Potty training is a daunting task for any parent, but with six children all in diapers at the same time, it seemed particularly scary in our house! There are so many approaches to potty training, and I’m not sure there is any perfect or easy way to do it. We took the approach that we would wait until they were ready with the hope that would make it easier. When Mark was just over two and a half years old, he told me, “Mommy, I am too big for a diaper, and I am too big for this table” while I was changing him. I figured if he could communicate it that clearly, then he must be ready! It was still a challenge though.
We had two main things that seemed to help us with potty training. First we skipped pull-ups completely and went straight to underwear and never looked back. Our only exceptions were during long car rides or plane rides. There were lots of accidents, but we encouraged trying often and praised a lot. The second thing that made a world of difference for us was going out in public in underwear very soon and very often. After a day and a half at home in underwear with lots of accidents, we got up the next morning and went to a birthday party, did some shopping and made several stops the next day. We spent a lot of time in the bathroom, but he was accident free during the outing! Maybe kids don’t want to have accidents in front of their friends. With Mark, we just used the public restrooms. We tried M&Ms, sticker reward charts and other things that had been suggested without much impact. What really got Mark’s attention as a reward was that he got to use Mommy’s cell phone to call either Daddy or a grandparent at work to tell them when he had done something. He thought that was awesome!
Around 18 months old, some of our quintuplets were interested in using the potty, but I didn’t feel that I was ready yet at that point. The thought of training all five of them had me so nervous, I joked that I would send them to kindergarten in diapers hoping the teacher would train them! As it turned out, I think they were easier than Mark was, partially because I was more relaxed and had a feel for what to expect and partially because they learned from each other and from Mark. Shortly after their second birthday, we decided to let them start potty training. Ali had been asking to wear big girl panties for awhile, and around their birthday Becca and David started telling me that they were too big for diapers. Again I felt that if they could tell me using words, sentences and even paragraphs that they were too big for diapers, then they probably were. So the fun began! Shortly after that Kate decided that she wanted to join in. John was not interested yet, and we didn’t want to push anyone, although we praised him when he did try. A few months later, he decided he was ready and told me that he wanted his big boy underwear. John was by far the easiest! He had observed everyone else until he was totally ready and had way fewer accidents.
We did most of the same things we did with Mark. We got rid of diapers, skipped pull-ups and went straight to underwear. We took them out in public in underwear very quickly and as often as I could. The main difference for us was that we bought five little potties. If we were training one child again, we would totally skip the kids’ potties and just use the one that is in the house already. However, with all of them learning, we were concerned that too many people would need to go at the same time and felt that everyone needed a spot of their own. We did get rid of these as soon as we could. I always kept a potty in my vehicle (still do) and would even take one with us on walks in the stroller! For awhile, I would let the kids all potty in the back of my vehicle instead of trying to take them all in a public restroom. We brought back the phone call policy which the kids resonated with. They loved getting to be the one to make that call and looked so proud! I was much more patient and relaxed training our quints, and we even had some fun. We used the restroom so often that we even took a picture by one on an outing to the zoo. Mark didn’t really like hand driers when he was first learning, but the girls loved them and would giggle and run circles near them. I guess there can be fun in everything!
The hardest thing for me was when I was grocery shopping or running errands with all of them by myself. When I grocery shop, I get two carts, put three kids in each, push one and pull the other and load up groceries around, under and on them. They love getting to hold things and the bottoms of the carts can hold a lot. My fear was that I would have two carts packed full of children and groceries at the far end of the store when someone needed to go. Somehow we made it through potty training without that happening, and the kids can all hold it pretty well now.
Overall potty training was a lot of work, but it went fairly smoothly. I am really glad that we are through that and especially like the lower bills without buying all those diapers! We haven’t night trained yet, and I must say I am dreading that so for now that can wait.
One-on-one time is not easy to come by in our house. Over the past couple of months, I have gotten to take each of the kids on a one-on-one outing. They have had individual outings in the past to go to the grocery store or run errands occasionally, but for these, they got to pick something fun that they wanted to do. John, Becca and David all chose to ride the trolley, play at a local splash pad and have lunch at Grimaldi’s Pizza. Ali and Kate chose to eat at Crust Pizza then play at the local Children’s Museum. Mark picked to go to Incredible Pizza to have lunch, play games, bowl and race go carts. They all had a great time getting to have all of Mommy’s attention, and I got to play with them more since I wasn’t counting children!
