Inside the offices of the production company she created with her actor husband, Everybody Loves Raymond’s Patricia Heaton sat down recently with PEOPLE L.A. correspondent Pamela Warrick to talk about kids, show business and her new book, Motherhood & Hollywood: How to Get a Job Like Mine.

With four kids and your full-time job starring on Everybody Loves Raymond, how in the world did you find the time to write a book?

Well, I just stayed up later than the rest of my family. I would rush upstairs to my husband’s office every night after I got all four boys (Sam, 9; John, 7; Joe, 5; and Danny, 3) to bed and I would try to keep going until about midnight. This went on for about six months. For the most part, the chapters just flowed. I would write a chapter and send it to my brother Michael (46) who has a column called the “Minister of Culture” at the Cleveland Plain Dealer and he would read it and send it back with any suggestions. We work closely together because we have the same voice and the same sense of humor.

The biggest hurdle was getting it started. Once I got going, though, it was really fun. Rereading it now, I feel there is so much, so many incidents I didn’t include that maybe there might even be another book in the offing.

Well, you come from a family of journalists, don’t you? 

I do. In fact, until I got up the courage to tell my dad I actually wanted to act for a living, I was a journalism major at Ohio State. I always assumed it was my father’s dream that I would be a journalist like him. My dad, Chuck Heaton, was a sports columnist — a very well-known sports columnist — at the Plain Dealer when I was growing up. Anyway, when I finally told him that I wanted to change my major from journalism to theater arts, he said, ‘Okay, okay, sure, go ahead.’ I was just astonished because I thought my decision would break his heart.

But there was heartbreak in the Heaton household when you were growing up … 

Yes, yes there was. When I was 12, my mother — for whom I am named, Patricia Helen — suffered a brain aneurysm, without warning, and she died. She was 46. It was the worst thing you can possibly imagine. My mom was such an amazing person and I do miss her, especially now that I’m a mom. She never had a housekeeper, and with five of us kids, she had her hands full. But I loved helping her, even with housework, I never minded it. One of my favorite chores was dusting, spraying the Pledge and polishing the wood to a shine. I remember she taught me how to polish the silver for special occasions and chop nuts for brownies –things I do now with my kids.

You write freely about being in therapy. How has that helped you? 

Seeing a therapist has helped me in a lot of ways. Certainly, having lost my mother, there was a reason to examine my feelings. But these days, I talk more about my children and how I can be a better parent. A lot of what goes on in therapy now has to do with my kids. And whenever I actually take her advice, it works!

Another subject you are surprisingly honest about is your (post-pregnancy) plastic surgery. Why be so frank? 

There is a lot in Hollywood that is not as it seems. When I go out to an important public appearance, I have a lot of help to look the way I do. There is someone to do my makeup, someone to do my hair, a stylist to help me find just the right clothes. It’s really not fair — the image we present to the world — because it is so, uh, well, contrived. Women shouldn’t look at people they see on TV and compare themselves to those women because you aren’t really seeing those women the way they really are.

So, why the plastic surgery?

Vanity. I mean it, vanity. I had four babies and four C-sections, and my stomach looked like the map of the world. My breasts were hanging down to here from breast-feeding those babies and my nipples were like platters. I wanted to fit into the gowns that I finally got to wear. I had a breast reduction and a tummy-tuck and I feel fine about that and I feel fine about saying I did it. There is an awful lot of illusion in Hollywood, but it’s better to be honest if you can.

Some might say you have chosen to live your life in this superficial world. Do you ever have any regrets about becoming an actor?

No, it is a life I trained for and dreamed about and worked for and practically starved for. I did every job you can imagine to support myself in New York City after college. I worked running the copy machine at PEOPLE magazine so I could have health insurance. I modeled shoes and I worked the graveyard shift at Morgan Stanley proofreading. I even scooped ice cream. I still have many more years of struggle than I’ve had of success. I value what I have, believe me. Sometimes I start having like an anxiety attack when I see that pile of photos and resumes in the producers’ office from actors looking for work on our show. I was in that pile once. How did I get out of the pile? Sometimes, I wonder.

When did you first know that you wanted to be an actor and not a journalist like your dad and your brother or a nun like your sister? 

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but I know that I was always a very self-centered child. It was always, ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ My upbringing was very normal, way too normal, until my mother died, of course. We were a fairly functional, devout Catholic family. We weren’t rich, but we had a nice house and we certainly were not poor. At St. Raphael’s Catholic grade school in Bay Village, Ohio, where I grew up, I was famous by the time I was in second grade for being able to sing every song on the Barbra Streisand album. I still love to sing, but now it’s just around the house.

You talk about reordering your priorities to put family first. How do you do that with a career and four kids?

David (Hunt, her husband, 48) and I have done a lot of reorganizing of our lives to try to keep things from falling apart. We really didn’t do anything this summer. We just chilled out and everybody benefited. There was a whole period of time when David and I weren’t sitting down with the kids for dinner; now we sit down to dinner every night at 5:30. We don’t answer the phone after 5 o’clock, and every night one of the boys gets to go on a walk with us around the neighborhood. We are really operating as a family unit, so now I feel okay to go out with my husband every once in a while.

Any plans for more children?

More kids? Well, it’s still a possibility. Nobody’s had anything snipped or anything.

Are you surprised at how your life has turned out?

Not really. Which seems sort of funny, I suppose. But I remember a year or two ago and Dave and I were walking down Fifth Avenue in New York with a magazine photographer walking backwards in front of us taking our picture. Dave said to me, ‘Can you believe this?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I can. This is exactly how I imagined it would be.’ I had been dreaming about this all my life so when it finally happened, no, it wasn’t a surprise.