I have not met, nor do I know Denise Richards. But already I can see she has drawn upon more patience and self restraint than most people could muster in the same circumstances.

As she nears her fortieth birthday, she has found herself in the most unlikely, and unfortunate of circumstances. Trying to maintain dignity and discretion for herself and her children as her ex-husband’s personal struggles with addiction unfold in a public forum.

It is quite possibly the most surreal of ‘how did I get here?’ scenarios. When she met Charlie Sheen and married him in 2002, she certainly was aware that he was complicated. His issues with drugs and prostitution were well documented. But like so many people, like everyone who has ever seen every warning sign and red flag and stormed forward nonetheless, she fell in love with a person in spite of their flaws.  But it wouldn’t be long before taking the high road was no longer an option.

Make no mistake… when she filed for divorce in 2005, it got ugly. And as celebrity divorces go, the tabloid fodder eventually made her more of a flashy headline than a working actress. She was lumped into the category of “crazy psycho ex.” And as time passes, even though the paparazzi flashes dim a bit, a reputation is cemented. Richards became viewed as more of a reality-show character – more flash than substance. Unfairly branded a career casualty of a troubled relationship.

But while the photographers turned to the next scandal du jour, Richards focused on her children, fighting for their privacy and their security. At first, the couple agreed to shared custody of daughters Sam, 6, and Lola, 5. But in what may be the wisest move Charlie Sheen has made in recent years, in 2010 he signed parental rights over to Denise.

When news broke about Sheen’s hotel meltdown last fall, jaws dropped when people read that Richards sat and had dinner with him and his adult-film ‘star’ Capri Anderson (and six others) prior to the event. When a reportedly naked, drugged and boozed up Sheen tore up his hotel room and landed in a New York hospital, it was Richards who was by his side to see him get the proper care.

As fate would have it, around the same time, her recent role in a Spike TV series required publicity appearances, forcing Richards to share all the pre-planned interviews with an elephant in the room: the troubled life of her ex, Charlie.

Richards had every opportunity – and still does – to throw her ex-husband under the bus. But as she did on the Joy Behar show this past October, she continues to take the high road, looking out for her children – knowing that what she says now will be immortalized on the internet and kept in the video archives of every network she speaks to:

Said Richards, to Behar:

“The thing is, it`s very — my daughters are 5 and 6 years old and they`re at an age where they can start to understand. They have no idea what went on, and a lot of our stuff happened when they were much younger, which I am so grateful for.

We`re in an amazing place. We`ve been getting along great for the last year and a half. And, you know, we`re doing our best so as far as that situation I`m trying to protect the girls from it as much as possible.”

Protecting them has become more and difficult,  as evidenced by the latest porn star involved in Sheen’s recent wild night. (The same crazy night that led to his hospitalization, and entrance into rehab.) On “Good Morning America” Monday, porn star Kacey Jordan aired all the dirty laundry, claiming that Sheen asked her to babysit his kids: “He’s like, ‘Can you babysit? I need a girl I can rely on to babysit, you know?”

In what could easily have caused a public meltdown, Richards again played her cards right. Keeping it simple and clear. Via Twitter, she said, succinctly:

“If you caught ‘GMA’ today..FYI.. No ‘adult film star’ will be babysitting our kids!”

Sadly, Twitter is both a blessing and a curse for someone like Richards. An easy outlet to reach the masses, but also a direct line for anonymous websurfers to send hateful tweets in her direction. (It’s easy to be obnoxious when you don’t have to look someone in the eye.)

Interestingly enough, it remains unclear how Richards truly feels about Sheen. Her only public sentiment about him has been in correlation to protecting her children. It’s not clear whether she wants Sheen to get clean for his own good, or just for the kids. I would imagine a little of  both, but she doesn’t discuss it. And that’s how it should be. It is truly no one’s business but theirs.

Richards has had every opportunity to turn this horrific situation into a sympathy-seeking publicity event – and she hasn’t. It’s high time we take a moment to applaud someone for not sharing their story, and instead keeping their eyes on what is truly the most important – the ones they love.