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Kristin Cavallari wasn’t sure she’d ever return to reality TV.

Eight years since the finale of MTV’s The Hills, Cavallari, now a mom of three kids with her husband, former football player Jay Cutler, is back. And this time, she’s perfectly at ease in her own skin with her new show, Very Cavallari, which will focus on her brand Uncommon James.

“In my early 20s I was a mess, and I was just trying to figure it all out,” Cavallari, 31, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on stands Friday. “But now, being married and being a mom, I know I’m where I’m supposed to be. And it’s a great feeling.”

Still, viewers won’t be seeing her three children, Camden, 5, Jaxon, 4 and Saylor, 2, though Cutler will appear on the E! series.

“I wanted to get back in to reality, but not have the focus be too heavy on me and my family. So this was the perfect way to do it,” she says.

And for Cavallari, an executive producer title means she’ll also be calling the shots, an important element given her first foray into reality TV back in 2004.

  • For more on Cavallari, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” says Cavallari of starring on MTV’s Laguna Beach (the predecessor to The Hills), when she was 17. “I was just going about my life and doing what producers were asking me to do. When I saw the first season, I was devastated about how I was portrayed.”

Continues the star: “I came across as terribly bitchy. And I also felt as though my real-life boyfriend [Stephen Colletti] was being put in situations he normally wouldn’t have been in. They were making it seem like there was this love triangle [with costar Lauren Conrad].”

After one more season, “I really stayed away from reality TV,” says the mom of three. That is, until 2009, when, after Conrad’s departure from The Hills, Cavallari accepted “an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Says Cavallari, who also has written a cookbook, True Roots, “I looked at The Hills like a job. I had my life on the show, and the lines weren’t blurred. So it was really fun for me. I took control and I had a good experience doing it.”

Now, with Very Cavallari, “I’m working with people who really value my creative direction and think that I bring something to the table,” says Cavallari. “I’m more confident than I’ve ever been before.”

Very Cavallari premieres July 8 at 10 p.m. ET on E!

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