PEOPLE recently caught up with the Kate Plus 8 matriarch, who exclusively opened up about life with her 16-year-old twins Mady and Cara and 12-year-old sextuplets Aaden, Alexis, Collin, Hannah, Leah and Joel.
According to the TLC star, this particular time frame — namely, having a house full of preteens and teenagers — is equally as challenging as when her sextuplets were first born.
“It rivals that first year for the first time ever,” she says, explaining that she uses the memory of that year “as a source of inspiration and encouragement,” telling herself: “You do have the strength, you’ve travelled some hard yards already. You can do this — you’ve made it through tough stuff before.”
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When she looks back on her early years with the sextuplets, two things come to mind: six car seats — and getting all eight kids bundled up in those snowsuits.
“I remember the snowsuits!” recalls Gosselin, 41. “By the time you got the last one done, the first few were screaming because they were sweating to death. It was just such a stress to get them out the door. To buckle that many in, all bundled up — it took forever.”
“Logistics, exhaustions, no sleep, a nightmare,” she adds. “I always say: I can’t believe I made it through that first year.”
And according to Gosselin, she spent almost all of her time alone at home with the sextuplets during those years, while Mady and Cara were in kindergarten and her ex-husband Jon worked outside the house.
“I was mostly caring for them alone, by myself,” she says. “I worked a 16-hour shift on Saturdays and went to church on Sundays, but other than that, I was housebound, and in a strange way it was almost the most control I had, because it was like I was running a daycare.”
Gosselin says during that time, she taught herself plenty of cooking tips and tricks — “like a perfect substitute for mayonnaise, because if I didn’t have something, I couldn’t leave the house to get it.”
“I was a shut-in … a shut-in with plenty of company,” she says. “I was anything but lonely.”
Kate Plus 8 returns Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on TLC.