Their eyes lit up when it was their turn, and they would talk about it for days before and for weeks after! They do almost everything together, and we usually go on outings as a whole group. They fight some, but they are playing together more and more, and I love listening to the conversations they have with each other. While there are many ways that they are similar and that most of life so far has been lived as a group, they each have such distinct personalities, and it was really fun getting to spend extra time with them!
John can be reserved in a group and is excellent at independent play. He learns by observation and tends to wait to try something until he has watched someone else do it for awhile. When he does try new things, he usually masters them very quickly because he has observed. John was the last to potty train but by far the easiest. He waited until he was ready and then did it. He is confident to go into new situations, but he will hold back and isn’t usually the one to answer questions if we are talking as a whole family. When we went to lunch, he talked my ear off. It was great getting to hear everything he wanted to say!
Becca is very confident in what she wants. She is extremely loving and gives lots of hugs and kisses, but she will also tell her siblings exactly what she thinks they should be doing at any given moment. I joke that she is going to be a hoarder someday since she collects everything in a room, makes a big pile of stuff, and claims it as her own. She loves baby dolls and playing with the dollhouse and acts like a mommy, but she is also one of the first to play in the dirt and run around outside. She grinned from ear to ear the entire time we were out, but she was quieter.
Ali is very sweet. She is shy and can be a little overwhelmed with new places and people, but she always tries new things anyway even when she looks terrified. She is determined to master whatever she tries and has the patience to try something over and over until she gets it. We have a letter game on the refrigerator, and she was the first to learn all the letters and sounds. She would stand by the fridge with that game and repeat everything over and over. She liked going to the Children’s Museum for her outing because she got to do so many of the activities we don’t do with a whole group. She loves art, and we sat and colored, played with play dough and did crafts. While we do those things at home, it is hard to do that at the museum when I have all six kids with me.
David is rough and tumble in the way he plays but is a teddy bear at heart. He is so sweet and when siblings are upset, he will often find something that they want or give them a hug to try to cheer them up. David is super cuddly. He thinks (or maybe wishes!) that he is four and tries very hard to hang with Mark and his friends. He is often the first to try something new. He gets very frustrated when he can’t do something but will continue to work at it until he gets it and won’t let anyone help him. His smile can brighten any rough day for me.
Kate is a very contented child. I am not saying that she doesn’t throw any fits, and she can definitely throw good ones! However, she has a very gentle spirit. She loves to play with siblings and friends, but she will also play for a long time by herself. She has very good concentration and will sit and do puzzles or another activity for quite awhile. I think my favorite thing about Kate is that she is often singing. She frequently just bursts into song wherever she is. Kate seems to be very carefree and enjoys life.
Mark has been an amazing big brother. It can be hard for any child to adjust to a new sibling at home, and he had five new siblings when he was 18 months old! He has handled it so well right from the start. He is patient with them, plays with them, helps them and is my special helper. He especially likes getting to teach them new things.
I love how our family has melded together as one unit, and yet I really enjoy seeing how different each individual person is!
My kids are all very good eaters! There are lots of theories on whether to make kids eat, let them refuse, give them alternatives, etc., and I think every family finds what works best for them and their situation. We try to offer a healthy variety at each meal. We don’t require that they eat anything, but to get seconds of anything, they have to finish all of the things on their plates. I purposefully don’t put a lot of things that I know are not favorites.
We have three meals per day plus one or two snacks. (Sometimes we miss the afternoon snack.) We do not offer food in between these, so the kids learned pretty early that they didn’t have to finish their dinner, but they would wait to eat again until breakfast.
Dinner could be 18 tacos, a 9×13 casserole, two pounds of meatballs along with spaghetti and sauce, two (or more) pounds of chicken (grilled or baked) with potatoes, 2 lbs of fish with rice, or many other options, and dinner always includes a fruit and vegetable, and I have started adding a bread side to fill them up! I am amazed how much they eat, and it kind of scares me to think of the teenage years!
I really enjoy getting to eat outside the home. From an early age, we went on lots of picnics, sometimes at a park and sometimes just in the backyard. While we go out to eat some, it is not a frequent activity. I think that actually makes it easier! Since it is a special treat, the kids are really good! We always pick kid friendly restaurants with our favorites serving pizza, Mexican food, or a variety of food where we get bread or chips early to give them something to snack on.
The kids love helping me cook, and I try to involve them as often as I can. I divide the ingredients into either six or 12 portions, so everyone gets to add something the same number of times. Sometimes that means I split one ingredient and two people add it (two half cups of flour instead of one cup). Everyone enjoys stirring! Their favorite two things to make are banana bread and “yogurt pops,” which are yogurt, almond milk and honey frozen as a popsicle.
