At 13, they’ve already endured reality TV, tabloid scandal, and six pesky siblings. PEOPLE talks to Mady and Cara Gosselin in this week’s issue on divorce, helping their mom, Kate, 38, cope, and growing up Gosselin. Mady and Cara, who officially became teenagers on October 8, have never been shy about sharing their feelings. Mady, in particular, became infamous for her outbursts during the heyday of the family’s hit TLC reality show, Jon & Kate Plus 8, which followed Kate and then-husband Jon as they raised their twins plus sextuplets Aaden, Alexis, Collin, Hannah, Joel, and Leah, now 9. When the show melted down along with the Gosselin marriage after Jon was caught partying with other women, the twins – 10 years old at the time – were old enough to grasp that their world had been shattered.
“They felt it, and they’d react to it,” Kate says of the chaos caused by headlines about Jon’s wild nights or Kate’s diva antics. In the end, Kate says, she and the twins formed an “us-against-the-world” bond that helped them all heal. “Cara listening, Mady and I talking–it helped the three of us get through the ugliness. Things that happened with my divorce were hurtful, and there were many tears, but we got through it. They really are trying to work with me, even now when they have emotional moments.”
For all their exasperated sighs and eye-rolling during PEOPLE’s photo shoot, the girls are eager to speak up about the perception that being child reality stars means they’re headed for juvenile delinquency. “People expect us to be damaged,” says Cara. Mady agrees. “They’re think we’re supposed to be so messed up, like, ‘Ooh, the poor Gosselin kids, they’re going to be scarred for life, aaaaah.’ Here’s the big news: We’re not messed up.”
Adds Cara: “It’s so false. We’re fine. We’re better than ever, actually.” Ask them about their mom, and both grow even more animated. “She is so annoying,” Mady nearly shrieks. Cara, generally more soft-spoken than her sister, chimes in quickly. “But she’s annoying on purpose! Like, she does it just to bother us.”
Mady explains, “Like, she says ‘spensive. I’m like, ‘Mom, it’s expensive. ‘Spensive isn’t a word! Stop it!’” Cara nods vigorously. “She totally does that just to annoy us.” It’s the kind of mortification all parents trigger in their teens. Of course, the twins have experienced far worse. The darkest days of their parents’ divorce is still a topic that’s hard to discuss. “I don’t remember any of it. At all,” Mady says pointedly when the subject first crops up. But after a moment, she offers, “Actually, the stuff I remember now is stuff that I didn’t really see anything wrong with at the time...but now that I look back, I can see, ‘Oh, that wasn’t a really good thing.’ Like girlfriends. Lots of girlfriends,” she says of her dad’s string of ill-fated romances after his split with Kate. “Like, maybe that wasn’t so normal, to have someone new, like, every week,” she says.
Cara laughs and adds sarcastically, “Everyday. Every minute. Every second.” The two then fall silent before Mady lightens the mood. “I don’t remember you being around, Cara,” she says. “I just remember you wore really ugly clothes.” Cara quickly parries, “Well, you had really ugly hair.” Mady considers this a moment. “That’s true,” she says. “My hair was bad.”
Weathering the emotions of the breakup with their mom and siblings, “I feel like it made us more normal in some ways,” Cara says. “We realized just because there are more of us doesn’t mean that we don’t have the same feelings that everyone has. We’re not that different than anyone else.”
The Gosselin twins are featured in the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands (and tablets) now.*Also In This Week’s ‘People’*
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