Julie Bowen on Life After Modern Family and Parenting amid COVID-19: 'It's Been Challenging'

The actress opens up about her success, imperfect parenting and maintaining a healthy sense of humor about it all

Like the rest of us, Julie Bowen has been coping with the many challenges of 2020 to the best of her abilities.

Speaking to PEOPLE in this week's issue about her new Netflix movie Hubie Halloween and her life now, the Baltimore native acknowledges that this year has been "incredibly challenging" for everyone. Especially for parents working from home who are also helping their kids out with virtual school.

“At first it was so over­whelming—I was terrified,” Bowen, 51, admits of overseeing online curriculum for her three sons, Oliver, 13, and twins John and Gus, 11, whom she shares with ex-husband Scott Phillips. “But now that I’ve relaxed into it, I’ll tell you: The real bummer is having to fix the extra meal. Lunch used to be your one meal off. I’m like, ‘Why can’t you have a bag of Skinny Pop like mom?’ ”

After 11 years and two Emmy wins from her performance in Modern Family, which ended its run in April, Bowen is pursuing new opportunities, like Hubie, a Netflix Halloween comedy with Adam Sandler -- as long as they don't keep her from her kids, who don't necessarily have as much love for her star-making turn on Modern Family as her fans do.

"I think for a long time, my kids resented Modern Family and didn’t even know why. Modern Family was a thing that people said before they took their mom away," Bowen says. "When you’re young and hungry and just trying to get work, you take any role you can get and you’re just so happy about it. Now I get to have options, which feels great. But my kids are my quality control, because I’ll ask, 'Is it far away? How long?' Those are always the things that knock me out of the running [for a role]."

She continues: "For 11 years on the show, I loved the opportunity to work in L.A., work with wildly talented people, and to get to fall down and be goofy and silly. But I also got to come home at night and see my kids, and not feel like I had to give up one or the other, which I think was incredibly fortunate. I'm incredibly fortunate to have had that run at that time in my life."

  • For much more on Julie Bowen, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday
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Julie Bowen, ex-husband Scott Phillips and their three sons.

Despite her success, which includes memorable roles in 1996's golf comedy Happy Gilmore, and in TV shows Ed, Boston Legal and a five episode-arc on Lost, Bowen jokes she has "always been the most frugal human being alive," and won't let it go to her head.

"The first time I booked a guest spot on a TV show, I was living in this miserable apartment in New York City, waiting tables until three in the morning and Rollerblading home with my tips in my sock," she recalls. "The show filmed in Canada, and if you were in the actor’s union, they had to fly you first class and they had to pick you up in a town car. I couldn’t believe it. When I came back, I had to get in my waitressing uniform, and they took me straight to the restaurant because my shift was starting. I just remember thinking as I was tying my apron on and stashing my little bag in the back, 'You guys don’t even know, I just flew first class!' It’s nice that people assume I have, I don’t know, cachet or something. But in my head, I’m still getting out of a town car and putting my apron on."

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Julie Bowen and Adam Sandler in Hubie Halloween.

When it comes to maintaining her sanity throughout it all -- and especially lockdown due to COVID-19, Bowen jokes: "What makes you think I'm sane?"

"I have to say, it has been a very challenging year. My ex-husband, who I’m still very close with [Bowen and Phillips, a real estate investor, divorced in 2018 after 14 years of marriage], told me he’d read somewhere that you spend 75 percent of all the time you’ll ever spend with your kids before they are 16. And somehow that made me so sad. Every time I think, 'Oh my God, this pandemic has got to end, these kids have got to go back to school!' I think to myself, 'But I’m getting this extra time with them, because once this is over and they hit 16 and have driver’s licenses and everything, I will never see them again.' So that has kept me sane to a large degree.

"Also," she adds, "I make my kids do a lot of moving around, whether they like it or not. I am a bit militant and believe in forced marches and family hikes and everything my children hate. Let me tell you, they’re probably the only people in California who were like, 'Wildfires! We can’t go outside!' Because I was like, 'I don’t think I can force-march my children outside when ashes are falling down on us . . . can I?'"

Hubie Halloween is now available to stream on Netflix.

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