Traveling with children can always be a challenge, but traveling with 6 kids (within 18 months of age!) provides extra logistical challenges. We don’t travel a lot, but we have taken several trips. We have driven several hours, driven 17 and a half hours, and taken one trip by plane. I am going to highlight a few favorites from different ages.
My in-laws are about a 4 hour drive from us, and this distance is a very manageable one! Due to the quintuplets’ prematurity and flu / RSV season, we did not make this drive until they were about seven months old. They had been sleeping through the night for several months by then, so we opted to drive at night. We wanted to avoid stops, so we did their last feeding of the day, put them in jammies, and left in the evening. Our hope was that they would sleep in the car and then transfer to their beds when we arrived without messing with their schedule too much. They lost a little more sleep than I hoped for, but it worked pretty well. We were there well before midnight, so Bill and I didn’t lose much sleep either! I thought this was a great age to visit people! They weren’t very mobile yet, so baby proofing wasn’t a huge deal. They still primarily had formula, and we were able to pack very simple solids. We made all of our food, and we were able to pick easy things at this age. It was a huge help that my mother-in-law grocery shopped ahead of time with a list that I sent and was able to borrow some pack-n-plays so we didn’t have to pack six of them! As they have gotten older, we prefer to make this drive in the afternoon. If they take a nap, then they are extra rested for our visit; if not, it is no big deal. Now that they aren’t in cribs, it is easier to put them to bed if they have seen where they are sleeping first.
When our quintuplets were 20 months old and Mark was just over 3, my parents and I rented a passenger van and took everyone to visit some of my family.
This was a 17 and a half hour drive! We still didn’t let the kids watch any TV at this age; however, even if we allowed TV in the car, I think it would be tough. Those vans are long, so whoever is in the back wouldn’t be able to see or hear, and I can picture the complaints. This was a good age to travel too! They could eat anything and could do most things themselves. Mark was potty trained and could go for long periods, and the quints were not potty trained yet. We packed breakfast, snacks and lunch which we fed them in the car, then we stopped after eating to stretch our legs at rest stops.
Again, it was a huge help that my aunt grocery shopped ahead of time and had borrowed cribs and pack-n-plays for our visit. She even had a twin bed for Mark to sleep in. They didn’t nap well away from home. We tried to plan outings such that the kids would fall asleep in the car for a catnap to get them through the day and then do a slightly earlier bedtime. It worked pretty well. The kids had a lot of fun on this trip! They enjoyed meeting cousins, going to a family member’s farm, going out to eat at their first restaurant, etc. It was a lot of work, and I am not trying to downplay that, but it was fun at this age! This trip was very special to me. We had made this drive when Mark was a baby so that my grandmother could meet him. We were excited to see a lot of family there, but I was most excited about my grandmother meeting our quintuplets and seeing Mark again. We had debated waiting another year. She passed away last February, and it really reminds me not to wait to do things! I am so grateful that we made this trip and that we have the pictures of her with the kids!
This past June, my parents, Bill and I took the kids on our first airplane ride as a family!
I must say that this was a whole new world for me! I flew once with Mark when he was just over nine months old, but that was my only flight with a child let alone children! With my parents along, we had four adults and six children, which I thought was a great ratio! Getting through security was the part that I was most nervous about.
I wasn’t sure if the kids would want to walk by themselves or if they would be intimidated by all the people and gadgets. They were fine. They lined up behind me, and we played “follow the leader” right through. The people at security were great! They gave the kids high fives as they went through and were really friendly with them. I had packed notepads, crayons, stickers, books, baby dolls, stuffed animals and few other goodie type toys for them to play with. They enjoyed discovering everything in their back packs during the flight, although they might have been most entertained by going potty! In many ways, this trip was the easiest we have taken. The kids are all potty trained, will eat anything, are flexible with their schedule, and can do many things like dressing themselves. The only thing that was especially challenging this trip was sleep. The kids all shared a room with sleeping bags which was great!
We didn’t nap them at all on the trip hoping they would be tired and sleep at night, but sharing a room with six sleeping bags is really exciting! It took awhile to settle most nights, but they had a good time and seemed to play fine during the days even with less sleep. Again, my family made the trip so much easier grocery shopping ahead of time, borrowing carseats and a mini-van, and having lots of kids stuff like toys and play dough! We had a great time!
While traveling with a big family can present different logistical challenges, we are definitely looking forward to our next trip, wherever it may be!