The close-knit family has separated for almost four years years as Teresa and Joe Giudice served back-to-back prison sentences

By Emily Strohm
November 14, 2019 02:00 PM

As Teresa Giudice reflects on her family’s prison nightmare, the Real Housewives of New Jersey star, 47, is opening up about how much the ordeal has affected her four children.

“As a mom, you don’t want to see your kids suffer,” she tells PEOPLE. “And this whole thing, me and Joe can make it through anything. We’re adults. But it affects the kids. And that’s what breaks my heart. That’s why I was kind of really resentful towards Joe and I’m like, ‘Why’d you make this happen to our kids too?'”

Teresa and husband Joe Giudice, 49, share daughters Gia, 18, Gabriella, 15, Milania, 13, and Audriana, 10. The close-knit family has been split apart for almost four years years as the reality stars served back-to-back prison sentences, and now Joe is living in Italy as he fights a judge’s order to deport him from the United States.

Teresa served a little over 11 months in prison for mail, wire and bankruptcy fraud and was released on Dec. 23, 2015. Joe began a 41-month sentence for in March 2016. Following his release, Joe was held in ICE custody in Pennsylvania, awaiting a decision on his deportation appeal, but he moved to Italy in October.

While the nearly four-year separation has taken a toll, Teresa says any reports of infidelity aren’t a factor. “When you’re in public eye, things like that happen. There were cheating rumors about him. It’s just something that just goes with it and you just got to deal with it,” she says. “He understands and I, same thing, vice versa. Other people make it out to be so much bigger than it is.”

Despite everything the family has gone through, Teresa says her girls continue to impress her every day, especially during their recent trip to Italy, where they reunited with Joe for the first time since his release from prison and ICE custody.

“It was very emotional, but I was so overwhelmed with joy and happiness. It was amazing,” she says, adding that seeing her husband ultimately felt very natural. “I’ve known him my whole life. So, I mean I was nervous at first.”

But when her girls saw their dad, any jitters melted away.

“I was totally relaxed,” she says. “When they saw him, I was just [like], finally, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for. Because they’d been dying to see their father.”

She notes that her youngest daughter was especially excited for the reunion.

“I mean, poor Audriana, she’s 10. He left when she was 6,” she says. “And I know she’s been wanting a father figure around, she does. I know, because she sees her friends, that their fathers are around. She’s probably wondering, ‘Why isn’t my father here?’ So, yeah, she was so happy to say him.”

The visit was filmed by Bravo for an upcoming special, and Teresa says she was impressed by her children’s composure.

“I’m close to all the girls, which is great, because we only had each other. So it’s great that we have this special bond, and I love that. I know Joe and I definitely did something. We made great, beautiful daughters,” she says.

“But you never know if you’re doing a good job, and then when you’re on, like, this trip, I just sit back and watch them, because we were filming and things that they were saying, I was just so taken back and was like, ‘Oh my God, they’re so amazing,'” she adds, “And their answers and how they responded, they’re great girls.”