Leah Remini Says Daughter Sofia 'Wouldn't Be the Strong-Minded Kid She Is Now' If She Hadn't Left Scientology
2023/11/13

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is opening up about her life almost nine years after leaving .

In this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, the actress and host of the , 51, says that had she not walked away from the church after 30 years in 2013 with her husband Angelo Pagan, 63, their 17-year-old daughter Sofia "wouldn't be the strong-minded kid she is now, who, hopefully, is going to make some positive change in the world."

"I'm always saying to her and her friends, 'I hope you are going to take all this genius and get your asses into Congress,' " Remini says. "That's how you're going to change things."

While Sofia hasn't quite yet met the age threshold to be in Congress (senators must be at least 30, while those in the House of Representatives must be at least 25), she

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preparing to take a huge step towards her future soon. In the fall, she'll be leaving for college, likely on the East Coast.

"People are always like, 'Oh my God, you should be so proud,' " Remini says. "Yes, Angelo and I are very proud, but it's like I'm having a job of 17 years that I've loved and cherished ripped away from me overnight. I'm devastated."

Until Sofia leaves the nest, Remini says she's "trying to treasure every moment" with her daughter.

"Even though she doesn't need me, I'm in this perpetual mode of trying to impress her with my domestic skills," she says. "I'm constantly cleaning, cooking, organizing or running to Party City to help her host parties for her friends."

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"I've always provided for my family members, and I've always been the boss, so now it feels like it's coming to a different chapter of my life where it's not going to be about getting Sofia to and from school anymore," she continues. "I have to now find ways to get out of the house. It's scary, because I don't know what the next thing is for me."

At the end of the day, Remini says that seeing her daughter thrive has made all of her past struggle with leaving Scientology (which she documented in her A&E series ) worth it.

"My friend Sherry, who also left the church and has a son in college now, recently texted me, 'Aren't we so jealous of our kids?'" she recalls. "We wish we had what we've given them."

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Remini said in a she hadn't received a formal education past the eighth grade when she was growing up in Scientology. Now she's taking online classes at New York University, where she enrolled for an associate's degree last fall.

"It's been amazing," she says. "It's been difficult when I'm working because sometimes I'll work from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. and then have to come home and read chapters and do a quiz when my brain is shutting down. But I'm doing it, and I am proud of myself. With my degree, I might eventually want to go into politics, but who knows? I would like to be of some kind of public service."

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When it comes to her acting career, Remini says she's learned to be a lot more selective in recent years.

"I don't know that I want to keep up the pace as far as Hollywood's concerned," she says. "I like to work, and I'm very blessed that I'm able to say no, but I want to work on things that are . It's not that deep what we do as entertainers, so I don't want to get caught up in something where people are miserable."

"I did a pilot a couple years back, and it wasn't a good experience," she continues. "That's why Ialways say I'd work with [my costar] Kevin James on anything. I want to be with people I'm comfortable telling, 'You're annoying!'"

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One constant light lately has been her role hosting .

"I love getting to know the contestants," she says. "We do six shows a day, so every time I change and I come back out there's new people there. I love getting to know their stories, even in the short amount of time that they're there. I just try to give them energy and make them feel comfortable."

Between filming PEOPLE Puzzler, doing schoolwork, recording her podcast with Mike Rinder and keeping up with her family life at home, Remini juggles a lot — so she often allows herself a "brain vacation."

"I am a big reality show person," she says. "Reality shows suspend my brain from thinking about all the things I didn't do, all the things I want to do, all the things I should have and shouldn't have done. I should have this, I should have been better. So watching a show is my little mini-vacation, and a bath. I'll also try to go visit a friend and have dinner at their house or a game night. Those things bring me joy."

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