She was “Miss Independent” for years, but Kelly Clarkson has no regrets that she didn’t get married until 31 — in fact, she says it’s one of her and husband Brandon Blackstock‘s secrets to marital bliss.
“I think the biggest thing is just getting married later in life…You change so much in your twenties,” the singer, now 34, said last week at a Good Housekeeping luncheon in New York, where she celebrated her new kids’ book River Rose and the Magical Lullaby. “I mean, [my husband] got married at 21 in his first marriage, and they both went, ‘What?!’ It can be very hard to grow in the same way. Your twenties are all about growth, and giant [mistakes].”
An empowering female figure in music, Texas native Clarkson says she at times felt judged during her single years but didn’t submit to outdated cultural norms.
“I’m from a small town in the South. Everyone thought I was gay ’cause I wasn’t married with kids already!” she said. “And I was like, ‘That’s kind of insulting to the gay community!’ But, especially in this day and age, I had a very high bar.”
In addition to waiting for Mr. Right, Clarkson said her independence also strengthens her relationship with her husband.
“I have an awesome life, and I can hold this down on my own. I learned that from my mother. She depended a lot, financially, on a man,” she said, adding of her and music manager Blackstock: “I don’t depend on him, and he doesn’t depend on me. We made our own way in our own right, and I think that’s what really helps, too.”
When Clarkson and Blackstock said “I do” in 2013, the singer not only became a wife but also a parent, raising her step-kids Savannah and Seth, now 15 and 10, respectively. And the pair has since welcomed two more to the family: daughter River Rose, 2, and son Remington Alexander, 6 months.
Clarkson admitted blending families was a challenge at first but thinks coming from a blended family herself informed her role as a step-mom.
“I’m very honest with them,” she told PEOPLE of building her relationship with Savannah and Seth. “I always said, ‘I’m never, ever gonna try and replace your mom. Your mom’s awesome. You have a great mom, you have a great dad – I’m just like a bonus parent.'”
As for her younger daughter and son, they’re fitting right into the family.
“It’s honestly just a daily thing of my daughter trying to dress or undress Remi like a doll — that’s her thing now,” Clarkson says. “She gets to entertain. She’s always on stage, and he’s always just watching. And he’s so entertained by her. They play together already really well.”