July 27, 2005 01:00 PM

Denise Richards, who gave birth to daughter Lola less than two months ago, is already back at work and learning to balance career, motherhood and shared parenting with her ex, Charlie Sheen.

Like any mom with a newborn, Richards says she found it “very hard” to leave daughters Sam, 1, and Lola at home when she returned to work last month. Still, the actress is excited about her starring role as a ruthless publicist in the UPN series Sex, Love & Secrets, which debuts Sept. 27.

“My children are my first priority,” Richards tells PEOPLE. “But it’s nice to have a balance between work and home. This is an ensemble show, so I’m not working every day.”

Richards also plans to have a nursery on the set for those days she brings the children to work. “It was actually a wonderful escape for me to be able to just focus on work,” says Richards, who is getting help on the home front from her estranged husband, actor Charlie Sheen.

“They’re definitely spending a lot of time together, working to raise the kids,” says a source close to the couple, who split in March. But, adds the insider, the two are definitely not reconciling.

Still, Richards has said she wants Sheen to be close with their kids. “Denise does want him to be part of the children’s lives,” a friend told PEOPLE in April. “She wants her kids to have a dad.”

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