When it comes to playing a mom, Mary Steenburgen is an expert. She shows extraordinary patience with a grouchy pre-teen son and a childlike Will Ferrell in the upcoming movie Elf (opening Nov. 7). On TV, she's raising three teenagers on the new CBS drama Joan of Arcadia. Plus, in real life, she has two kids of her own! All that motherhood must take a toll.

"It is strange," Steenburgen tells TV Guide Online. "I have a lot of teenagers in my life. I came home the other night, and my son made some little hilarious put-down of me, which seems to be his [routine]. I said, 'Charlie, I spent all day long with teenagers putting me down and being paid for it. I can't come home and have you do it. It is just too much.'"

Other than such minor worries, the 50-year-old actress seems pleased with life, particularly her role on Arcadia. Though she freely admits to some skepticism about TV viewers accepting the show's premise: A young girl (Amber Tamblyn) has conversations with God — who actually talks back!

"I felt like it was so deep and intelligent that, if they saw it, they would respond to it," she says. "But the problem is that this is a very hard show to talk about without it sounding less than what it is. We were hoping that the critics would help us, which has happened. The critics have said to people that they had the same problem that I had. 'I didn't think I would like it, but...'"

However, Steenburgen still gets annoyed at Arcadia's inevitable comparisons to CBS's other well-known spiritual show. "It has an amazingly intelligent and imaginative premise," she insists. "And it was created by the same woman, [Barbara Hall], who wrote a lot of Northern Exposure and also Judging Amy. It is about as far from Touched by an Angel as you can get!"