With the cameras stopped, life after reality TV is very different for Kate Gosselin. This week’s issue of PEOPLE goes inside her struggles, her biggest regrets and how the kids are really doing now. The twins are almost teens, the little kids are big, and Kate is still searching for happily-ever-after. Not so long ago, she was the biggest star the TLC network ever spawned, a nurse who rocketed to fame with her husband, Jon, on the reality series Jon & Kate Plus 8. At first the show traced their trials raising twins plus sextuplets. Later it let nearly 10 million fans witness a marriage implode.

But two years after the show ended, the Gosselins, Kate included, are all in one piece. As the family lives quietly in small-town Pennsylvania, none of the doom predicted has come to pass. Still, life isn’t easy. The perks that came from stardom are gone. Kate says she is living “very carefully these days,” by “piecing and patching together” an income from various projects. “To not have a reliable income is scary,” she concedes. Attempts to revive her on-camera career have not yet taken off. “Which will beg the question, ‘Why don’t you go back to nursing?’ But if I did that, I’d be spending everything I made on the babysitter I’d have to hire. So it needs to be something else. I have to make lightning strike.”

While Kate maintains a functional if not-quite-cordial relationship with her ex, she will not appear on-camera with him despite multiple offers. “There are plenty of people who’d do anything to be on television, but I’m not that girl,” she says. “So everyone who thinks I’m starved for fame should know I do draw the line.”

Ask the younger Gosselin kids if they miss being on TV, and their answer is a uniform, emphatic yes. “I’m glad someone is asking the kids themselves,” Kate says, “because whenever I say they miss the show, everyone thinks I’m just putting words in their mouths.” As for their parents’ split, daughter Cara says, “We’re all adjusted, and it’s normal now, and it’s just more settled. It happens to a lot of people. I mean, not the TV part but the divorce part. Lots of people have divorced parents.”

A production source from TLC says that the network ultimately grew tired of Kate’s diva-like antics and, given the show’s dwindling ratings, pulled the plug. Humbled now by her simpler life, Kate recognizes she wasn’t always easy – “I made so many mistakes, of course,” she says – but regrets very little. “It feels like a whole other lifetime ago,” she says of her early days as a struggling wife with eight kids, and later as a shattered divorcée. “And sometimes I don’t even remember much of it. Both when the babies were first born and during the divorce, I was on survival mode. I feel like I’ve lived two lifetimes already. I’m not the same person I was in those first seasons. I don’t even recognize her.”

As for Jon, he recently downsized his lifestyle, moving into a secluded cabin in Berks Country, Pa., 30 minutes from Kate. The kids visit him Tuesday nights for dinner and every other weekend. “My time with them is limited,” Jon tells PEOPLE. And for the moment, TV is a thing of the past. “For the foreseeable future, I just go to work. If a TV gig happens for me, great. If it happens for Kate, yay. In a recession you can’t be choosy.”

Now, Kate’s main worry remains how to provide for her kids in the future. A gig on a show like The Talk would be ideal, she says. If renewed fame brings about renewed scrutiny of herself and her kids, she’s not about to worry. “Our lives have been such a roller coaster: We were struggling, then we were doing really well, then it all fell apart, and now we have a so-called ‘normal’ life. They’ve seen that through it all, we’ve dealt with it, survived it, and we keep on going.”

More on the Gosselins is featured in the 8/26/13 issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands (and tablets) now.

*Also In This Week's PEOPLE:
Teen Kidnap Saga: Deadly Crush, Remarkable Rescue
People Interview: Oprah Winfrey – ‘I Never Want To Be Less Than Passionate’
Paula Deen: Her Small Victory – ‘A Weight Has Been Lifted Off Of Me’
People And Cooking Light Special Editorial Booklet