Drew Barrymore knew she wanted to give her kids a "normal" childhood.
So when it came time to teaching her 3-year-old daughter, Olive, how to cook, Barrymore got her a bowl and taught her how to whisk eggs.
"She loves helping," the actress tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story. But putting Olive on the step stool so she could see the skillet concerned Barrymore. "If she burns herself, someone will say, 'You are the biggest a-hole, why did you let her near a stove?'" Barrymore says. "I'm just trying to figure this all out."
The actress is used to figuring just about everything out on her own. Since she found fame after her breakthrough role at age 7 in E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial, Barrymore's life entailed pre-teen drinking and clubbing, going into an institution at 12 and living on her own by 15. But in her new book, Wildflower, the star reveals "the in-between moments" of the very public life she lived.
"I'm certainly not known for being boring," she says. "But I also think things that are emotional and raw are also a lot lighter than they seemed. Someone once said to me, 'But your life… it's so sad.' And I was like, 'Well, no, it's not to me, but I could see how you would think that.' My life is amazing."
Barrymore says she wrote the book for her daughters, Olive and Frankie, 18 months, with husband, art consultant Will Kopelman, 38. "When I first started having children, people were like, 'Well, what are you going to tell them about [your upbringing]?' And there was always a connotation and insinuation of, 'You should be ashamed,'" she adds. "But that's crazy. [My daughters] are going to know I'm not some holier-than-thou person who just doesn't want them to live. I just want to guide them in the best way possible."
For the actress, that means making her daughters a priority, a notion that she and Kopelman agree upon. "Honestly, I don't know how it is for other couples but really I like watching him be a father," Barrymore says. "I know everyone says you're supposed to put your coupledom first. But I really love it being all about the kids. Maybe that's my compensating for not having parents myself or a childhood but right now, the focus is about how we're figuring things out as parents."
Finding a balance between motherhood and work – her next film, Miss You Already hits theaters in November – means "not everything gets 100 percent all the time," Barrymore adds. "I got into trouble saying, 'You can't have it all' so I changed it to, 'You can't do it all.' But you just can't. It's not physically possible. I'll do my best. I'm a workhorse, I always have been, I always will be. But work is very much second to my kids."