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Drew Barrymore has been open about her difficult childhood in the past, including recently sharing a heartfelt moment with actress Jennette McCurdy about their abusive moms. But the mom of two wanted something different for her own kids, Olive, 10, and Frankie, 8, who she shares with ex Will Kopelman. When the two got divorced in 2016, The Drew Barrymore Show host struggled with the reality that the life she planned for her kids just wasn’t going to happen.

In a new cover interview with PEOPLE, published online today and on newsstands Friday, the Charlie’s Angels star talked openly about the “messy, painful” aftermath of her divorce.

“After the life I planned for my kids didn’t work out — I almost think that was harder than the stuff [I went through] as a kid,” Barrymore said. “It felt a lot more real because it wasn’t just me. It was about these kids that I cared so much about.”

She was so upset that she stopped taking care of herself. “And then I probably cared so much that I was only giving to them and not taking care of myself. It was a messy, painful, excruciating walk through the fire and come back to life kind of trajectory,” Barrymore told the outlet, adding that she tried to “numb the pain and feel good” through drinking.

Even though Barrymore and Kopelman’s breakup wasn’t messy, the actress still struggled with giving up the idea she had of her family life. “There was no scandal. Nothing went wrong, which is cleaner, but makes it harder and more confusing because there isn’t The Thing to point to,” she told PEOPLE. “We tried so hard to make it work. [A friend] said to me, ‘Divorce is the death of a dream.’ That’s exactly what it feels like, something so final you can’t get it back.”

Since she knows “what that feels like” to grow up in a broken family, she was extra determined to keep everyone together. “If I haven’t learned from that, then what was it all for?” Barrymore said, adding, “’This is a family, so nobody’s going anywhere.’ I was determined to make it work because we all loved each other so much.”

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But ultimately, thinking about her kids helped her decide to go to therapy and quit drinking. “It was my kids that made me feel like it’s game time,” the E.T. star told PEOPLE.

Not that parenting is always easy either. In an interview with YOU in Nov. 2021, she shared, “I’m unguarded because I don’t want to come across as someone who has their sh-t together. I’m not a total clown but I don’t relate to people who glide through life or parenting.” Barrymore continued, “I relate to struggle, conquering it, the humor, the messiness of life. I can’t stand fakeness.”

Another area she isn’t fake in? Her relationship with Kopelman and his wife Alexandra “Allie” Michler, a Vogue fashion director. The women even get together on Mother’s Day. “Mother’s Day is very multi pronged for me,” Barrymore shared in an Instagram post on May 2021, alongside a series of photos of her and Allie and other important women. “And I am so lucky. I love my girls and I love the women in my life.”

Barrymore told PEOPLE that Kopelman and Michler’s relationship help ease the pressure on her to date again.

“Will has his side of the street so beautifully buttoned up with our gorgeous stepmother,” Barrymore told PEOPLE. “We’ve got an awesome family dynamic that proves that life goes on. Allie is my favorite person. I love her. I love us all being together. These kids have an example of one of the parents moving on and rebuilding another life for themselves. I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to do that now? Perfect.’ “

“The cool thing is all these years later, we do have the dream,” she added. “It’s just different than the one I swore would be the case.”

What a beautiful way to look at it!

These celebrity exes are getting co-parenting right.

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