Partnership comes in many forms. For Denise Albert and Melissa Musen Gerstein, the meaning of the word blends the personal and the professional. The two women—both NYC mothers—have turned what was initially a professional relationship built on mutual goals into a fiercely close friendship that’s uniquely merged with the formidable business and media force they co-founded, known as The MOMS.
“The greatest thing about being an entrepreneur is having a business partner,” Musen Gerstein says. “You cannot do it alone. You need someone who feeds your soul, who you can bounce ideas off of, who protects you, and who shares the same passion.” Albert chimes in: “It’s so important to have a partner who you trust, who works just as hard as you do, and who will do anything for you,” she explains. “I don’t believe in luck, because I believe you have to work really hard, but we got really lucky with each other.”
Whether or not luck has anything to do with it, it’s undeniable that the hashtag-happy duo’s partnership is something that’s steeped in shared ambition, mutual respect, and a passion for championing working motherhood. Musen Gerstein (a happily married mom-of-three from St. Louis, MO) and Albert (an #IndependentMom-of-two from Long Island who calls herself “happily divorced”) both come from a TV news background and first met when Musen Gerstein landed in front of Albert at a job interview for “Good Morning America” as she was trying to transition back into NYC after living in Toronto and producing “Canadian Idol.” The job didn’t pan out and Musen Gerstein found work at CNN, but the two stayed in touch through the TV news industry, and combined forces a few years later to bring a candid, supportive, and honest conversation about modern motherhood to the media marketplace. In 2009, they sought to fill a void in the parent space, and launched a newspaper column called “Moms and the City” in Metro US newspapers, which they later parlayed into a two-year run on TV with NBC Nonstop in a show called “Moms & The City And A Dad Named David.”
“We didn’t really have a plan. We just had the idea to do this newspaper column, like ‘Sex and the City,’ where we’d write a first-person piece and interview a celebrity based on what we were talking about,” explains Albert, a media industry vet who grew up around celebrity and journalism as the daughter of legendary sports broadcaster Marv Albert, and also interned at TV stations (including MTV) throughout high school and college. Her mother, Benita Oberlander, also is a big part of Albert’s professional life, as she’s an attorney who serves as The MOMS’ lawyer.
Their business has since blossomed beyond their original forays into print and television to become the enterprise now known as The MOMS (officially The MOMS Network). The MOMS encompasses their free Mamarazzi movie screening and celebrity Q&A events, a SiriusXM Stars radio show called “The MOMS with Denise and Melissa,” regular appearances on PIX11 news, a franchise of mom-centric fashion shows (“Strut”) with a charity tie-in, and a myriad of editorial content and robust social media channels.
When it comes to business, Albert and Musen Gerstein divide and conquer the different responsibilities of the company—from sales and marketing to legal to editorial direction and content—as well as the task of putting in the time to develop meaningful relationships with celebrities and influential brands.
One the home front, Albert likes to think of herself as a #fulltimeworkingstayathomemom to her sons, Jaron, 11, and Jaylan, 8. She’s an adventurous parent, who loves to travel with her boys and show them all the wild and wonderful things the world has to offer. “I can provide experiences and show [my kids] the world through those experiences,” she says. And though she used to take a somewhat “loosey-goosey” (a term both she and Musen Gerstein land on) approach before her divorce, she’s now found herself enforcing stricter rules around things like bedtimes. While both her boys love sports, her older son is “the ultimate city kid” and calls himself DJ Jaron and hopes to be a DJ one day, while her little guy is a “walking sportscaster weatherman” who relishes storing up all kinds of facts and trivia.
Meanwhile, Musen Gerstein stays busy with her three kids—Elias, 14, Lily Ava, 11, and Sydney Rose, 7—and husband of 17 years, Anthony, at home. In her estimation, she tends to be more about “tough love” at home and sometimes has to put her “St. Louis roots” in check when she gets anxious about things like her teenager taking the subway alone. She delights in the fact that her youngest is now a student at the School of American Ballet (as Musen Gerstein herself was once a serious ballerina) and is also proud to boast about her middle daughter’s gymnastics prowess and her teenage son’s love of music, track and field, and Ultimate Frisbee.
For all their differences in parenting styles and sensibilities, the two are fully in sync in finding fulfillment from being working mothers in the business of motherhood. “Being able to contribute—and I mean financially—I think it’s quite rewarding,” Musen Gerstein says. She also notes that she grew up in a home where both her parents worked at her father’s advertising agency, a fact that gave her early exposure to the media industry and also fed her work ethic. “I’ve always had to work—since I was 15 and got a worker’s permit to go wait tables at a country club in St. Louis,” she continues. “There is an innate drive in me that has pushed me, and I think that passion that my children see has made them want more in life and want to succeed.” The sentiment is echoed by Albert, whose pride in supporting her kids independently is magnified by the fact that she’s divorced. “The biggest joy for me is that I can provide for my children,” Albert says. “For me to be able to, on my own, give my boys the life [that they have], is my inspiration.”
They’ve also deepened their relationship as friends to the point where they now consider each other to be like family (taking trips together, watching each other’s kids, and “rocking out” at family dinners together), which is fitting because, as they both say in unison, their mission is “empowering families one mom at a time.”
“We call each other #WorkWives and we help each other with the kids on a daily basis and weekly basis, and I think that’s part of how we’re able to do what we do every day,” Albert says. “It’s because our kids are like cousins and we’re like family.”
