The strange life of a trophy wife

“They say if you marry money, you earn every cent of it,” says an actress in a play, “The Old Boy,” performed recently in New York. (NYTimes, March 19, 2013).

Trophy wife” is an expression used to refer to a wife, usually young and attractive, who is regarded as a status symbol for the husband, who is often older and wealthy. (Wikipedia)

Reading the comment from “The Old Boy” brought to mind an interview I did in the late 1990s with Mary, a nanny who had many years’ experience working with ultra-high net-worth families. She described to me her role and what she had observed in these families. Here is a portion of that interview, taken verbatim from my book Like a Second Mother: Nannies and Housekeepers in the Lives of Wealthy Children, published by in 1999 by The Inheritance Project.

Mary had “worked for a long time for a family who lived on Fifth Avenue in New York, and the parents would make appointments to see their baby. But they didn’t always show up. . . . . Sometimes they were in the house for three days without ever seeing him.

“When [they] were planning a dinner party, they would want the baby shown. They’d ask me to put him in a three-hundred-dollar set of pajamas and bring him down.” [Mary proposed that instead of this plan, the guests] could “come up to the nursery three or four at a time, with me holding him on my lap. He would perform beautifully.

“But the parents wouldn’t do that. They said, ‘We want him to come down to the library at such-and-such hour, and we want him to smile.’ They think you can make a baby do that! But I knew that if I brought him down to a room he’d never been in, full of women with long red fingernails and dangly earrings and lots of jewelry, I couldn’t expect him to do anything but cry.

“The baby’s grandparents made appointments to see him every two months. I’d put an expensive outfit on him and bring him to the library. Everything was very, very formal and uncomfortable. And that’s the nanny’s role to get the baby through that.”

“Let me tell you a story so you won’t be judgmental [about trophy wives], because spending very little time with their children is the norm in the most affluent families. You often have a man who is married to his second or third wife. He’s in his fifties; his first family is grown; and his new wife is a young woman who would like to have a baby. When she expresses that to him, he says, ‘I will let you do that, but don’t expect my life to change one bit.’

“I’m talking about the typical man in these situations—a businessman. Most of them are heads of corporations, and socializing is part of their business; it’s where a lot of their contacts happen. So when that man and his wife go out to social events, he’s doing business, and she serves a very important business purpose. [Her] job is to spend her day at the spa and the beauty shop because she has to look gorgeous every night. And so when she gets her baby, a troop of nannies enters the scene because her husband won’t change his life.”

Question: “Do you think the babies know their parents love them?”

Mary:  “Not all of them do, and I think what’s why you see so many suicides, so may drugs, so many smashed cars. What they’re doing is getting even.”

Based on this account, it seems that trophy wives who have children do indeed pay a heavy price for their glamorous lifestyle.

[Note: Like a Second Mother: Nannies and Housekeepers in the Lives of Wealthy Children is out of print, although a small number of copies are found in online booksellers for inflated prices. I recently unearthed another copy of the book. If you are interested in buying it, please contact me at inheritance@eastlink.ca]