London - Reading the text messages, they look like the usual exchanges between two busy parents doing their best to juggle the demands of work and looking after three young children.
From what time to pick up which child from swimming to the whereabouts of a lost piece of gym kit, the notes make up the normal minutiae of family life. Except that the messages between Lynlee Rampton and her children’s father are the only way they ever communicate.
After years of legal battles, Lynlee’s hostility to her former husband, with whom she shares custody of their two sons, aged 11 and nine, and their daughter, eight, is such that she would rather deal with him by exchanging brief messages than talk to him face-to-face.
At one point, their disagreements – over everything from how to treat the children’s nits to what should go in their packed lunches – got so bad that a judge suggested the couple confine their dialogue to Twitter, with 140 characters allowed per tweet, in order to stop it straying into acrimony.
This disturbing scenario, which shows how ferociously bitter the breakdown of a marriage can be, could become more frequent. With nearly half of all babies born in the Western world today due to live in broken homes by the time they are 16, it’s increasingly common.
But is it possible to successfully raise a happy child you love with a man you never want to speak to again?
Lynlee, 40, who met her former husband – a doctor – at a hospital where she worked as a speech therapist, agrees it’s a challenge. Nowadays, the only time she sees her ex face-to-face is at parent-teacher meetings.
“Even then we don’t make eye contact and communicate only via the teacher. The handovers, when the children go to stay with him, are done by me dropping them off at school in the mornings and him picking them up at the end of the day.”
It sounds clinical, but Lynlee says the situation is preferable to how things were before she and her husband split after seven years of marriage.
A hard-hitting new book, Raising The Kid You Love With The Ex You Hate, tackles the issue of how best to bring up children after a once-loving relationship breaks down painfully.
The book’s author, child psychologist Dr Edward Farber, says it’s not the split that damages children but the acrimony that follows. He says youngsters who witness their parents in long-running emotional wrangles can suffer trauma that lasts a lifetime.
When he started seeing the children of divorced parents, Farber assumed their problems would be mild compared with youngsters who had suffered chronic illnesses, been sexually abused or whose parents had died. But his conclusion is just the opposite: “The bottom line is that the out-of-control battles that parents wage can leave deep scars on children long after (the parents have) moved on.”
Among his patients have been children raised in domestic war zones in which embittered mothers refer to their former husbands only as “him” – and pass on messages to their children such as: “Your father rang to say that you left your jacket at the house he shares with the whore.”
Farber says warring couples must hide their mutual animosity from their children at all costs – and treat each other like business partners, stripping all emotion out of the relationship.
It’s quite a break from the traditional notion of raising a child with love. So, why does he think it’s the only hope for today’s broken families? And why are marriages ending so badly?
Farber says the main reason is that a generation ago, custody usually went to one parent – usually the mother, who made all the decisions. Now that couples expect equal access, there is more to fight about. Farber says: “Obviously it’s best for the child to have access to both parents, but it means that every decision may have to be made by two parents who hate each other.”
That’s why he recommends a business model. “Business partners don’t have to be friends,” says Farber. “But they know for their business to succeed and to produce the best possible product – their children – they must work together.”
While Lynlee is a supporter of this approach, other mothers find it harder to put into action – especially if their marriage has been ripped apart by infidelity.
Office manager Karen Davies is the first to admit how much she hated her former husband Steve when she discovered his adultery. She says four years after their split she still finds it a struggle to be civil to him, even though she recognises the effect the acrimony has had on her daughter Bella, 11.
Karen, 41, discovered that Steve was having an affair when he was taken to hospital after a motorbike accident. It was then that she discovered intimate pictures on his phone. Despite a reconciliation while she nursed him back to health, a month later she discovered he and his lover were secretly still in touch via a clandestine cellphone.
Karen said: “That day I threw him out of the house. Then I simply put all his possessions in the road and told him to take them away. As it was happening, Bella, then six, sat at the bottom of the stairs with tears streaming down her face, saying: ‘Daddy, why don’t you just say sorry to mommy?’ But he walked away.”
It’s a terrible image. But this was just the first poisonous scene Bella was to witness as her parents’ marriage exploded into vicious rows over money and custody arrangements.
After he left, Steve, a retail manager, moved 240km away to be with his new lover, and though he visits his daughter every two months, Karen says Bella rarely hears from him between visits.
Karen said: “Since our divorce, Bella has lost her spark because she has lost her security. She has became withdrawn and her schoolwork has suffered. She also became clingy and protective. Even now, she sleeps in my bed and tells me all she wants is for me to be happy.”
Despite the fact that her child is clearly desperate for some equilibrium at home, Karen says her divorce has proved such a bitter experience that she struggles to keep a lid on her emotions.
“Bella is the real casualty. She is innocent, yet she has seen too much, heard too much, for a child her age – but I blame my husband for throwing everything away. It’s hard to be civil to him for that reason.”
However, some women do manage to steer their family through the aftermath of a break-up.
Denise Barton, 43, believes it is possible to raise a happy, secure child with an ex, but that it requires time, patience and compromise.
Denise, a mother-of-one who has worked as a nanny for more than 20 years, has lived with families in which the parents were separating and so has seen the damage done to children by witnessing family rows. Her experience meant that when her 11-year marriage broke down three years ago after she developed ME (chronic fatigue syndrome), she set out to find strategies to shield her nine-year-old son Jack from the conflict.
But emotions can still run high with her ex, David, a 43-year-old electrician, with whom she shares custody. Like Farber, she believes it’s vital to take the emotion out of the situation, though her tactics owe more to her experience in the nursery than running a business firm.
Every time she and her ex start straying into an argument, the couple have developed a discreet signal that they make to each other as an indication that one of them should leave the room.
Denise says: “My son has already seen and heard things said that no child should have to hear, so I watch for the triggers that might upset me with my ex and walk away if I feel myself getting angry, so he doesn’t have to be exposed to any more.
“Of course, Jack would like us to get back together. But I have explained that just like when children fall out in the playground, sometimes his dad and I have trouble being nice to each other. So we stay separate like children do if they can’t get on – and he can relate to that.
“When we row, we know our son does not eat or sleep as well. We’ve seen the effects and we know we have to put our son first, ahead of our feelings.”
Farber agrees. And if warring adults don’t learn to control their feelings, he says the damage can last for decades – affecting your children as adults and even being passed on to grandchildren.
So next time you are tempted to phone your ex to shout at them about their selfishness, Farber says think again.
“If you don’t learn to get along, your failure will echo across the generations.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Denise. “My ex and I may not be in love any more, but we agree on how much we love our son – and that he has to come first.” – Daily Mail
* Some names have been changed. Raising The Kid You Love With The Ex You Hate (Greenleaf). Available on amazon.co.uk