“It’s hard, but I try to keep them grounded so they don’t think everything is just handed to them,” the pop star, 49, tells PEOPLE of her 8-year-old twins in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.
“Right now it’s like, ‘I want this,’ and I’m like, ‘You’re asking me for something that costs $20.’ I can’t even imagine having, like, one dollar as a kid because we didn’t have money going around,” Carey continues. “So they have to appreciate those things.”
When the singer-songwriter was growing up, her family moved throughout the New York City area. And today, she strives “to make the best of whatever situation I’m in.”
“Sometimes I had a lot of fun, sometimes I didn’t,” Carey recalls.
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Carey recently visited Camp Mariah, the career-awareness summer camp for low-income middle-schoolers in N.Y.C. that she sponsors through the Fresh Air Fund, to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
She also brought her twins, whom she shares with ex-husband Nick Cannon, to play at the camp for the day.
“They’re a lot, but they give me so much love in return. I wouldn’t be the same person without them,” Carey says of the siblings, whom she affectionately calls Roc and Roe. “I think Nick and I have done pretty well in co-parenting, staying friends with each other so that we can talk.”
RELATED VIDEO: Mariah Carey Is Grateful for Support After Revealing Battle with Bipolar Disorder
Last year, Carey opened up about her childhood when she revealed her bipolar diagnosis exclusively to PEOPLE.
“People who escaped the life I grew up with don’t want to go backward,” she said at the time. “My environment as a child didn’t just intensify my disease, it impacted my willingness to seek a long-term solution for it.”
Added the “Fantasy” songstress, “The most important thing I can do for my children is give them what I didn’t really have: a chance to live in a safe and secure home surrounded by people who love and support them unconditionally.”
For more from Mariah Carey, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.