Kristin Cavallari Has 'Open Dialogue' with Her Kids amid New Normal: Want Them to See Me 'Happy'

Kristin Cavallari and her kids are adjusting to life as of late.

In this week's issue of PEOPLE, the Very Cavallari alum says that her life has "completely changed" in the last year that has included a split from her husband Jay Cutler, with whom she shares three children: daughter Saylor James, 4½, plus sons Jaxon Wyatt, 6, and Camden Jack, 8.

But in reality, "it's changed on many fronts," she adds. "I think the biggest front for me would be that my life has slowed down so incredibly much. I have a lot more time on my hands, which has been really nice."

"A year ago, I felt like I was almost drowning. There was so much going on. I was filming a show, I was trying to wrap up True Comfort. Obviously, my three kids, I was married, [I was running] Uncommon James. There was just a lot on my plate," continues Cavallari, 33. "I feel like this is the first time in a really long time I've been able to come up air. And it feels really good."

"That's not to say that I don't have really hard days with everything that's going on right now," she clarifies. "But my priority, my focus right now, is my kids and just making sure my kids are good — that we're communicating, we're talking, we have an open dialogue."

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To that end, Cavallari and her children are "taking it day by day and navigating it the best way we know how," especially considering the unique landscape the coronavirus pandemic has presented.

"I think that going through everything I've gone through in the last few months in the midst of COVID has actually been kind of great because it's forced us to hibernate, which has been nice. It's made me take a lot of time to really focus on myself and reflect and learn," she tells PEOPLE.

"Obviously, this is going to be an ongoing process, but I'm trying to look at every situation and take away what I can learn from it. I think there's a lesson in everything," adds the mom of three. "This was just part of my journey. So here I am, just taking it day by day."

During the harder times, Cavallari says that her kids "inspire me in everything in life and keep me going," as she wants "to be strong" and "the best mom that I can be for them."

"Even when my brother died, I remember it was my kids [who] kept me getting up every day and putting on a brave face and going out into the world and just handling business," she recalls.

She can also speak to her kids from a place of being a child whose parents went through a split, as Cavallari's own mother and father are divorced.

"I understand what they're going through because I've been through it and I can take what I appreciated from both of my parents or the stuff that maybe didn't sit well with me and I can apply it to my kids," she tells PEOPLE. "I'm actually thankful now that I went through all of that and that my parents are not still together, to be honest."

"I just think that everyone deserves to be happy. It's not worth waking up every day being unhappy," Cavallari says. "I want my kids to see me really happy, and I want to be the best mom that I can be for them. And if no one's happy, how are you going to be a great parent? You can't be."

For more on Kristin Cavallari's life now, including how she's raising three kids and finding new joy after splitting from Jay Cutler, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

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