Patricia Heaton's Biggest Challenge? Getting Her Boys to Bathe!

The star of The Middle dishes about raising teenage boys, making time for date nights and her low-key plans for Mothers' Day

In her hit ABC sitcom The Middle, Patricia Heaton plays a hard-working wife and mom of three. In real life, the hard-working mom is raising four boys, some of whom are (smelly) teenagers! As she describes it, "They literally come up to me and say, 'Do I need to shower?' And then I have to smell their armpits."

When iVillage caught up with the 52-year-old Emmy winner (honored twice for her hilarious performance as Debra Barone on CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond), she was looking forward to a much-needed night alone with her hubby, actor David Hunt. "Tonight is the first night all my kids have plans," she says. "I said to my husband, 'We actually have to talk to each other now!'" In our exclusive interview, Heaton dishes about her plans for their date night, her tricks for balancing a crazy-busy life and why she doesn't mind not getting spoiled on Mother's Day.

How do you relate to your character in The Middle?

Well, I grew up in the Midwest, and my own mom was a lot like Frankie. When I started having kids, I had no choice but to be a lot like Frankie. I had four kids in pretty quick succession, and I was working, so I relate to what Frankie goes through in trying to, you know, get food on the table and do school projects and get to work and manage everything on no budget whatsoever. Now, my kids are getting older....tonight is the first night all my kids have plans which is shocking. I feel like an ancient person, but -- one’s got a sleepover, one’s going to a dance, one’s going to the movies, and the other one just always gets into his car and leaves.

So that must be nice to have a night alone with your husband.

It is! I said to my husband, “We’re actually going to have to talk to each other now.” I don’t know how that’s going to work out. We haven’t spoken in 17 years! We actually have this industry function to go to. He was on 24, and they’re having their series wrap party tonight.

Do you plan many date nights?

We always say we’re supposed to have a date night, but we never, ever, ever do it. Because by the time it rolls around, we say, "Oh, I don’t really want to go anywhere.” We've gotten so lazy. I think it’s the years of not being able to go out because of work and the kids, that we’ve just gotten to be big couch potatoes. And there are so many things to watch on TV that we have, like, eight shows we watch every night. It's like, “Oh, we can’t go out tonight because Damages is on” or “It’s the season finale of …whatever.” If we were more rested, we’d go out more.

What tricks do you have for balancing work and family?

My friend once said, “You just have to throw as much money at the problem as possible.” In other words, get as much help as you can afford. But if you don’t have that, then you just have to not stress out and not buy into a culture that says you need all this stuff -- this consumer stuff -- to have a fulfilled life. Your kids don’t need all of it.

It’s hard when everybody else has iPhones and iPads and home 3-D movie theaters, but you've kind of got to remember what’s important. I go to a lot of charity events, and you see people whose kids have different illnesses, and you just think -- this is so cliché, I can’t believe I’m saying this -- as long as your kids are healthy, you are golden.

Do your sons watch your show?

Yeah, they do! You know, when I was doing Everybody Loves Raymond, they were really too small, and they didn’t relate to it. And it was always about Debra and Ray not having enough sex, so I didn’t want them to watch it. But this one, they actually relate to the kids and the ages -- which is so brilliant about this show, because it really has a wide audience span. They really love that and Modern Family, which is a great night of TV for them.

Do they think it’s cool that you’re a celebrity?

I guess they do. We just don’t go out that much. The things that we go to are always school functions or whatever, and I’m just a parent at those. I’m not a celebrity there. I mean, occasionally when we do go somewhere that’s not a school function, I get stopped and I guess they get a little kick out of it. But it doesn’t seem to be that much a part of their fabric. Although, my dad was this sports writer in Cleveland and everyone knew him because Cleveland is a big sports town, and we always got stopped because of him. I kind of remember that from growing up, and even though he’s just my dad, there was a part of my head that knew it was a big deal. So that must be the way it is for them.

What’s the hardest part about raising teenage boys?

You know, for boys, they just don’t seem to give a crap about their grades -- a "C" is just fine with them. They cannot think of any reason why you should work any harder than getting a "C". Why should you have to write in complete sentences? Why should you even have to answer questions at all? They'll say, “Mom, I know it, why do I have to say it -- I know the answers, why do I have to say it?” Well, nobody knows you know it. So that is really the most difficult part: getting them to care about homework.

How about dating? Are you protective when it comes to girls?

That hasn’t started happening yet. My oldest one is 16. There was a flutter of activity when he was, like, 14 or 15. It was like, “Oh, suddenly we’re in high school; now we can have girlfriends.” And they kind of all tried it, but it wasn’t very much fun. So now they don’t have girlfriends anymore. Because they play music, videogames, and blast BB guns and stuff -- so that’s kind of their thing. Sometimes they go hang out with girls, go to movies together, but there's no girlfriend thing going on.

Do you have any fun plans for the summer?

Well, my husband is British, so we’re going to visit his family in England. And then we’re going to do a little sightseeing in Europe for a couple of days. And then we bring all the English family back to Ohio to celebrate Fourth of July, which they’ve never done before. So we’re really excited to have them come.

What’s the best family vacation you’ve ever taken?

We just had the best vacation of our lives this year. We went to the Olympics in Whistler, Canada. Whistler is the most beautiful place. We had the best time. The boys skied and snowboarded. Then we went on a snowshoe hike in the mountains. We went zip-lining in the mountains. We went tubing. We went riding on dogsleds. It was the most fun vacation I’ve ever had.

Mother's Day is this weekend. Any big plans?

Oh, they never come up with any bloody thing! I have to think it up. I’m thinking about just walking down the street and picking up a ring or something and telling them, “Oh, by the way, that’s what you’re getting me for Mother's Day.” Sometimes we go to brunch or something, but nobody makes a very big deal out of it. But I have to say, I get hugs from my boys every single day, so everyday is Mother's Day in my house.

Plus, check out more exclusive interviews!
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