April 26, 2010 12:00 PM

Over the past three weeks, Kate Gosselin has stepped on her fair share of toes. First, there have been her performances on the ABC hit Dancing with the Stars, where Kate has struggled to stay afloat with partner Tony Dovolani. After she danced the paso doble, one of the show’s judges, Carrie-Ann Inaba, referred to the effort as “odd…it was very strange” (and that was the nice critique).

Now, as Kate prepares to promote her newest book, I Just Want You to Know: Letters to my Kids on Love, Faith and Family (see excerpt), she finds herself once again facing down questions about her commitment to her twins Cara and Mady, 9, and sextuplets Aaden, Alexis, Collin, Hannah, Joel and Leah, 5. This time the charges are coming from an all-too-familiar source. On April 7 Kate’s ex-husband Jon Gosselin filed a petition with the Pennsylvania courts, asking to revisit the amount of spousal and child support he has been paying. More startlingly, Jon also asked to be awarded primary custody of the children if Kate continues to be, in the words of his attorney Anthony F. List, “an absentee parent” who travels to make public appearances or perform on television shows. For Kate, who dubbed herself Kate Clean-Slate once her divorce was finalized at the end of 2009, tangling with Jon is a dance she’s long grown tired of. “I wasn’t shocked. It’s a ticking time bomb with him, and now it’s gonna get ugly,” she says with a sad sigh. “I sit here in horror thinking about what’s coming. This is never what I wanted for my kids. Now I’m going to have to go and sit in a court and fight for them.”

But, unlike her nerve-wracking dance-floor debut, fear is playing no part in this latest clash. “I’m not afraid I’ll lose my kids. I won’t lose my kids. We’re glued together, as a package, and nothing, nothing,” she repeats, her voice rising, “will stop me from being with my kids. A law? Yeah, right. Don’t mess with me when it comes to my kids. You are never, ever going to win. If Jon wants to see them, I would never stop him. He’s their father-I want them to see him! But I’m not going to vanish to accommodate him.”

Jon, who has spent much of his time in Utah and California in recent months, has only recently leased a home for himself in Pennsylvania, according to his lawyer. “If he’d like to stick to a civilized schedule, I’d be more than happy to do that,” Kate says. “The best thing for any child of a divorced parent is stability. I want nothing more than for him to set up a stable life for himself, so that he can be part of making our kids’ lives more stable.” List tells PEOPLE, “The landscape of the situation with Kate continues to change; it’s an ongoing matter. I’m trying to establish ground rules for what I hope will eventually bring the parties together, with her counsel, to talk about things in a rational way. I don’t think the kids benefit from adversarial process.”

While matters of money and custody won’t be resolved for weeks, Kate’s hardly putting her life on hold. Last week the TLC network announced that Kate would be returning with her own show, Twist of Kate, in which she visits with and gives advice to other moms. Kate and the kids will also be returning to TLC in a series of Kate Plus 8 specials showing them on various adventures. It’s a relief for Kate, who insists that she needs her new, high-profile life to provide for her family. “This career is now mandatory, and I am grateful that I’ve built it to the point where now I can support my kids,” she says. “I’m in charge even when I’m far away, and I don’t take that lightly. It affects me that I’m not the one who is not there every day to fold the laundry, to be there for every minute, but I don’t have that choice anymore.”

And whether it’s a belligerent dance judge or a bellicose former spouse, Kate plans to keep on confronting her critics. “People who try to knock me down-all it does is make me more fierce, more protective, more determined to do better,” she says. “Go ahead, take me on. This will just make me stronger.”

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