Naperville mom shares the joys -- and challenges -- of raising quintuplets for 20 years

  • The Collins clan includes, from left, Liam, Padraic, Bill, Clare, Bridget, Elizabeth, Grace and Aidan.

    The Collins clan includes, from left, Liam, Padraic, Bill, Clare, Bridget, Elizabeth, Grace and Aidan. courtesy of Bridget Erklin Collins

 
By Bridget Erklin Collins
Updated 5/14/2017 8:01 AM

Twenty years ago, Bridget Erklin Collins of Naperville gave birth to Padraic, Grace, Aidan, Elizabeth and Clare. Today, all are attending college, working -- and still living at home with mom, brother Liam, 24, and their dad, Bill.

Aside from the celebrity that's led to four "Oprah" appearances, they've led remarkably normal lives. On this Mother's Day, we posed a dozen questions to Bridget about the joys and challenges of raising quintuplets.

 

Q. How does your family usually celebrate Mother's Day? Which was the most memorable?

A. I like to spend time with my own mother on Mother's Day, so we take turns at each other's homes. It has been a few years since I had all six of my children with us because of their jobs. Out of all of them, I think the most memorable Mother's Day was my first with our firstborn, Liam. I waited so long to be a mom, and it made that day so special.

Everyone else might think it was the year I had the quintuplets, but those first few years were so overwhelming that the memories are truly a blur. As they got older, the day became much more special, especially opening all their school-made gifts. I still own the nightshirt with five handprint angels on it from when they were 3.

One year, five clay necklaces weighed me down as I walked them home from their class. In second grade, there was a Mother's Day tea. Because the five were split into two classes a couple hallways away from each other, I was the mom out of breath and sweaty trying to be in both rooms at once.

The hardest Mother's Day was 2015 when the quintuplets were all away on prom weekend. It was insight into my future. You have six children, you think you will always have at least a couple with you on a holiday, but even this year most are working. The majority of them work in the food industry and will be serving other mothers this year. I hope their kids tip well!

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Q. How is it having a house full of 20-somethings?

A. My children are all putting themselves through college, so all are living at home and going to local classes. All six have at least one job. After 23 years as a stay-at-home mom, I am working full time. We might be all under the same roof but hardly ever at the same time!

We are all in new territory now, and there are a lot of adjustments. They are not children anymore, and I am trying to convince them that they should think of me as another roommate and pitch in around the house. I no longer wash their clothes, and I tend to have to nag them to clean up after themselves.

I repeatedly remind myself they will be gone soon and to appreciate the time we have left under the same roof. I will not miss the many fights about cars and gasoline or who has to clean up. Those arguments are just more reasons they need to move out to their own spaces. I think if we keep things too comfortable, they may never leave.

As babies, when I wanted them to sleep through the night, I stopped turning on the television and only used one small light. I stopped playing with them before I put them back to bed, hoping they learned night was a time to eat and go right back to sleep -- and they did. These days I am kind of doing the same thing by not making the house as inviting and letting them know it's time to start making adult plans. But I would love to go back to just one of those nights and play with those babies. I miss them!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Q. At what age were the quints the biggest mothering challenge?

A. The first sleepless four months. No stage has come close or lasted as long.

Everyone thinks potty-training is hard, but that wasn't as bad, and they were all trained by age 2. Taking each one of them driving for their required 50 hours behind the wheel for their driver's licenses was probably the second worst time. But we made it through all those milestones, and more.

I like my sleep, but as they grew up I stayed awake until I knew all of them were home for the night. There is nothing as special as knowing all your family is safe under your roof and asleep for the night. Now, I say my prayers and hope they are there in the morning. I like them to leave a text message, so I know they are safe if I wake in the middle of the night. I used to count kids numerous times a day to make sure I didn't lose one. These days I count cars in the driveway when I leave for work. Have I mentioned how much I miss my babies?

Q. At what age were they the easiest to mother?

A. When the quintuplets were 3 to 10 was a great time. They followed my directions pretty willingly, and we weren't bogged down with after-school activities, so we could do things together as a group. I used to take them on outings and overnight trips, just the seven of us, on a whim. We loved the beach!

