(This is John, the husband)
This is a great question, Tiffani. I really believe that when it comes to this topic you have to pay close attention to your child, how they're growing/maturing, who their friends are, questions they're asking, etc. It's a tenuous thing because you want them to be prepared but at the same time you don't want to give them more than they can handle. What you're doing is essentially teaching your children how to handle dynamite. There is no such thing as "safe sex" - our sexuality is a powerful, dangerously beautiful, intensely human facet of who we are, so talking about it with your kids is much more than just "this is what happens" and "this is the equipment." As Eugene Peterson said so truthfully in The Message - "there's more to sex than mere skin on skin."
I first talked seriously with Will when he was nine. Something had happened at school which precipitated our talk. I wrote about it here. That was four years ago and I stand by what I wrote, especially the "talking about it while doing something else" part. Please hear me on this - I do not believe we as parents can get this right. We do what we feel is best at the time/in the moment and we see what happens...in a sense, rolling the dice. It's learning when to hold 'em and knowing when to fold, walk away, run, all that gambler stuff. You may not like that imagery as it hints at chance or luck, but I believe that's the way it is with a living, breathing creation; our children are not robots. You put batteries in a flashlight and, all things considered, it should turn on and illuminate the darkness. You talk to your son about sex and he may start crying, laughing, tell you he already knows all that stuff, he might fall asleep, or he might even teach you a thing or two. You just never can tell...so you do your best and constantly whisper those two important words - have mercy.
This is Meredith (the wife)
By the way, it cracks me up every time I type "the wife")
I've had "the talk" with Sarah, but not with Abbey. Sarah had just finished third grade and was almost nine years old when the subject came up. I really felt that she was too young to handle the information, but she was getting all sorts of faulty information from some friends. I'm thankful she came to me with her questions, but honestly, I put her off a little (I'll tell you more when you're older, I'll tell you more when I think you're ready, etc.) probably because I wasn't ready. But, like I said, she was hearing things that weren't accurate, and I wanted to have control over the information she was given.
I remember that we were outside pulling weeds one summer afternoon and she kept persisting. I attempted to put her off (again) and she sighed and said, "Mom, it's just the two of us right now, and I'm old enough to know." So I took a deep breath, whispered a prayer for wisdom, and just started talking. It was all very factual and matter of fact. She asked lots of questions, and I answered all of them.
Since then, she has continued to come to me with questions, and I love that. Sometimes I have to put her off (like in the car with younger ears listening, or things that aren't appropriate for mixed company) but I always come back and answer her.
More than anything, I desire this to be an ongoing conversation with our kids. My huge hope is that our kids will ALWAYS feel comfortable talking to us about sex/sexuality...without shame. As I've talked with my peers about delving into this with our kids, the biggest takeaway from our collective childhood is the shame associated with talking about "the birds and the bees" with our parents, and that shame caused huge communication breakdowns. My guess is that most of you can relate to that.
A couple of things:
One older, wiser friend shared this tidbit of parenting wisdom with us over dinner one evening. I loved it so much I wrote it down, and I think it fits well with this topic of conversation: "In all things spiritual, be as natural as possible. In all things natural, be as spiritual as possible."
One great resource for girls is The Care and Keeping of You by American Girl. We gave Sarah this book for her 9th birthday. I've read through it with her, and have told her it's not to be shared with her little sister (for the time being); right now, it's "just for us". It talks about body changes, body image, hygeine, and many other puberty-related things in a wholesome way. It has prompted more good questions and discussion for us. I highly recommend it!
Last thing: if you didn't click on that link in John's section (when he and Will had "the talk") go read it now. It's full of wisdom AND characteristic JohnB humor. It's really good stuff, I promise!