep the comments coming and roll out your yoga mat, put on your sneakers, or go to the gym let’s stick together and meet at Whole Foods for Lunch. Girls, we know what is truly important our Children !!!!

  • Margie

    very insightful, pretty true. But what’s someone to do really? When you give up your career to stay home, you’ve got to get back in the game somehow.

  • Public Relations

    A little damage control do I hear!!!

  • Jen

    Ladies,
    Let’s try to get it together. It’s all important. Our children, our relationships with our spouses and friends, our self worth, our contributions to society-all of it. Everybody’s version of accomplishment is going to be different. Everyone finds fulfillment in different ways. Please, let’s not trash each other’s journeys. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. And philly mag, stop printing this unnecessary garbage. This is an article the author didn’t need to write, MIchelle didn’t need to contribute to, or any of the other “career critics” who chimed in. I am a busy professional, a wife and a mother. I struggle with trying to be all three. I admire the other ladies out there for doing what they do well, and I am the last to criticize, because I know at least for me, it’s impossible to get it all right. A mentor of mine told me that I can have it all, I just can’t have it all at once. But I admire those others for trying. I admire people pursuing their dreams, whatever those dreams may be. The only guaranteed failure…

  • Bella

    Philly Mag: dumb subject for an article. Not even entertaining honestly. Empty and pointless. However, these comments are mean spirited and just as pointless. With everything going on in the world and in our city, why berate someone for trying to open a new chapter in her life? Was the Whole Foods comment really that hurtful and insulting that we must attack another mom’s education, background etc? She may not have thought it through before saying it, but it certainly wasn’t attacking character like most of you have done here. Get a grip and focus on what matters most in life. Being a good person, giving back and setting positive examples for your children.

  • Nancy

    Dont shoot the messenger.. It was just an article; lets face it, it’s reality! The Main Line is just an example of various places this is happening today. All the negative comments are a bit personal. Therefore, I suggest, if negative responders have an “axe to grind” with Michelle, don’t use the article as your outlet. Those who feel the need to respond with such crude words show their jealousy, and highlight their lack of knowledge to the amazing person she is, and has always been. She is a hard worker, great wife, mother, and a true friend. It takes a true woman to write an article that can be published, and to live in an area where beings are criticized for their choice of living.

  • Nancy

    Dont shoot the messenger.. It was just an article; lets face it, it’s reality! The Main Line is just an example of various places this is happening today. All the negative comments are a bit personal. Therefore, I suggest, if negative responders have an “axe to grind” with Michelle, don’t use the article as your outlet. Those who feel the need to respond with such crude words show their jealousy, and highlight their lack of knowledge to the amazing person she is, and has always been. She is a hard worker, great wife, mother, and a true friend. It takes a true woman to write an article that can be published, and to live in an area where beings are criticized for their choice of living.

  • Nancy

    Dont shoot the messenger.. It was just an article; lets face it, it’s reality! The Main Line is just an example of various places this is happening today. All the negative comments are a bit personal. Therefore, I suggest, if negative responders have an “axe to grind” with Michelle, don’t use the article as your outlet. Those who feel the need to respond with such crude words show their jealousy, and highlight their lack of knowledge to the amazing person she is, and has always been. She is a hard worker, great wife, mother, and a true friend. It takes a true woman to write an article that can be published, and to live in an area where beings are criticized for their choice of living.

  • Nancy

    Dont shoot the messenger.. It was just an article; lets face it, it’s reality! The Main Line is just an example of various places this is happening today. All the negative comments are a bit personal. Therefore, I suggest, if negative responders have an “axe to grind” with Michelle, don’t use the article as your outlet. Those who feel the need to respond with such crude words show their jealousy, and highlight their lack of knowledge to the amazing person she is, and has always been. She is a hard worker, great wife, mother, and a true friend. It takes a true woman to write an article that can be published, and to live in an area where beings are criticized for their choice of living.

  • Nancy

    Dont shoot the messenger.. It was just an article; lets face it, it’s reality! The Main Line is just an example of various places this is happening today. All the negative comments are a bit personal. Therefore, I suggest, if negative responders have an “axe to grind” with Michelle, don’t use the article as your outlet. Those who feel the need to respond with such crude words show their jealousy, and highlight their lack of knowledge to the amazing person she is, and has always been. She is a hard worker, great wife, mother, and a true friend. It takes a true woman to write an article that can be published, and to live in an area where beings are criticized for their choice of living.

  • Jon

    At best, posting menacing feedback, including remarks about someone’s age, educational and demographic background is a bad example to set. At worst it is anonymous cyber-bullying. –Jon Hoffman

  • Anonymous

    If you have the guts to be quoted by a magazine on multiple occasions and hold yourself out as an expert. Then you have to realize the ramifications that can occur. The actual irony of all of these posts is that this is exactly what these types of articles are set out to accomplish quote someone saying something outlandish and draw internet traffic to the website. Goal complete!!! The sad part of this story is that people don’t like to be judged for their choices and just like Michelle made a choice to be quoted sometimes using her name and sometimes not using her name ( push presents and bad behavior at country clubs by children at birthday parties)she made a mockery of a segment of woman who made the choice to stay home. As I sometimes sit in my yoga class with other moms,I listen to the instructor talk about being nice, not to use negative energy, and thank god for what you have in life. Seeing my life quoted in a magazine and to be made fun of does give me the choice to post a comment using my name or not using…

  • Anonymous

    my name. All I ask is that everyone just get a long and remember it is always easier to be nice the mean spitited. We all should remember that thinkinh first before we speak or write something always helps. Ashton Kutcher found that to be a reality tweeting about Penn State and not even knowing the real story. We should find the the good in people and not talk or gossip about the bad in people. We all strive to be perfect but we are all not. As a community we should take this as a lesson and forgive and forget and show the love in one another. Namaste “I honor the place in you which is of love, truth, light, and peace” “I recognize that we are all equal” Show love not hate and make peace, I am out peeps!!!

  • maria

    If you truly think the comments are cyber bullying then you just labeled the very person you are trying to defend as a bully…because her comments in the article are no different…she just made the mistake of using her name.

    Let’s not throw a buzz word around like cyber bullying because this is not a dedicated website to criticize or harm Michelle Seidman. This is the COMMENT section of an article she agreed to be the subject in and agreed to be quoted. She probably even pitched the idea herself. If she has a background in PR she knew exactly what the ramifications would be from her menacing comments.

  • Judy

    I just read this story, and these comments, and I’m not getting what it is that Michele Seidman was quoted as saying that was so offensive. She didn’t say anything about anyone except herself, and how SHE was feeling, which was why SHE started doing design or whatever. She isn’t critical of anyone, except maybe herself. Many of these comments, though, are far, far, far more offensive and personal, attacking her directly. I just don’t get it. Seems like this piece hit a nerve with someone she knows and that person is using this comment section as a way to grind an ax. It’s very strange.

  • maureen

    Can’t all relate? All women, especially all mothers? regardless of where we live or how munch money we have? Everyone is searching for something that makes them feel good about how they are living their lives. For women this is so much harder- feeling guilty if I’m not at home with the kids, guilty if I’m not working- god forbid you take time for yourself and get a mani pedi! I don’t think Michelle said anything wrong? She seems like a smart successful business woman and a great mom. Don’t we want to teach our kids that we can be/do whatever we set our minds to? Whatever makes us happy?