Ok, thank you, Denise Richards, for providing a bit of a reality check regarding divorce and co-parenting. Because while we are dumbfounded, truly, with respect for and awe of celebrity co-parents who somehow always manage to put the kids first and get along and vacation together and all that, plenty who have been through divorce with kids know it can be super messy.
While we hate to see someone else, famous or not, struggling with the dark side of divorce and co-parenting, those of us in the trenches can admit it’s validating to see — and, honestly, a relief. Because, sorry Eva Amurri, we can’t all live with our ex husband and our kids in a big happy-go-lucky Connecticut quarantine. But more power to you!
During this week’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills episode, Denise spoke out about what it was like to divorce then-husband Charlie Sheen while she was six months pregnant with daughter Lola in 2005 — and why she was motivated by the toxic environment Sheen had created around their eldest daughter Sami. (The girls are now 15 and 14 years old, respectively, and Richards also adopted now-eight-year-old Eloise with husband Aaron Phypers in 2011.)
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“A lot of people have an impression of me being wild and crazy, but Charlie was sober when we got married, so we were not this swinging couple that people might assume,” Richards said on the show. “We weren’t.”
She added that “things started to change rapidly” during her pregnancy with Lola, when Sheen famously relapsed — and, you know, began to make those infamous weird remarks about “tiger’s blood” and “winning.” Ah, 2005.
“It was a very dark time and very toxic,” Richards said in the RHOBH confessional. “And I filed for divorce when I was six months pregnant with her.”
As for baby Sami, Richards said she “always did whatever I could to hide Charlie’s behavior” from her. But any parent who has experienced the conflict between a) knowing a co-parent’s behavior is harmful and b) not wanting to speak ill of them in front of the kids will tell you: It is so, so hard.
“How do you tell kids what’s really going on?” Richards asked. “I would say, ‘Dad had to go to work, but he loves you so much. He wants to be here for you girls.'”
Honestly, there are no one-size-fits-all answers when it comes to dealing with a toxic co-parent. Some parents will tell white lies to protect the kids; some will be as honest as they can while trying to avoid lasting psychological damage.
Marika Lindholm of ESME works to help solo moms handle divorce and co-parenting, and she sees the positives of keeping toxic info from kids. She told SheKnows that “it’s incredibly unfair and ultimately damaging to children if they don’t get some relief from [the process of] their parents splitting up.”
“Be the parent that shows kids that their world is consistent, safe and fun,” Lindholm adds. And it sounds like Richards is doing her darndest to be just that.
Richards and Sheen may still be struggling, but here are some celebrity exes who are getting co-parenting right.