The bond is apparent—the friends laugh easily and loudly, sneak in offers to take each other’s kids for the weekend as asides to just about any conversation, and effortlessly complement each other’s strengths. Of course, the strength of any relationship is always put to the test in hard times, and Musen Gerstein and Albert have that covered as well.
Albert has weathered a divorce and is currently undergoing breast cancer treatment—she used her passion for writing and storytelling as a therapeutic device throughout both personal journeys and as a way to help others enduring similar struggles. She wrote a series of pieces called Divorce Diaries for The Huffington Post, with the goal of changing the language around divorce. “I don’t like to use the term ‘single parent’ because my kids have a dad who’s active in their lives,” she notes. And as far as her cancer battle goes, Albert has been sharing her experiences regularly since the news of her cancer broke on People.com this past January. Readers can turn to her “Chronicles of a #FutureCancerSurvivor” pieces on The MOMS’ website, as well as the pieces she contributes to GoodHousekeeping.com on the subject, for honest words of inspiration and hope.
“When something happens, I like to write. But I also really do think, very much so, about how it can help other people, how it can help my children, how it can make what others would perceive as negative into positives. I have cancer—I can’t change it, so I have to make the best out of it that I can. And there are a lot of days when it really sucks,” Albert says. “I post a lot on social media… And while we may be busy and working and looking a certain way, at the end of the day it’s not easy.”
Musen Gerstein, who also has seen her own mother, father, and sister through bouts of cancer, is beside Albert every step of the way as a pillar of support. She has Albert’s chemo treatment days locked into her calendar and is quick to refer to Albert as a “tower of strength” who’s also not willing to sugarcoat any experience. “Denise takes her wig off, she has no eyelashes, and she’s vulnerable and it doesn’t feel good,” Musen Gerstein says. “But, she’s actually saved two lives—two women who went and got mammograms and detected cancer because of Denise’s [writing].”
This is the silver lining that drives Albert’s desire to live very publicly through the obstacles she’s faced. Helping others is a huge piece of her personal ethos. “I hope that all I’m writing about is helpful to other people,” she says. “I try to educate—I don’t have all the answers, I can only tell you what I think from going through it—I’m not a doctor, I’m not an expert, but I’m an expert who’s living it.”
In many ways, The MOMS as a business embodies a similar credo. Both the Sirius XM radio show and the Mamarazzi events are structured around community building and encouraging parents to share with one another—even when they have opposing views, as Albert and Musen Gerstein sometimes do during their on-air discussions about everything from tooth fairy money to work-life balance to current events related to parenting. For example: When it comes to work-life balance, Musen Gerstein relates to an idea shared by Jennifer Garner at a Mamarazzi event of being either fully in mom-mode or fully in work-mode depending on what she has going on, while Albert prefers multi-tasking and getting some work done in tandem with spending time with her kids.
“I think we’re both very respectful of each other’s views and it’s been like that with us from day one…it’s a healthy conversation.” Albert says. “And what’s great about the radio show too is that we get so many callers from around the country… Some of them will agree with me, and some of them will agree with Melissa! Sometimes they’ll have a completely different opinion! And we welcome their thoughts. We always feel like everything we do is a conversation and what we like to do is include other people in that conversation.”
Musen Gerstein adds that she feels like calling into the show can be comforting for anxious parents: “It’s a community that we’re speaking to and creating,” she says. “I think a lot of people call in because it’s anonymous and they just want validation that they’re doing a good job.”
The Mamarazzi events—which bring real parents, bloggers, and influencers (and their families) into the mix with celeb parents like Will Smith, Jennifer Garner, Hugh Jackman, and Brooke Shields at special screenings of upcoming movies (usually ones aimed at kids and families, or with a focus on some kind of parenting issue)—operate in the same vein. The events, which got their start with Sarah Jessica Parker as their first celeb guest, provide a free opportunity for attendees to ask questions of celeb parents. Anyone can sign up to attend (visit TheMOMS.com) and the result is an exchange of ideas that benefits all involved. Later on, the audio content from these Q&As is repurposed on The MOMS’ radio show.
“What’s really cool is when people write in to us, or moms stop us at our events, and let us know that their blogs are growing in size because they got to ask Kate Hudson a question, or they’re reaping the benefits with their children because they got an afternoon to come see a Jennifer Garner film and their kids got to meet her,” Musen Gerstein dishes about the events, which, in partnership with a variety of influential national brands, are now taking place across the country in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington DC, in addition to the Tri-State Area.
Perhaps the truest credit to the burgeoning “mom-pire” (as Musen Gerstein says) the two mothers have built is the fact that not only does their friendship get stronger with every new venture, but the work feeds their souls in ways that traditional work arrangements hadn’t in the past. “We were able to create this business because we are moms, and we were able to make this business what we want it to be because we are moms,” Albert says. “We get to do everything we want as businesswomen and as mothers because of what our business is.”
As for now, the volume of the parenting conversation they originally set out to spark is audibly increasing and drawing in participants from all over the country. “We just always have ideas, we’re always evolving, and we’re always looking for ways to grow,” Albert says. “We just hope that The MOMS will expand soon!”
To which Musen Gerstein counters—with a smile, but utterly serious: “What do you mean ‘we hope’?”
To learn more about The MOMS, visit TheMOMS.com!