She’s had a successful career in movies and on television, and is the newest member of the cast of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but for Denise Richards, being a mom will always be priority No. 1.
“I’m most proud of raising my kids, especially in a time that is very different from how I was raised,” says Richards, who is mom to daughters Sam, 14, Lola, 13, and Eloise, 7. “It’s extremely hard to keep children grounded. This is not an easy time to grow up.”
And when it comes to raising Eloise, whom Richards adopted as a single mom in 2011 (Sam and Lola are her daughters with ex-husband Charlie Sheen), the actress has a unique set of challenges.
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A chromosomal disorder “has caused a lot of developmental delays for her,” explains Richards, who first noticed that Eloise wasn’t reaching typical milestones for babies.
“She wasn’t able to sit up on her own for a very long time, and she didn’t start walking until she was 2, and that was with physical therapy,” she says.
Eloise was diagnosed with a deletion in chromosome 8 two and a half years ago, but Richards is still navigating best courses of care for her daughter.
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“She can only say a handful of words,” says Richards, who has been married to Aaron Phypers since September. “And there are times when she feels like her age in understanding, and then other times where it feels she’s emotionally 3 years old. It’s been challenging. I’m learning every day because they don’t really have a road map for her particular case.”
Still, Richards is optimistic. “Every child is different,” she says. “You take care of your children no matter what is going on with them. I don’t know if [Eloise] is ever going to talk like a typical child. But as a parent, you want what’s best for your children, and you just do it.”
For more from Denise Richards, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.