My younger brother and his wife had their second child a week ago, a little boy named Andrew who joins their 2-year-old daughter, Abby. So obviously, my 9- and 11-year-old sons, Sammy and Tommy, are much older than their cousins.
I used to think that was a bit of a bummer. The kids are at completely different stages of childhood, and there aren't a whole lot of activities they all can do together at this point.
But it has proved to be a huge advantage in one way: my boys now understand exactly how much work babies and toddlers can be.
Abby is an adorable little girl, but she's also 2, and Tommy and Sammy have seen her in action in her less well-behaved moments. At restaurants, her latest activity is to repeatedly throw things on the floor and shriek with delight as my brother tries to stop her (and grab a bite of his own food every now and then, which usually culminates in asking for a takeout box). They've seen Abby throw a fit if she wants to keep playing with a toy when it's time to go to bed. They've seen her parents have to carry her long distances because she gets tired or just doesn't feel like walking in the first place.
As for Andrew, my boys have watched him spit up milk all over his mother and heard him cry because he's hungry, wet, tired and all the other many reasons that newborns cry. A few days ago when I was trying to soothe him during a visit, Tommy covered his ears and said quite dramatically, "Is he EVER going to stop???" This was after about five minutes of tears, which as any parent knows is not a long time. And then all of a sudden, Andrew let out a huge burp and was happy again. Tommy thought it was hilarious, but he also couldn't believe a baby could wail that much just because of some gas.
We've started talking to Tommy about sex, as he's asked us questions and after a session on human reproduction that his 5th-grade class went through at the end of the school year. He (and I'm pretty sure Sammy too) know that anytime you have sex you could potentially create a baby. Because of Abby and Andrew, the question, "Would you be ready to be a father?" will be much less abstract.
I've always thought that the best way to discourage teenagers from unprotected sex would be to have them shadow the parents of a newborn for a day or two. Long enough to get past the vision of babies as perfectly sweet little creatures and into the reality of parenting.
Of course, there are many other reasons why having much younger cousins is a blessing. Abby already hero-worships my kids, and I imagine Andrew will too. Tommy and Sammy are learning all about kindness, patience, gentleness and nurturing from their time with their cousins. Watching Sammy teaching Abby her colors and Tommy rolling her a ball, I can almost picture them as fathers someday. A LONG time from now, though.
So to anyone facing the birds-and-the-bees discussion with a tween or teen, I would say: seek out a family with babies and toddlers if you know one, and spend a good chunk time with them. Your kids will see that no matter how wonderful it is to be parents, it's also pretty darn hard.
Thanks, little brother.