Brianna Stello/Bravo
Lydia Price and Emily Strohm
April 13, 2015 03:00 PM

No one knows how monogamy and motherhood can change a person more than Southern Charm‘s Kathryn Calhoun Dennis.

During season 1 of the Bravo series, the now-23-year-old stirred up controversy when she began what most assumed would be a fling with Thomas Ravenel, then 50. But an unexpected pregnancy rewrote the script, and Dennis has embraced her new life with Ravenel and their daughter Kensington, who was born last March.

“In the beginning it was difficult to adjust because it was so polarized from my previous lifestyle,” Dennis told PEOPLE of being a mom. “I feel like, before I found out I was pregnant with Kensie, I was just a free-spirited 21-year-old that was just looking to have fun.”

She continues, “But now that I’ve adjusted and I’ve become more confident in my day-to-day decisions, I’ve gained my own acceptance with everything going on.”

“It’s not going to be perfect,” she admits, but Dennis calls her new life “beautiful” even if “you never have time to yourself.”

Although challenging at first, being a mother also taught her a selflessnessness she never expected: “Literally, if I’m not with her, I just go through pictures on my phone. I never got it before I was pregnant, whenever everyone would show me pictures of their children. After having a baby I totally get it now.”

While every new mom has challenges, Dennis must grapple with the added pressure of her community’s disapproval of her relationship with Kensie’s father, a former South Carolina state treasurer.

“Thomas is 51. It comes with a lot of preconceived notions both on Thomas’s behalf and just people in general around Charleston. Immediately it doesn’t seem like a natural thing or something that is ordinary to see in society, I suppose.”

Even within their circle of friends, Dennis and Ravenel face judgment: “There is not a lot of support there for us to be together … including his friends – just because they want control over him – and they don’t know me well enough or they’ve never gotten to know me.”

Dennis has adopted a water-off-a-duck’s-back approach when it comes to the chatter, though.

“The challenge is for other people,” she says. “If they have a problem, and I don’t know about it, then it’s their problem.”

Age gap aside, Dennis and Ravenel still face plenty of issues, including how their on-again, off-again relationship has evolved since Kensie’s birth.

Of their current living situation, she says, “We have our own home bases. And I think that’s good for us. We need our separation just while we’re trying to figure things out.”

She explains, “Right now both of us have a lot of moving things in our lives. We do the best we can. It’s not easy with all the circumstances, but we’re just doing the best we can day to day.”

Dennis says the birth of Kensie has had a positive impact on onetime playboy Ravenel, who is trying to revive his political career after a 2007 cocaine-distribution conviction.

“He has actually really showed a lot more effort in the last few months. He has just learned a lot of life lessons with Kensie, and I feel that that has really created a special bond with the two of them,” Dennis says. “He is starting to really understand it now. So he is making more effort, he is trying to do things, he is very proud of himself and I’m proud of him too.”

Southern Charm airs Mondays (10 p.m. ET) on Bravo.

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