As the mom on two of the longest-running family sitcoms of all time, Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle, Patricia Heaton has been a part of our lives for decades. And since the latter show ended in May, she’s devoted most of her time to real-life families with the humanitarian organization World Vision.

“They focus on providing clean water, mother and child care, education, economic empowerment, anti-early marriage, and sex trafficking programs — all the things that I was looking for,” Patricia, 60, exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now.

The two-time Emmy-winning actress and producer even designed a necklace, bracelet, and scarf for World Vision’s 2018 Holiday Gift Catalog. But Patricia’s not giving up her day job just yet. In fact, she’s playing a mother again in the just-announced CBS sitcom Carol’s Second Act, about a retired teacher who decides to become a doctor.

Patricia Heaton
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All of these passions are inspired by her husband of 28 years, actor-producer-director David Hunt, 64, and their four sons. “The secret to a happy, successful marriage is realizing it’s not always going to feel happy or successful,” she admitted. “It’s about how it builds character and teaches you compassion.” Now Patricia opens up to Closer about her newly empty nest, her recent CBS deal, and how she dealt with the end of The Middle — scroll down to read our exclusive Q&A with Patricia! 

Congrats on your just-announced sitcom Carol’s Second Act and your production deal with CBS TV Studios! What do you and your new character have in common?

My husband and I [have grown kids] now [too]. We’re empty nesters, so we have much more time together. It’s kind of like we’re picking up where we left off before our boys came. We had them in quick succession, so it was sort of like a tsunami in the 90s and now we’re kind of coming up for air, swimming to shore and we’ve come back on shore flopping breathlessly. [Laughs]. So it’s actually been great to travel and just hang out and relax a bit.

And it must be nice to have a break after nine successful years on The Middle. What was it like to wrap the show up?

We had the whole year to contemplate the ending, so it was great to be able to relish our time together. The last two weeks, especially, you really felt the intensity. So it was kind of lovely and sweet. Though we were ready to move on, all of us, we were very appreciative of the nine years we’ve had together — we had such a terrific crew and we all became very close.

ABC's "The Middle"
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Have you been in contact with your Everybody Loves Raymond castmates?

Yeah, Ray [Romano] does a Labor Day party every year, so I just saw him a few weekends ago. I really look forward to that. It’s so nice that he does it so that we can all be in touch with each other.

What are your goals with the charity World Vision?

I’ve been working with them for a couple years, and one thing that surprised me is that even though Hugh Jackman has worked with them in Australia and Meghan Markle has in Canada, many in the entertainment industry have never heard of them. I want to bring awareness to the Hollywood community because it has a lot of resources to promote the good work World Vision is doing.

Any lessons you’ve learned from it that you’ve passed on to your sons?

My youngest is a sophomore in college, but my other three are out in the world. I think they’ve learned that we’re very privileged to live in our country because of my travels with World Vision. My oldest went to Sierra Leone with me and my youngest went to Zambia with me. So I hope I’ve instilled in them that it’s important to always try to help someone less fortunate.

Patricia Heaton Family
Patricia and her family in 2012. Getty Images

What’s your secret to being a successful parent?

You just have to love your child. I think it’s really helpful to read some psychology books, so you understand at each phase of development why your children do the things they do.

If I had to do something different, I would’ve made them a bit more independent earlier on. With so many of our kids, we’re protecting them from pain, but mistakes are how you learn, grow your character, and develop strength and resilience. We need to allow them to discover what’s important to them, listen to what’s in their hearts and follow their spirit.

Do you have any mottos that you live by?

Carpe diem is a good one — seize the day! As a person who lost their mother quite suddenly [from an aneurysm] at age 12, and has been in an industry where your job can end any day, all you have is what’s right in front of you. You have to make the most of it.

What can you say about turning 60?

I feel there have never been more opportunities than there are now for me, and that’s a wonderful comment on the way the world has changed. One of the great things about living in California is the attention to healthy living. I’m more conscious of what I put in my body, how I treat myself, exercise, sleep, all those things. Trying to stay healthy, because there’s so much to look forward to!

Do you have any advice on being happy?

If you just look for happiness, you won’t find it. I think it comes from feeling you spent your day in service to others, so you feel you have a purpose and you’ve been able to improve somebody’s life who needs help

Any other big life lessons you’ve learned?

Faith, family, and friends are the most important things. And at some point you will lose your friends and family, so you have to know that God has a purpose for your life. When you have that foundation, everything becomes an adventure with God by your side. So if you’re blessed enough to have [those three things], you’re the richest person on Earth.

For more on Patricia Heaton, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!