Pal: Debbie Rowe Wants What's Best for the Kids

07/21/2009 at 10:30 AM EDT

Pal: Debbie Rowe Wants What's Best for the Kids
Michael Jackson and Debbie Rowe
Danny Moloshok/AP; AP
There is the Debbie Rowe captured in a photo that shows her red-eyed and crying as she watches a TV that shows her children taking the stage at Michael Jackson's memorial.

Then there's the Debbie Rowe who commented to British morning show GMTV in 2003: "Because you give birth, because you impregnate someone, that does not automatically give you that title of mother or father. My kids don't call me Mom because I don't want them to."

So who is the real Debbie Rowe?

"At the end of the day, Debbie just wants what's best for the children," Rowe's close friend – and a former business partner of Jackson's – Marc Schaffel tells PEOPLE. "Her interest is that the children are going to be taken care of."

Leads Simple Life

Rowe is the biological and legal mother of Prince Michael, 12, and Paris Katherine, 11 (Prince Michael II, or "Blanket," 7, was born to an unknown surrogate), and has said since Jackson's June 25 death that she is considering asserting her parental rights and filing for custody of the children – including Blanket.

Living on her ranch in Palmdale, Calif., where she tends to her horses and dogs, Rowe "is a simple-living person," Schaffer says. "Does she have to live in a mansion in Beverly Hills? No. Would she probably go to a more secure, gated area if she were to get fulltime custody? Probably."

While it is unclear exactly how the children view Rowe – whether as an acquaintance, aunt, friend of the family or even as their mother – she has definitely made an effort to see them over the years, says Schaffel, who adds: "Debbie does love those kids. She really does. Absolutely."

Custody Concerns

Why is Rowe stepping in now? Explains Schaffel: "Debbie's deal was that Michael would take care of the children. That's what she was comfortable with."

With the kids' grandmother Katherine Jackson petitioning for custody, Rowe is concerned about other potential influences in their lives, such as Michael's father Joe Jackson.

"Obviously, Michael had a very, very bad relationship with his father," says Schaffel. "[In his will] he didn't name Joe to watch his children. He named his mother. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if Michael said in the past that he was beaten and roughed up by Joe, that he wouldn't want his own children exposed to the same thing."

Extended Family

Rowe, who (if a custody agreement isn't hammered out before then) plans to attend a Los Angeles Superior Court hearing on July 20 for temporary guardianship of the children, told a reporter for Los Angeles station NBC 4 she would consider seeking a restraining order to keep Joe away from the children.

That said, says Schaffel, Rowe would make sure the children have constancy and substantial visitation with the rest of their extended family. "Even if at the end of the day Debbie is given full custody, it's not that she won't allow other people to see the children.

"People don't know Debbie," Schaffel says. "If one of her dogs is sick, or one of her horses is sick, she will stay up all night long sleeping on the floor of the barn with them. Debbie is not a cold person. She is the furthest thing of it. She is a very loving, warn, motherly type person."

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