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Jon & Kate An Anniversary Apart

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Given the past few months they’ve spent in the spotlight, it’s a good thing the Gosselin kids can fend for themselves. Just ask their dad, Jon, who explained how his three sons, Aaden, Collin and Joel, 5, survive a house in which they’re outnumbered by their fellow sextuplet siblings, Hannah, Leah and Alexis, and older sisters, twins Mady and Cara, 8. “They know their place,” he told PEOPLE. “Why risk fighting with the girls?” Just don’t call them pushovers. “They’ll get their payback,” Jon said. “They’ll fill the girls’ strollers with rocks and purses with dirt.”

Sadly, their mom and dad have yet to find such simple conflict resolution. The stars of the reality hit Jon & Kate Plus 8 spent the weekend of their 10th wedding anniversary 150 miles apart. On June 12 (the actual anniversary), Kate and the kids filmed scenes for the show at their Wernersville, Pa., home. A day later Jon had lunch with an older male friend in the Palisades Center mall in West Nyack, N.Y. “Jon was on the phone most of the time and was definitely talking to his kids,” says a waiter. Friends say Jon’s absence speaks volumes. “I thought they’d weather it for the publicity, to put out the flames,” explains one pal. “Frankly, Jon is tired of the attention, he’s tired of the marriage.”

For now, the kids, who were seen frolicking in an inflatable castle over the weekend, seem blissfully unaware of any strife. “They’re really oblivious to most of this,” insists a source close to the family. “Jon and Kate are very careful to protect them and ensure that they’re safe and happy.” Still, friends hope that the future may be brighter. Says one: “I would really like to see them get out of the limelight and live as normal lives as possible.”