A favorite memory of that time is a warm summer night in our yard. They were running around after lightning bugs with our dog jumping and chasing after them, and they'd squeal. Thinking back, I was probably worn out and ready for them to go to bed, but I am so glad I let them run and sat back and enjoyed that moment. That one night wasn't anything special otherwise, but it is a memory I will cherish.

Q. What's been the toughest thing about raising five children all the exact same age?

A. The hardest part of having five babies at once is the financial end of it. Of course, having six children is expensive, but we never planned on six, just two! But we have managed, and we will continue to figure it out. God is good, and he hasn't let us down yet.

Q. Have there been any benefits?

A. It has opened some doors but shut others. Not many can say they were on "Oprah" four times, but mine also didn't get the luxuries a lot of their friends had. I wish they had their own birthdays and graduations, let alone a car of their own or exotic vacations. But they will always have each other, and I am seeing their relationships strengthen now that they are older.

Q. Is there any special bond among the quints? How did Liam deal with all this?

A. I expected there to be a bigger bond with our quintuplets, like a secret language or mind-reading kind of thing. There were only a couple instances of that. Liam never had just one sibling, so he doesn't know the difference. When they were born, he wanted to be with them all the time. He even chose to sleep in their bedroom in a daybed instead of his own room. They loved him and would repeat anything he did or said. There was a lot of fighting, though, over the years -- among all of them. I have noticed them hanging out together again now that they are older. A mom loves to see that.

Q. Have you enjoyed the celebrity of having a delivery that occurs once in every 60 million births?

A. We were on the news a lot when the babies were first born, and sporadically since. When the kids were in first grade, they were in the local newspaper. When they got off the bus that afternoon they said the kids on the bus said they were famous. I said, "No, Hannah Montana and Tony Hawk are famous; we are just normal."

Q. What kind of adjustment was returning to work full time?

A. That was a big change, and I didn't until they were upperclassmen in high school. My first job offer was when they were in grade school and it was a part-time job. Their father asked me to stay home, and he would pay me. He didn't, but I stayed home, anyway. I've remained available for anything that they needed me for.

I did try to help at the church and school, but with that many kids, too often I would have to cancel because one of them was sick or I had to take them to a medical visit. Five or six broken bones, two tonsillectomies, an appendectomy, multiple stitches, two concussions, allergic reactions, even a pencil in the eye … I doubt a boss would put up with that schedule. After a couple years of working, the kids' texts and calls have dwindled, and now it usually is me texting them to see if they need me. Pretty much I only come home from work to make sure the dog is OK. Who is there for dinner is always a surprise.

I am thankful that my husband was able to provide for us, and I had all those years as a stay-at-home mom. I would still make that choice. Those were wonderful years, and I am thankful for that time.

Q. Do you have a favorite child? Do the kids think you have a favorite?

A. These days my favorite child is the one I am with, or the one who cleaned my kitchen last! When they were young, they would ask me who my favorite was. In a group, I used to pick their best trait and tell them they were my favorite because of that.

For example, Liam is my favorite because he made me a mom. I waited three years for him, and he was worth every moment. Paddy is my favorite because he is so loving and he is deep -- I love how his mind works. Grace is my favorite because she is my "Mini Me" in so many ways but smarter and with a better sense of humor. Aidan is my favorite because he has such a zest for life, and I like to see it through his eyes. Betsy is my favorite because she is my artist and creative one. One of her paintings hangs in my bedroom, and I smile when I see it. Clare is my favorite because she is my tough baby girl, and because she is going to be famous one day and take me to the Oscars.

Q. What's the most memorable thing about being mom to quintuplets?

A. A defining moment was looking down the row at church and realizing we were the entire pew.

Q. Be honest: How eager are you for the day the quints all move out?

A. Being a mom has been the best part of my life and having them move out will be bittersweet. I know the kids need to move on and start their own lives, and part of me has been ready for that and even looking forward to it -- BUT I have to admit I will miss them terribly. I already do, and they are still with us. They might have their beds and belongings in my house, but I don't see them often enough -- and hardly ever together. I work, and they work and go to school, so for a house of eight people I spend a lot of time alone. I have stopped buying nice towels, dishes and flatware because they lose or break them.

Someday in the near future I will downsize and get all new things, and they will all be lined up perfectly in their correct places in my cabinets, perfectly folded. But I can tell you already, I will be missing my kids!

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